On the far western edge of Europe, the starkly beautiful region of Connemara is a great place to get lost. Cut off from the rest of Ireland by the 25-mile barrier of Lough Corrib, the lie of the land at first looks simple, with two statuesque mountain ranges, the Maam Turks and the Twelve Bens, bordered by the deep fjord of Killary Harbour to the north.
The coast, however, is full of jinks and tricks, a hopeless maze of inlets, peninsulas and small islands. Dozens of sparkling lakes and vast blanket bogs covered in purple moor grass further blur the distinction between land and water. Throw in a fickle climate, which can turn from blazing sunshine to grey, soaking mist in the time it takes to buy a loaf of bread, and the carefree sense of disorientation is complete.
This austere, infertile land was brutally depopulated by starvation, eviction and emigration during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Even when dramatist J.M. Synge visited in the early twentieth century, he considered any farming here to be like “the freak of an eccentric”. Today, these wild and lonely margins are the ultimate fulfilment of visitors’ romantic dreams of Ireland, with enough variety to warrant weeks of exploration.
Cycling on the quiet backroads – many of which were built to provide employment during the Famine – is probably the best way to get to know the area. At an even gentler pace, the outlandishly contorted geology provides great diversity for walkers, ranging from tough, high-level treks in the mountains to scenic hikes up isolated hummocks such as Errisbeg and Tully Hill.