Blog: Planning a Day Trip to Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park

I’ve become more spontaneous, lately. I feel the blog was a first step, a sharp kick in the right direction, a firm shove that has forced me to act. Perhaps the need for content for this blog and its social media platforms was the push I always needed. I’ve always imagined myself as being action-driven, motivated, passionate, and spontaneous – much like Jim Carrey in the latter half of Yes Man. He transformed from a man locked into routine, shunning opportunities and missing chances, to a man who embraced the world around him; this is the man I dream of becoming, wholly and unapologetically free. I would like to be decisively myself.

In work last week, I’d been mulling over where I could travel from Galway City for a day-trip. The wonderful thing about this city is that, though located on the west coast, we’re so well served by public transport, that I could take a journey to practically anywhere from my front door. I discussed it with Amanda, a worldly, well-traveled butcher with an affinity for France, and she told me about the Diamond Hill trail. Located in Letterfrack, approximately 80km north-west of Galway City, the 7km long looped walk to the summit is, as Discover Ireland dubs it, the undisputed highlight of Connemara National Park.

I can’t drive, and don’t as of yet – I haven’t even sat my theory test! It was a relief to discover that Letterfrack is directly accessible from Galway City via a Citylink bus that passes through Oughterard, Moycullen, Maam Cross and Clifden on their Galway – Clifden Route. The route takes in Connemara’s breathtakingly rugged scenery, and enables you to catch a glimpse of some of what the Wild Atlantic Way has to offer. There are scooping hills, wiry roads intricately woven between the mountains, coastal trails that wind along the jagged shoreline, quaint Irish towns and villages, and a plethora of wild animals, native to the region. And best of all? A student return ticket, purchased online, costs €11.90, with three buses departing and returning to Galway City a day. Even a standard return ticket costs a measly €14, meaning that if, like me, you have a taste for exploration, a hunger for nature’s majesty, then, when in Galway, I highly recommend that you consider a trek of Diamond Hill.

2017-07-03

When I last climbed a mountain – Croagh Patrick in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo – I near-promised myself never to climb one again. I tackled it with horrible footwear, and injured my foot quite a few times on both the ascent and descent. Embarrassing really, considering that there are people who climb Ireland’s Holy Mountain as a pilgrimage.. barefoot! The summit, though, is seductive; it is a dagger that pierces the skies. At the peak of a mountain, you feel like you’re standing on a knife’s edge, touching something that is viscerally beyond yourself, something utterly ethereal. When I discovered I could travel directly to the gates of Connemara National Park via bus, I knew I had to go. There was no question about it, it needed to be done, conquered, and documented; my own personal conquest.

The bus left Galway Coach Station at 09:00 on Thursday morning, and I spent the majority of my journey trying to get some good shots along the way. Windmills, rolling hills, wild goats, to two of Galway City’s major landmarks, Eyre Square and the Galway Cathedral. In the beginning, I felt a small bit self conscious of other passengers’ perceptions of me and my constant filming. I shrugged the feeling, though, and arrived in Letterfrack at 11:00 with a great deal of good, usable footage. Once in the village, I bought some supplies – an egg sandwich, two small bags of nuts, and a Dairy Milk chocolate bar, and made my way straight into the national park from there. I took a brief peek in to the Visitors’ Centre, a fascinating building packed with artifacts that detail the history of the region and of Connemara’s rich heritage and cultural significance. Then, I set off to blaze my trail.

IMG_1338Trees outside the Visitor Centre, Diamond hill looming in the distance.

IMG_1356Slightly beyond halfway on the hike, overlooking the Connemara coastline.

IMG_1364The final steps before the summit – one last push

The hike itself is divided into several walks: the meandering Sruffaunboy, the Lower Diamond Hill, with pavement and wooden boardwalks across the wet bog, and the Upper Diamond Hill walk – a 3.5km long, relatively steep loop that takes you right to the summit. The majority of the path, from the Visitors Centre right until the steeper parts of the Upper Diamond are paved and laid out with slabs of jutting limestone, like a rugged staircase weaving its way up the mountain. This sets a clear trail that, for the most part, isn’t too strenuous. Though the final part is quite steep, the view is completely worth that final push! I had brought a green apple with me, and sat cross-legged at the peak, the point of the dagger, devouring it where heaven and earth meet.

IMG_1372Eating my apple!

IMG_1369The cairn that marks the summit of Diamond Hill.

IMG_1370Putting my feet up at the summit.

At the summit, and along the path, I encountered a number of friendly people. A German couple first, then two French girls on holiday in Ireland for 10 days, and then, finally, a lovely English couple  – Stewart and Hannah – who descended the mountain with me. We spoke at length about Ireland; sports, speaking habits, politics. We talked about the punishing wind that whisked us with it, throwing us all off balance on several occasions. After it all, I was in dire need of a pint, so we headed to Letterfrack village, into Veldons Seafarer, for a well-deserved bowl of chowder, a pot of Barry’s Tea, and a pint of the black stuff. I’ve never felt like more of an Irish stereotype in my life.

The pair were even kind enough to give me a lift as far as Clifden, and I spent the next three hours wandering in the seaside town, and wrote the first drafts of this over a slice of carrot cake and a cup of coffee. At 18:00, I caught the bus to Galway, and was home by 20:00 – not bad at all for a day’s travels.

IMG_1395Irish Seafood Chowder and homemade soda bread at Veldons, Letterfrack

IMG_1396A slice of Carrot Cake and a Coffee in Clifden

IMG_1398Window to the seas

IMG_1403The most charming building in Clifden – paint chipped, weather beaten, stunning

I’ve documented a large portion of the journey in a short video I made – from stepping out the front door in the morning, to the final moments before reaching the summit. This, in itself, was a venture for me, as I’d never actually edited video before this one. I present: “The Diamond Hill Climb | Wild Atlantic Way

Have you ever taken a spontaneous journey that turned out to be a spectacular one? Where? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your stories.

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