Walk of the week: Diamond Hill, Connemara, Co Galway
Diamond Hill is, first and last, a proper mountain. It is easy to think of it as a tame lump, scarcely worth the attention of a proper walker.
I've got to admit that's exactly what I pictured when I heard about its neatly waymarked trails, its convenient proximity to the Connemara National Park Visitor Centre and its suitability for all ages and stages (suitably fit and equipped).
Lord forgive me for my snobbery.
Now I've climbed Diamond Hill, I respect it as a real Connemara mountain. It might not be one of the true apostles, the Twelve Bens themselves, but at 1,460 feet (445m) of climb from sea level it's a really good challenge for non-mountaineers -- a true people's mountain, Everyman's Peak.
What you see from the Visitor Centre is a shapely cone, high against the eastern sky, diamond shaped. On this bright morning it glittered like a diamond, too, as the west Galway sunshine reflected off the polished quartzite that forms the mountain.
I grabbed a leaflet showing the panorama on view from the peak, and made off up the trail through birch scrub and boggy grassland trickling with yesterday's rain.
The path steepened through a wide bogland, full of milky pale marsh orchids and pink fairy bonnets of lousewort, to reach a monolithic stone at the halfway point.
Here was the place to halt and take in the really stupendous view back over Barnaderg Bay and Ballynakill Harbour, the sea-beast profiles of Inishbofin and Inishark out beyond the jaws of the inlet.
Tully Mountain loomed dome-shaped over the harbour, and to the north Kylemore Lough stretched away towards the blunt wall of the Maumturk Mountains.
From here the blue trail fell away towards the valley, and the red Upper Diamond trail, very well-engineered and drained, forged on upwards alone.
Now the cone shape of the mountain changed to a long, knobbly spine upheld against the clouds. Streamlets chinked and trickled unseen.
A scattered chain of climbers ascended the path -- French, German, American, Japanese, Danish and, yes, Irish too.
A tiny tot in pink trainers went staggering up behind her big sister, all of six years old and very keen to scamper straight to the top. Mum puffed hard in the rear and called unavailingly for a little breather.
Some silver scramblers overtook me, striding along. It was good to be climbing the mountain in such varied company, everyone armed with a greeting or a wry comment.
The path steepened further, zig-zagging up through the rough quartzite. Feral goats surveyed the rabble with utter indifference from precarious perches on the edge of the mountain.
Up at the top, jolly parties gathered round the big cairn to add a pebble and pat each other on the back.
Now we could see east into the heart of the Twelve Bens, a dun and olive semi-circle of peaks and ridges, like a wire bent into sharp undulations under an army blanket.
The downward path led back to the halfway stone, then on down through sphagnum bog and a valley of flowering gorse and rowan trees.
When I looked up, I saw that the mountain had shifted shape once more, the monster spine reverting to the handsome gleaming cone I'd admired at the start of the day.
The 'Gazetteer' that accompanies Tim Robinson's definitive 'Folding Landscape' map of Connemara has an elliptical entry on Diamond Hill. "It was said," remarks Robinson in his dry way, "that the poet Mac Suibhne would have climbed it had there been a tavern on top." By all accounts Mícháel Mac Suibhne was fond of the odd glass, and of pretty girls too.
It's a shame he never made it to the top of Diamond Hill. He could well have found one, if not the other, up there, and the view from the summit would inspire a log of wood to verse, let alone a poet like Mac Suibhne.
What a treasure he might have bequeathed us.
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 37; ‘Folding Landscapes’ map and ‘Gazetteer’ Connemara’ (foldinglandsca pes.com); downloadable map/instructions at discover ireland.ie/walking.
TRAVEL: Bus (buseireann.ie) to Letterfrack: 419 Galway- Clifden, 421 Galway-Westport. Road: Connemara National Park Centre is signposted off N59 Clifden- Leenane road in Letterfrack.
WALK DIRECTIONS: 4 trails, in order of difficulty: Ellis Wood (½ mile, green waymarks); Sruffaunboy (1 mile, yellow waymarks); Lower Diamond Hill (2 miles, blue waymarks); Upper Diamond Hill (2¼ miles). The walk described follows Upper Diamond Hill from Visitor Centre to the summit and back to the Big Stone. Left here on the Bog Trail, back to Visitor Centre. LENGTH: 4½ miles — allow 2-3 hours.
CONDITIONS: Good path, duckboards or steps underfoot; many stone drainage gullies. Upper Diamond Hill a steep, rough ascent, but active children can make it to the top. Take raingear, a snack and drink. Avoid upper section in bad weather.
DON’T MISS: Connemara National Park Visitor Centre; wild goats; fabulous 360° views from summit.
REFRESHMENTS: Visitor Centre.
ACCOMMODATION: Abbey Glen Hotel, Clifden. Tel: 095 21201; abbeyglen.ie. GUIDE LEAFLET: ‘Diamond Hill Panorama’ leaflet from Visitor Centre.
INFORMATION: Local walking guides: Connemara Geographic. Tel: 087 222 8538; connemarawalking.com. Visitor Centre: Letterfrack. Tel: 095 41054/41006; connemaranationalpark.ie.