Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Inishbofin May 2012

Inishbofin 2012

Ever since the age of 11 I have wanted to visit Inishbofin, an island located off the coast of Connemara in the west of Ireland. 40 years back I was on holiday with my parents in Connemara when we came across the harbour at Cleggan on one of our drives. Dad had given me a map of the coast featuring Inishbofin and I saw that Cleggan was the jump off port. Lo and behold the ferry was at Cleggan getting ready for take-off to Inishbofin, and suddenly a strong desire welled up in me to board that boat. My parents had no intention of joining the last sailing of the day as we still had a night left to spend in our Connemara hotel before going home the next day. I begged to be let go alone and spend an overnight on the island. “Where will you stay?” Mum asked. “The hotel, if you give me the money” I suggested. Then Dad brought me close to the boat where I saw cattle being boarded. He got talking to the skipper, who said I would have to share the boat with the beasts. I liked cows, but not quite sure about the bulls. I made my own decision not to go on this occasion.
The years passed by, and in recent times a documentary tv program featuring the lives of Public Health Nurses drew my attention to Inishbofin. One of the nurses was stationed on the island and I got to see tempting glimpses of it. It reminded me that it was about time to pay a visit. The island has a very good website, easily googled, and provided me with all the info I needed on how to get there and where to stay. There are three hotels, a hostel of good repute, a restauarnt with rooms, various b&bs and places for self-catering. I chose the main hotel, Day’s Inishbofin House Hotel. I have come across people who have stayed in the earlier, more primitive incarnation of Day’s Hotel, but the modern one is a masterpiece of bright spaces with splendid views of the natural harbour. I chose to travel by public transport, taking the train from Dublin to Galway, and the modern Citylink coach onwards to Cleggan pier. The high bus enabled me to enjoy spectacular views over Lough Corrib and the magnificence of Connemara. A half hour smooth ferry ride brought me to Inishbofin where my suitcase and I were transported by the hotel minibus to my accommodation. It would have been worth my while opting for one of the south facing rooms with the harbour view, but I had to contend with the north facing view of the steep escarpment at the rear of the building. I had three dining options very close by - the dining room and bar of the hotel, or Day’s Beach Bar next door. Other more distant options are available. I was quite pleased with the food and breakfast could be as enormous or as modest as you wish, with plenty of choice.
I was booked in for the two main nights of the May Bank Holiday. The hotel provided me with a good map for walking the island and I set out on Sunday morning to explore, starting with the Cloonamore loop walk covering the eastern area. This brought me past a lake with swans to a pair of magnificent white beaches. The sun was shining, lighting up the sands. I wished that it were later in the year when the water would be warm enough for a dip. One brave soul in the distance was swimming from rock to rock. The Twelve toothed Bens of Connemara formed a pastel blue backdrop to this idyll. It reminded me of my childhood memories of Connemara with hardly a house to spoil the scene. Yet a neat row of houses formed the village of Cloonamore, set before a harbour of old boats, black currachs and white sand. I found myself greeting many a walker and many a cyclist. However the later had to dismount on some of the very steep hills and abandon their cycles at gates leading to rough tracks unsuitable for wheels. Walking is the best option. On this island. I came across quite a few houses advertising eggs and crabmeat for sale. The former were produced by the many splendidly colourful fowl cackling and crowing by the roadside.
Before commencing the west loop walk I took a peep at the airstrip. Sadly the proposed air service never materialised after most of the businessmen involved were killed or seriously injured when their Cessna Grand Caravan crashed on a demo flight when trying to land at Connemara Airport, having come from Inis Meain in 2008. The aircraft was overloaded and had attempted to land downwind. The wind had changed but the pilot failed to contact the airport for advice or to announce his intention to land.
The west loop brought me past the small Doonmore Hotel and some very modern houses before it turned from road to a beautiful turfy green path high up over the sea. Beautiful grassy slopes lead down to another splendid little beach which is not recommended for swimming. Then the path came to a headland and fearful of getting too close to the high cliffs I went slightly off piste. The character of the island was changing all the time as I went along. One side of me, cliffs, the other bog and barren hill. In front of me stretched areas of black bog, lake and wild mossy tracts. I got lost for quite a time, and thank God the weather was dry with stable skies or I would have feared getting trapped in quagmire. After forty minutes or so I rejoined the track which was raised above the bog. Back on the road again I made my way past the island’s largest lake, Bofin, and back to the civilisation of the church, community centre, provisions shop, post office and mini museum, and my hotel. According to the map and walk guide I had covered eleven miles by foot. I could have done more, but now it was evening and time for a tipple!

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