The Western Way

in ireland

In December I hiked the Western Way in Galway between Maam Cross and Oughterard. Timing from my phone and FitBit:

  00:42:50 + 04:41:38 = 05:24:28

The part of the Way I hiked was 26 kilometres of spectacular rugged Connemara scenery-bogs, forests, mountains, lakes and rivers all in a breath of one another.

Lackavrea Forest
Rainbows over the Maam Valley

Being out on the Way revitalized me after a tough few months in Dublin. Between a breakup, work, an apartment shared with a raging dipshit, and months of intense…self-reflection, I was ready for some relaxation.

My first impressions at Maam Cross were of green hills, blue skies, and the beautiful desolate silence of early winter. My hike stands out as a high point of escape from stress As I look back now from April. The rest of the winter was work and Dublin and stress and heartbreak. While I’ve run and hiked plenty since then, the Way was the first time I unplugged, took charge of my happiness.

The rest of this post is formed from notes transcribed from my journal with minor edits for clarity.

Maam Cross to Lackavrea Forest

You turn off the main road, climb the turnstile…and sink about six centimetres. The trail is that boggy and wet. While I tip-toed my way around the work of the mud puddles, I lost valuable time doing so. Stout boots and gaiters are recommended-shit, required for the entire trail. Buy good boots and wear them.

None of the above describes the sensations of the moment. Silence, silence above all. In Dublin there was always some kind of background noise. The rumble of cars and trains, the slam of doors as people come and go. Voices and sirens. Yesterday, there was only the wind, a quiet breath, cold and clean. And god, the air itself. The air in Dublin always tastes of crap.

I stretched, I whooped, I laughed. I took it all in beneath a blue sky.

That moment was everything I craved in Dublin. There is good loneliness and bad loneliness. Good is being out and part of the world, me on one side and everything else on the other. Bad is living alone or with someone who pushes into my space, in a great big anonymous city where nobody looks at anyone else. You can be in the middle of a city at the centre of a crowd, and still be terribly alone.

Lackavrea Forest

Stage the Second is the Death Star trench run without Luke, the Force, starfighters, Darth Vader or the Death Star itself. Somehow the long and monotonous raised boardwalk manages to retain all the narrative tension of Star Wars by virtue of the fact that if you make one misstep you’ll find yourself waist-deep in Connemara bog. Probably waist-deep. I hope.

You enter a forest and some time later you leave a forest. The human mind averages unpleasant experiences. It lowers the focus on the agony of the moment and in retrospective dulls what you felt. And that’s just as well, because I spent a good two hours staring at the boardwalk in order to

  1. not fall off and drown,
  2. keep a pace which got me to the Oughterard trail head on time.
The Hill of Doon

Derryherbert to the Hill of Doon

Holy fuck-your-face majesty! Deep blue waters tremble in the breeze below pale winter skies. The snow-clad Maamturk Mountains march off to the horizon, every rock and slope sharp and bright in the cold air.

I come from the island and saints and scholars! Here stands the stone wall I was born upon. Words alone cannot do the view justice.

Oh yeah, the trail. It starts off boggy, but soon rises into a forest plantation which faces the Hill of Doon.

I stopped for lunch at the small car park, where I sat on a…deposit of sheep poo. Look, I wore waterproofs, and the spot itself was dry and in the lee of the wind. Don’t you dare judge me…

The Hill of Doon to Derreenmeel Townland

Road goes up, road goes down. For eleven kilometres. It’s a march. I marched. I completed the leg in around ninety minutes.

Lough Corrib from Derreenmeel
Food and drink at Wa Cafe

Derreenmeel to Oughterard

The road splits and rises about five kilometres from Oughterard, with the trail following the rise. The last leg must be rightly spooky at night if you’re afraid the dark. A narrow twisted road wends its way up a forested hill. Trees on both sides close in and loom above.

I loved that. Dublin puts the stamp of City on you, the mark of walls and rules and schedules and people and noise and light. What I want, here and now, is the crooked dark wild. The windy silence, the stars above mountains and trees and lakes.

The high road boasts a spectacular view over Lough Corrib, with a great stretch from the Maamturks and Annaghdown visible.

The last 2km down to Oughterard I jogged because my legs were stiff and I wanted to shift pace. What a sight I was to behold! Hiking gear, backpack, running down the lane and laughing aloud for the sheer jog of the run! The euphoria inside was something else entirely.

Something up there filled me with joy and energy. So between that and my stiff legs, I jogged the last three kilometres into Oughterard, laughing as I went. That probably made for a sight, the laughing bearded dude running along.

Anyways! I made it to Oughterard! That’s a hike I will absolutely do again in future. I hope to spend a weekend in Letterfrack in the Spring.

Six Months in the Mountain Kingdom

in me

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