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Connemara National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Connemara National Park, situated in the scenic west coast of Ireland in County Galway, spans for nearly 3,000 hectares and is rich in wildlife. The Park, famous for its herd of native Connemara Ponies, boast spectacular scenery, dominated by the mountain range known as the Twelve Bens . Three of the Twelve Bens - Benbaun, Bencullagh and Benbrack - lie within the Park boundaries, traversed by a vast network of wonderful hiking and climbing trails. Benbaun is the highest of the Twelve Bens and the views across Lough Inagh Valley throughout the climb are breathtaking. The tiny Letterfrack is the best base for exploring the Park as the entrance to the park and visitor center is just to the southeast of the town.
In the past, the Park lands were used for agriculture, mainly as grazing for cattle and sheep. Vegetables were also grown on the fertile lowlands. Much of the present Park was part of the former Kylemore Estate and the Letterfrack Industrial School, the remainder having been owned by private individuals. The Park, established and opened to the public in 1980, is now owned by the State and managed solely for National Park purposes.
The pretty little Connemara National Park is a popular walking and hiking destination with scenic routes and nature trails. It's ruggedly beautiful and with mapped-out trails is perfect for hikers of every ability. The Park also boasts a variety of activities for children, a picnic area, and guided walks in the summer. The pleasant coffee shop which spills out onto a lovely courtyard, offers simple scones, salads and sandwiches that can be packed up to take with you on your hike. The wonderful exhibition center offers a series of displays and an informative 20-minute audiovisual presentation. There are also many remnants of human civilization within the park including a 19th-century graveyard as well as 4,000 year old megalithic court tombs.
Close to the National Park are the attractions of Kylemore Abbey with its Victorian walled garden and the charming town of Clifden.
HikingThere are four hiking trails within the national park itself. Trail lengths vary from half an hour to 3 hours. Not to be missed is the 500 meters high Diamond Hill. Starting and ending at the Visitor Center, Diamond Hill is a circuit consisting of two well maintained circular loop trails - Upper Diamond Hill and Lower Diamond Hill - conjoined in the middle. On the slopes of the mountain are the remains of an abandoned 19th century farm and a megalithic tomb built by the first farmers of the area 4,000 years ago. Looking down from the top, on the east side you can see the wild Atlantic Ocean. To the north, the Kylemore Abbey which is located across the valley is the highlighting sight. Just be sure to pick a day where the weather is clear otherwise you will only see clouds.
Two signposted nature trails also start at the Visitor Center - one leads you through Ellis Wood while the other takes you into rougher terrain. There are also plenty of alternate trails surrounding the National Park; the longest distance Western Way runs right nearby as do the Benbaun Circuit and the Foxford way. Detailed maps for hiking trails are available at the Visitor Center.
Flora & FaunaBlanket bog and heath-land cover much of the low-lying areas. Plants in the park range from ling, cross-leaved heath and bell heather to purple moor grass, sundews and butterworts, as well as rose-root, purple and starry saxifrages, and mountain sorrel in the higher altitudes.
The grounds are home to herds of Connemara ponies and Irish red deer, as well as a variety of birds, from meadow pipits, skylarks and stone-chats, to sparrowhawks, merlins and peregrine falcons. Rabbits, foxes, stoats, shrews, and bats are often observed at night.
Visitors InformationBefore venturing out on one of the well-marked hiking trails stop at the superb Visitor Center, which gives a good introduction to the local flora, fauna and geology. The Visitor Center is open daily from March to October and the Park grounds are open all year round. Entry to the park and Visitor Center is free of charge. Go early in the morning during the summer as this is a very popular area, parking is limited and trails become crowded later in the day. Parking is free. Be sure to pack a bottle of water, wear hiking shoes or boots and be prepared for the Irish weather – bring a raincoat, something warm, and possibly even sun-cream.
Getting ThereThe main entrance and Visitor Center for Connemara National Park is located near the village of Letterfrack along the N59 road. Bus services for Letterfrack operate from Clifden, Galway and Westport . Lots of day tours are also available from major Irish cities.
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Author: Ayda. Last updated: Jun 20, 2015