Twenty odd years ago while living in London, when my husband suggested a canoeing trip to the west of Ireland, I jumped at the idea. I had never visited Ireland until then, but I had heard a lot about the beauty of the country and specifically about the rugged, wild, west of Ireland. However, nothing had prepared me for the unique landscape that I encountered in Connemara. The landscape could not have been more different from my birth country, Iran.
On our way from London to Ireland, we hired a couple of sea kayaks, and after visiting my husband’s family in Northern Ireland, we headed for Connemara. Don’t worry I had some kayaking experience by this time! Our basic, but well fitted out camper van was our home for the fortnight. The plan was to travel around and stop whenever we found a beautiful place to canoe and camp. We were not disappointed. At every turn the views of the lakes, the sea and the mountains were breathtaking. This trip was in September and, fortunate for us, the weather was pretty good most of the time. For a city girl, as I was back then, Connemara was like walking into a beautiful dream. The roadside fuchsia bushes were gleaming red in the September sun. The fields of hay with little handkerchief like tops were like picture postcards. I loved the amazing colours of the mountains and the lakes that we kept coming across.
Being my first proper camping trip, I really did not know what to expect. Our first night stop was by the side of Lough Carra, in County Mayo, en route to the West. We arrived there late and I remember a beautiful sunset that evening. The next day, waking up to such amazing scenery was a privilege that I will never forget. However, being such an inexperienced camper I had to put some facts right.
Me: Where do I wash?
Husband: In the lake, of course!
Me: Oh no…but where do I wash my hair.
Husband: That’s what the bucket is for.
The pattern of the trip was set. Every morning we woke up by the side of a beautiful lake or near a beach, had a swim, followed by a hearty breakfast. We then explored the water in our kayaks, before travelling on to another part of Connemara or further on down the west coast.
One windy day, we found ourselves in Roundstone. Details of how we got there are a bit vague, but after a day of bumpy canoeing we came to Roundstone harbour. This little town in the west of Ireland is beautiful, quaint, lively at times, and it is extremely friendly. We found a little campsite which sadly is no longer there, and spend a few days enjoying exploring Roundstone and surrounding area. From then on Roundstone became a dear friend to us. We now have to visit it almost every year. Every spring and summer I feel an enormous urge to go back for a visit. I long for it’s gorgeous beaches, it’s wild landscape and its tranquility. We love the beaches there and as we get older, the water seems to get colder, but it doesn’t put us off swimming. I always think I leave a piece of my heart in Connemara and go back the next year to claim it. Whenever we stay in Roundstone we explore the lively town of Clifden and often we pop into Galway, if for nothing else but to visit Shop Street, which to me is one of the most vibrant places in Ireland.
A few years later, on a tandem cycling trip to the Ring of Kerry, Irish hospitality presented itself to us in the form of a lovely lady who was looking after her daughter’s bed and breakfast. On a summers evening in July, after a hard day of cycling, we were in search of a bed and breakfast. After a gruelling climb on the tandem, we came to a single house in the middle of nowhere with a B&B sign. We were very tired and delighted to have found this place. The B&B owner was away working on the fields. After dropping our bags, we asked her if she could recommend a place for us to swim and get refreshed. She took us to a beautiful little harbour which was just a few minutes walk from her own house. She asked us to walk up to her house after our swim. When we got to her place, she had a lovely afternoon tea of fresh Irish bread and jam ready for us. Her kindness was a testimony to Irish hospitality. This lady had known us less than an hour and now we were sitting at her table, talking about Ireland and our travels. What a memorable place and time that was.
It wasn’t long after that we left the hustle and bustle of London and moved to Northern Ireland. All these years we have been living in the north of Ireland we have been visiting lots of places in the south. Ireland has so much to offer – the landscape in the west is unique and breathtaking, people are very friendly and if you like outdoor activities, despite the weather, there are endless possibilities. More recently Westport has become a new favourite place. But that’s another story!!!
A few years ago while travelling, on several occasions, we stayed at a small b&b near Sligo. The owner Eileen always provided fantastic breakfasts and on one of our return visits, she very kindly gave me her wheaten bread recipe. I would like to share this with you. I’ve made this recipe many times and have given it to friends and family here in Northern Ireland, and also sent it to Canada, USA and Italy. I have provided step by step instructions in my ChilliRosso blog. If you manage to make this, I hope you enjoy it and please leave your comments on my blog. I would love to hear your views.
If you don’t already live here, enjoy your next visit to Ireland.