Adventures in Connemara

January 22, 2015 15 Comments »

Connemara Ireland

Welcome to beautiful Connemara Ireland

Amanda adjusted the bike seat and explained the gears on the electric bike. As I got ready to peddle off out of Clifden, she looked ahead at the dark clouds and asked, “Do you have rainpaints?”
“No…not really,” I replied looking at my water resistant pants knowing darn well that resistant and waterproof were two very different things. I envisioned me biking out on skyline drive soaking wet and cold. Without saying a word she quickly ran off and came back with a pair of hers. “You’ll need these,” she said as she handed them over to me. Once again I was surprised and delighted by the kindness of strangers in Ireland. I put on her rain pants, my helmet, and took off with Amanda waving goodbye. I was ready once again to take on the Wild Atlantic Way Weather.

I learned pretty quickly that rain pants are a must for Ireland – more important than underwear in my opinion. But I also learned that the Irish do not let weather slow them down. I saw them out running, biking, hiking, and surfing in horrible weather during my 3 weeks on the Wild Atlantic Way – nothing stopped them – so why would I let it stop me.

I had arrived in the little picturesque town of Clifden which I was excited to call my ‘home’ for a few days while I did some adventure activities around the area – despite the rainy weather. Clifden is located in the Connemara area which sits in the northwest part of Galway County in Ireland.  I came to Clifden by way of Mongolia…3 years ago. I met Fearghus during the Mongol Rally in 2011 and after traveling in a caravan with him and drinking plenty of vodka together I found out his family ran a bed and breakfast in Connemara Ireland near Clifden. Upon letting him know I was coming to Ireland this last fall, he not only offered up staying in his family’s B&B, but he also introduced me to a few key Clifden locals so I could get the full Connemara travel experience. Fearghus and his sister Clodagh were super ambassadors of their hometown, making sure I had plenty to do in and around Galway County – no matter what the weather dealt me. And that’s how I ended up riding off on an electric bike wearing Amanda’s rain pants.

Things To Do in Connemara

Electric Biking

Consider giving yourself a break and see the Connemara landscape at a slower pace with an electric bike. There were a number of routes to choose from around Clifden, and I decided to bike out on Sky Road to the end of the peninsula to see the Connemara beaches that I had heard so much about. I love driving the Wild Atlantic Way, but biking it at a slightly slower pace is ever better! I found myself seeing things that I didn’t in the car; buildings, fences, castles, signs, sheep – they all looked new to me at this pace. I stopped constantly – not only to put on the raingear, but also to take pictures of course. I rode in and out of pouring rain and tumultuous cloudy skies happy I had my Exofficio raincoat with me. The road became narrower with grass growing in the middle. The sheep scurried when I road by and when I got to the end of the peninsula and could go no further I looked out at the Atlantic . The weather was starting to clear and it was just me and the crashing waves on this beautiful beach.

Connemara isn’t exactly flat so the electric boost on the bike was like cocaine…just a little bump to make life easier for a while going uphill. I always loved it when I felt it kick in and my peddling got immediately easier. The weather had cleared and I was treated to a spectacular afternoon and sunset as I continued to explore castles and cliffs riding back towards Clifden.
More Info: Bike Electric Connemara

Connemara electric bike

Stopping to take in the views with my electric bike

Connemara adventures

Biking Sky Drive – a beautiful way to see Connemara

Connemara is Smokin’

Visit Connemara smokehouse to get a real feel for tradition and pride. Graham had been smoking fish since he was a kid with his father and he knows the art and science of turning out a beautiful, velvety tasting smoked salmon. “I want to make a living, not a killing,” he tells me. Graham’s philosophy – pride, passion, perfection – are his guiding principles in everything he does. I was seriously impressed with this man -so go out and meet him.  He offers smokehouse tours on Wednesday at 3PM in the summer that include demos of the smoking process. Else you can do tastings and walk-in any time to purchase some to take home. It’s the best smoked fish in Galway County and maybe Ireland!
More Info: Connemara Smokehouse

Connemara smokehouse

Graham showing off his smoking ovens. You can’t believe how good this smelled!

