If you ever find yourself in Westport and you are going to head south toward Connemara National Park, do yourself a favor and take the slightly longer route through the Doolough Valley. To do so from Westport, take the R335 instead of the N59. Take this through Louisburgh then south toward Leenaun.
We did just that, we headed out from Westport and got on the R335 toward Louisburgh. Stopping briefly in Louisburgh to mail off postcards we figured we should go to a bank to replenish our banknote supply. Asking the woman working in the post office if there was a bank in town that exchanged US dollars we were informed of the mobile bank that happened to be in town today. She had a rather thick accent and people were in line behind us so we thought we could figure out where this mobile bank was.
We drove down the main street like she had told us but didn't see anything that looked like what we needed. After reaching the end of the small town, we headed back toward the other way. Still nothing. Driving back through the town again we saw an armored truck parked on the side of the road but assumed that was just a transport. Once again reaching the end of the small strip of buildings we figured we should at least see if the armored truck was what we were looking for. We made one final pass of the truck looking for parking and finally found a spot 5 or 6 cars away from the truck. We made yet another u-turn and pulled into the spot.
My wife got out and went to ask the security guard standing outside the truck if this was the mobile bank. He instead asked her some questions about our intentions. Apparently, we had looked suspicious passing the armored truck numerous times...can't imagine why that looks suspicious. However, what made us look really odd was the fact that the GoPro was suction cupped to the hood. It looked as though we were casing the armored truck to the guard. My wife explained that we had never seen a mobile bank before and we weren't sure if this was it. The guard laughed and then opened the door to the back of the truck and there inside was a mobile bank. A man was in the bank as a teller, the truck large enough for him to stand up in the back. This may not be amazing to you but it certainly was to us.
After our brief stints as almost bank robbers, we made our way to the Doolough Valley. As you make the drive, the road will take a bend and drop into the valley. This gives you an incredible view across the valley. Mountains line the lake at the bottom, it is truly a beautiful site. There are a few pull-offs where you can stop and take pictures. Afterward, you'll make your way along the lake and through the valley. This drive was truly one of the more breathtaking drives on our trip. It is part of the Wild Atlantic Way so if you plan on following that while in Ireland (we did for large portions) you will see this gorgeous valley.
Continuing on, we made our way to the Connemara National Park. Just outside of the park is the Kylemore Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded on 1920 on the grounds of a castle. The abbey was founded for Benedictine nuns who fled Belgium during World War I. This huge abbey is set directly on a lake with a massive hill behind it. It is one of the more picturesque and peaceful monasteries I've seen.
After the brief stop to admire the lovely Kylemore Abbey, we made our way to Connemara National Park. We parked and headed into the visitor center to get a map of the trails. We were once again surprised that Ireland's national parks don't really have a large number of trails. Connemara really only has 1 trail with a few ways of looping back early. Before leaving the visitor center we walked around their historical exhibit learning all about the boglands that cover Connemara. You are required to stick to the path for much of the trail, mostly for your own safety. A bog can be a dangerous place to venture into.
We made our way up the trail toward the top of Diamond Hill. Unfortunately, at the end of the Croagh Patrick hike the day before I slammed my foot into a rock and was left with a large bruise on the pad of my foot. Walking on the foot wasn't too bad but I knew going uphill would be more painful. So, I headed back to the visitor center and my wife climbed the rest of the trail. I wish I could have been at the top though because the pictures she took were incredible.
After eating lunch in the courtyard at Connemara we headed toward Galway. Our route took us right through Lough Inagh Valley. Just like Doolough Valley, this stunning valley with mountains set on a lake make the drive along this road one to remember.
From Lough Inagh Valley we drove to Galway. We walked the city streets for awhile taking in the various sights and sounds. For dinner, we ate at The Pie Maker, an extremely small restaurant in the heart of Galway. I highly recommend the place even if you have to wait a little to grab a seat, which is likely as there is only 5-6 tables and a small tabletop bar with 5-6 seats. The pies were delicious and homemade. You definitely can't go in there expecting a quick in-and-out but it is well worth the wait.
Our last stop of the evening was to where we would be staying the night. So, we made our way just outside Galway to Cahercastle. This is where we'd be spending the night.
As you can see from the picture, we stayed in a castle! How awesome is that?! I found this gem of a castle on Airbnb and highly recommend it if you're going to be staying anywhere near Galway. The host, Peter, was wonderful for explaining the history of the castle and all the cool things about it. We even got to go to the top of the castle and watch the sunset. There are few things as awesome as staying in a castle. We definitely felt like royalty staying here.
Remember, Adventure is Calling!
November 16th, 2016