The Wild Atlantic Way Part III: From Westport to Clifden
STS ROAD TRIP DAY II
After a great night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we met Brian Kennedy in front of The Breaffy House Resort where he was waiting for us. Brian loaded our things into the Viano and off we went, bound for Westport Town. Our plans for the day were to visit Westport House, stop into the nearby Glen Keen Farm for a sheep herding demonstration and break the trip up with a cruise along the Killary Fjord before finishing our day in Clifden.
When we arrived, Brian drove us onto the grounds of Westport House. This was a treat, and when he opened the door for us, we stepped out onto the drive of the Mansion as if we were arriving back in time. As we were escorted from our “coach” to the front stairs of the estate, we sensed what it must have been like to arrive 150 years ago as a guest. It was an impressive site. We were met by General Manager, Biddy Hughes who proceeded to walk us through the property, showing us the stately rooms and impressive collection of artifacts, which were native to the home and not facsimile or recreations. Westport House has the distinction of having maintained many of its original features which was impressive. We were then led outside and onto the grounds where we marveled at the well-manicured landscape. The gardens were beautiful and their the grandeur, magnificent. We enjoyed tea and coffee on the grounds, said our farewells and departed for the next leg of our journey. Leaving the grounds of Westport House, the sound of the gravel beneath our wheels faded as we entered back into modernity. It was a nice stop and a great way to start the day.
From Westport house, we made our way to Glen Keen farm, a family run sheep farm that has been active for generations. Back on the road with Brian, and satiated with caffeine, we moved along, content.
As we exited Westport, we would pass by one of Ireland’s most famous landmarks, Croagh Patrick. Just five miles outside of Westport, you cannot miss this majestic mountain. Overlooking Clew Bay, and at 2,506 feet (764 meters) it is an impressive landmark to say the least. Believed to be the site where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days in 441 A.D., Pilgrims have been coming here to climb to the summit for generations, the most devout, in bare feet.
This was not a pilgrimage we would be making, but perhaps another day. We did however make a stop so that we could take in the site. This is one of the great advantages of being on a chauffeur drive. Brian had our agenda, and he knew how to make adjustments on the fly that would still keep us on time. This allowed for use to stop at points of interest along the way and not worry about disrupting our schedule. It’s an important aspect about traveling. When you are on vacation, you should be able to enjoy the moment and not worry about time constraints. The STS team was able to plan a day that maximized our experience and Brian’s expertise provided us with the confidence that the day would run smoothly. It was a comfort that made us feel like we were indeed on vacation and not rushing to make appointments which was great, we were at ease.
We wrapped up our pit-stop at Croagh Patrick and headed on down the road to Glen Keen farm. Brian knew exactly where we were going and chatted to us about the history of the area as we drove along. We arrived at Glen Keen Sheep Farm right on time and were greeted by Catherine O’Grady Powers whose family, much like the Bourke’s of The Lost Valley had been living on the property for generations. Catherine brought us inside, showed us aerial photos of the vast property and talked to us about their operation. Then she sat us down to a fantastic lunch which she prepared in their professional grade kitchen. It was an incredibly fresh farm to table experience as everything on the plate was locally sourced. We were all pleasantly surprised and gracious as we enjoyed such a thoughtful and well-prepared meal. As we departed, Catherine gave us a brief demonstration of her dogs at work. It’s always an impressive site to see the partnership between the dogs and farmers. The dogs are unbelievably smart, and the teamwork displayed is truly remarkable. Another good stop.
On our way to Killary Fjord, Brian explained to us that the road we would be travelling was witness to one of the dark and sad moments of Irish history. We would be traveling through the Doolough Valley along the famine road that in 1849, hundreds set out in hope of reaching the Delphi Lodge for the promise of a meal. After traveling miles across the valley in the cold and darkness, upon arrival at the Lodge, they were turned away by the Marquis of Sligo as he dined in comfort while entertaining guests. In the morning, to the horror of the Marquis and his guests, hundreds lay dead along the road and outside the gates of the lodge. This “Journey of Horror” is now commemorated by a walk each year that ends with the “opening of the gates” to the lodge as a symbol and acknowledgment of the wrong that was done.