Connemara smokehouse

Smoked fish samples!

Take a Real Adventure on the Water

Meet Clare – she is one bad ass chick with nerves of steel – and she is the owner of Real Adventures Connemara. Instead of looking at the crashing waves on the Wild Atlantic Way – I was on them – with her – paddling like crazy! I never would have had the guts (or ability) to do this myself, but with the help of Clare it was possible. This little, spunky woman who started her own adventure business in Connemara was just the type of woman you want with you in a crisis. In fact I’d want her more than most men. We took a two-person kayak out to see the cliffs and caves of Connemara from another angle – the sea. She was an expert kayaker maneuvering us close to caves as the waves sucked us in and pushed us out. She would tell me when to backpaddle and we’d quickly reverse out narrowly escaping crashing into the cliffs.

To add to the kayaking adventure, I looked out on the horizon and saw the storms lined up in the distance like planes waiting to land at O’Hare. They were headed directly for us. She decided we should get across the bay now when we could and then we’d have the wind at our back when we decided to come in. About half way through this big paddle across the ‘bay’ to the other side the winds picked up and the rain pelted me like little stinging bullets. The front of the kayak would rise up with the oncoming wave and then crash down the other side. I won’t lie – I was a bit scared. Bigger waves scare me, but couple that with wind and rain and the situation seemed even more ominous. But Clare had it all in control as we slowly worked our way across the bay. She would shriek in delight while big waves jostled us while I swallowed my fear and just kept paddling. Eventually I was able to ride the wave of her enthusiasm realizing what an amazing opportunity this was to be out on the water with someone with her skills.

My favorite and most surprising part was when she served me tea while the waves jostled us up and down and around in the unsheltered and unpredictable Atlantic. This was real adventure travel.
More Info: Real Adventures Connemara – Clare not only takes you out kayaking – but she’ll also test your abilities and guts with hiking, surfing, rock climbing, and coasteering (jumping off cliffs!)

Kayaking Wild Atlantic Way

Kayaking on the Wild Atlantic

Connemara kayaking

Clare maneuvering us around the Connemara cliffs

Shop Local

Be sure to stop at All Things Connemara – you can’t miss the bright yellow façade on Market Street. There you’ll find Jonathan and Amanda who seem to serve as Connemara ambassadors! Their shop is full of products made locally – music, tea, jewelry, souvenirs, and even postcards. They also serve as a makeshift tourist office; with stacks of brochures that will satisfy your every whim. But even better than the brochures – just ask them anything and they will keep you busy with so many things to do and see that you’ll never leave Connemara!
More Info: All Things Connemara

And while you are doing all these great things in around Connemara, you’ll need a place to stay…

Where to Stay in Connemara

Dolphin Beach House is perched out on the Sky Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. As I followed the signs to Dolphin Beach House on lower sky drive I realized why Fearghus and his Mongol Rally team didn’t seem phased by the driving – they grew up driving on harrowing roads. Let me just warn you, the road to Dolphin Beach house was one of the most exhilarating, fun drives I did on the Wild Atlantic Way. Grass grew between the tire tracks –indicating this road was the smallest of small – the kind that requires you to back up if you meet a car.

The guesthouse was cozy and comfortable – It felt like a home. You could tell it was a family run business through and through. My room was large, beautifully designed and had a lovely patio that had a path leading to the gardens and water. Clodagh set a little table for my morning breakfast that looked out over the cliffs. I loved my little table set for one; it sort of made me feel special – like when my mother used to buy cereal that was just for me and told me I didn’t have to share it with my brother or sister – going so far as to let me hide it in my closet so they couldn’t eat it.
More Info: Dolphin Beach House

Dolphin Beach House Connemara

Dolphin Beach House Guest Room

Dolphin beach house connemara

Breakfast for one…yes – that’s smoked salmon on my plate!

Clifden in Connemara is a must stop along the Galway County’s section of the Wild Atlantic Way. I had a hard time leaving the Connemara area as I had made a bunch of new friends and had some wonderful experiences – even if it did rain on me. It just made me feel more local to be out in the rough weather wearing my rain pants!


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