Archaeologist and sacred landscape expert Michael Gibbons grew up in the picturesque Connemara region. If anyone knows where to spot Connemara ponies and discover the area’s most striking vistas, it’s him. Here, Michael recommends some remarkable walking routes that are easily accessible to guests staying at Ashford Castle.
What is it that characterises the Connemara landscape?
“Connemara is like a small continent. You’ve got windswept beaches, big seas surrounding it on three sides and mountains in the centre. There’s a stark beauty to it and water everywhere.”
Where’s the best place to walk to from Ashford Castle?
“Cong village is a very short amble away from Ashford Castle. You can walk straight out of the hotel’s front doors and see an ancient stone circle and a medieval abbey here within minutes of the hotel.”
Can you recommend a scenic walking trail near the hotel?
“There’s a beautiful hike around Mount Gable, a couple of miles west of Ashford Castle, with panoramic vistas of Lough Corrib all the way round. Decide whether to take the lengthier route, where a prehistoric tomb sits at the summit, or opt for the shorter walk that leads around the lower section. As long as you’re wearing a good pair of walking boots, anyone can do either.”
Is there anywhere to refuel in nearby Clifden?
“Clifden has a lot of great pubs and smart restaurants, as it’s the biggest settlement for 50 miles. I particularly like Guy’s Bar in the centre.”
What is being done to preserve the Connemara?
“The entire region is safeguarded by EU designations, making it the most protected pocket in all of Ireland. And few resources are extracted – apart from marble, as this is a quintessential Connemara product that has been used as a ritual object for 6,000 years.”
Where can we encounter Connemara ponies?
“Clifden is where the annual Connemara Pony Show is held in the summer. But there are a number of farms to the north and south of the town where you’ll be able to find them all year round. The ponies often gather in between the road and the Atlantic Sea so you won’t even have to get out of your car.”
Where are the most popular pilgrimage sites in the area?
“Caher and St MacDara’s Island are two of the revered holy sites that locals head for during July and August. Sacred soils and works of art from the early Christian period are kept here.”
Where has been your favourite place in the world to discover on foot?
“For me, it was a busman’s holiday to the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. It’s very similar to Connemara: dramatic mountains, gorgeous coastline, eagles soaring above your head and otters scurrying about on the ground.”
Alongside fantastic walking routes, experience an unforgettable trail ride on a Connemara pony when you stay at Ashford Castle.