We were travelling through one of the most picturesque parts of the country with Ireland’s trademark hills and valleys, it was absolutely breathtaking, yet there was still a palpable sadness present, it was quite moving and we drove silently for a bit as a sign of respect for what occurred there over 150 years ago.
After some quiet reflection and as we drove out of the valley, we emerged onto Killary Harbor, home to Ireland’s only Fjord. It was quite a contrast to the vast expanse we had just traversed and another breathtaking and unexpected view. Along the trip we had a lot of these “wow moments.” Ireland has so many amazing drives and I was so pleased to be a passenger today as I was able to take in the sights around us with an easy mind and no menacing thoughts of accidentally driving of the road while taking a peek at the view. With so much to see, I could imagine how easy that might be.
For this segment of the journey, we had decided to incorporate a water excursion along with the winding and scenic roads we had been traveling. We arranged to meet up with the crew who runs the Killary Fjord Boat Tour in the harbor. There is something refreshing about being on the water. It’s a great way to relax and to recharge the batteries. After meandering along the twisting and turning coastline for 20 minutes or so, we arrived at the landing to meet our boat for our cruise along the fjord. This was an excellent decision. From the very minute we stepped aboard, we knew this would be a treat, and it was. The ride up and back in the harbor takes about 90 minutes and is calm and relaxing with spectacular views along the way past the salmon and mussel farms that provide some of the freshest seafood that Ireland is famous for. This was a spectacular experience, and we were happy to get out on the water to see it, a great suggestion by the STS team.
From here, we departed for Clifden, one of our favorite towns and always a pleasure to visit, but first… a stop along side of the road for some of the best coffee and hot chocolates in Ireland at The Misunderstood Heron. Just up the road from the boat landing and perched on top of a hill overlooking the harbor, TMH is a roadside must stop. Started by a husband and wife team in 2017, the words “Food Truck” do not begin to explain what a cool and pleasant experience it is to stop there. Their slogan, “Fresh, Local, Never Conventional” is absolutely true and their menus is both eclectic and alive as it changes from day to day depending on what ingredients are available and in season. If you have a moment to spare, definitely stop to enjoy the view and a nice “cuppa” whatever suits your fancy. Highly recommended and very much enjoyed.
Once we finished our libations, we moved on from our scenic overlook and made our way to our final destination for day two, The Station House in Clifden. Back aboard the Viano with captain Brian behind the wheel, we eased on down the road, pleased, relaxed and content with a full yet not “busy” day behind us. Leisurely would be the word to describe it.
There was one more quick stop before we would arrive in Clifden. Brian informed us that we were approaching another “wow moment” and that we should be on the lookout. He was correct and as we turned the bend, Kylemore Abbey was revealed to us. Built in the late 1800’s by a wealthy businessman, Kylemore Abbey could not be in a more beautiful location. Its architecture is perfectly complimented by its surroundings and it truly is as are so many sites around the emerald Isle, breathtaking. We stopped only briefly to look from across the water and Brian explained a bit of the history to us. It was a nice stop and hopefully one day we will return to tour the grounds. Not today though, which is ok because it’s always nice to have a reason to come back to this area.
A short time later we pulled into The Station House Hotel in Clifden where Brian parked in front of the entrance and led us into the lobby. A The hotel is built around a beautifully restored 19th Century Victorian Railway Station and is the perfect base for exploring Connemara, the stunning landscape and breath-taking coastline. Relax in Renew Spa & Leisure Club and enjoy the best of the regions cuisine in The Carriage Restaurant or the Signal Bar. With an additional sixteen 4 Star Self Catering Apartments, there are options to suit all parties.
We were greeted by very friendly staff members including the owner, John Sweeney who was on the premises greeting people and making sure everything was running smoothly. It was nice to see the owner present and taking care of people personally, it was quite welcoming.
Day two was another success. We had a great time and were looking forwards to what was in store for us in the days to come. We went upstairs, freshened up and met back downstairs in the lounge to enjoy the evening and chat about what a great day we had. Day two was in the books and we were delighted to be settling in to our new comfy and welcoming surroundings for the evening. Two pints of Guinness please!
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