We now feel as if we are in the truly remote parts of Ireland - the north-west. After leaving Galway city, we drove along the coast road poking into little roads which lead to the many beaches along the way. Once we found a lovely remote beach, we decided to 'wild-camp' there for the night. We had been talking about doing this for a while but it was only in the less sparsely populated regions that we had thought we could find good spots to stay the night.
The beach, fronting Galway Bay, was sandy with huge weed-covered boulders jutting out into the water. The rocks were brilliant shades of oranges and yellows contrasting beautifully with the deep green of the sea. We walked along the beach - it had cleared up and we had blue skies, a rainbow and a sunset! We saw seals just offshore playing around but unfortunately they didn't come close enough for a good photo. It was low tide and we spent time watching the tide come in to completely cover all the sand and all the rocks at quite high speed. Huge tidal ranges are a feature of this coast.
So we spent our first night away from a campsite with just the facilities of the van. It all worked well and we established that we didn't need outside electric power to keep the fridge going all night. The hot water worked a treat and we were able to have a good wash and do the dishes.
But... the blue skies did not last and we were buffeted by high winds and rain all night... yet again. Will someone remind us what season this is??
In the morning there were no seals but an Irish hare, quite a big creature with long legs which walks rather than hops, was wandering along the sand.
Galway is a sparsely populated region with high mountains and open land. Only some of the countryside is the emerald green and lush fields that are commonly associated with Ireland. Peat bogs were starting to become a common feature of the landscape - brown expanses seemingly terraced where they have been 'harvested'. The effects of the Ice Ages are clear with the wide U-shaped valleys, the boulder-strewn plains and slopes, and the myriad of loughs scattered on the lowlands and the high.
After another night wild camping on the pier of an old fishing harbour at the end of a very long and narrow road, we continued heading north through Sligo County and into Donegal. We took a boat trip on Killary Harbour, Ireland's only fiord. On the way out to the mouth of the harbour, it rained and poured and blew! Of course. But the return trip was calm, the wind dropped and the rain stopped and we had wonderful views of the precipitous hillsides where no road has ever penetrated. One of the boat company employees told us of a route to take with, he said, one of the most beautiful views in Ireland. So, taking the advice we drove up the Delphi valley past a large lough high in the mountains and through the pass. He had said to stop and look back down the valley when we had climbed to the pass. He was indeed right - it took your breath away and has to rate as one of the best sights we have seen.
Achill Island is Ireland's largest island and is only separated from the mainland by a narrow sound that is mostly sand at low tide. Its Atlantic coastal drive through barren mountains to cliff-fringed beaches took us to our campsite right on a beach.
In this north-western part of the country from Galway through Sligo and into Donegal, the scenery is wild, wind-swept and wonderful: cliffs that drop at alarming angles into the sea - and the highest cliffs in Europe, a challenging walk to get to; jagged, rocky islands off the shore; wide beaches with golden sand and surf; a stone village deserted in the Great Famine; Stone Age monuments, tombs and circles - and a collection of 60 tombs all in one place which can be walked around; vast peat bogs as far as the eye can see, not only in the lowlands but high in the mountains even running up to the edges of high cliffs; the Connemara National Park showing some of the original natural landscape of the country with walks along the hillside; and loughs everywhere, large and small, high and low, in every conceivable setting, made from the depressions left behind after the great ice sheets had receded and dotting the countryside.