I wrote a post about the gorgeous beaches in Connemara a couple of weeks ago, but no visit to Connemara would be complete without also seeing some of the beautiful mountains, including the 12 Bens.
When I used to live in Japan, my Japanese friends often asked me which I like better, mountains or the sea. It seems like a pretty normal question for Japanese people, but I always found it incredibly difficult to choose. I love both mountains and beaches, so my perfect holiday locations have both! Anyway Connemara is a perfect place to visit as it has both gorgeous, unpolluted sandy beaches and mountains. The mountains aren’t particularly high (especially if you compare them to mountains like the Dolomites in my other posts.) However they mostly start from sea level, and they don’t always have official paths, so they can be quite challenging.
My mum is an artist (you can see some of her work here) so she’d always take photos to paint the gorgeous views later. She was in a wheelchair for lots of the time while my siblings and I were children, but we all knew she wanted to see the views. This means from an early age, I took photos while we were out walking so I could show mum what it was like. This week I have been going through my childhood photos and most of them seem to be of the Bens in Connemara.
The 12 Bens is the name for the mini mountain range in Connemara. They do have some very steep sides, so you need to be careful when you plan your route. If you are lucky enough to catch them on a good day, the views are simply incredible. Some fell runners attempt to run up all 12 mountains in one day. I am no where near that level of fitness. My dad would normally take us up 1-3 mountains in a day, as the Bens often have good ridge walks. It is worth noting that there are actually more than 12 Bens! If you count some of the lower peaks, then there are quite a few more!!
Tips for climbing the the Bens:
– Bring an empty flask! There is lots of rain in the West of Ireland and many of these mountains have high-up mountain springs that taste amazing!
– Bring lots of layers. It can get pretty cold at the top, even if it is warm enough to swim down at the lakes or in the sea.
– Be prepared to walk in the rain, hail, snow! I have climbed on days that threw all types of weather at us within an hour! Just because it is sunny when you start, Connemara weather is notoriously fickle.
– Make sure you bring maps! Unlike walks in other parts of the world with easy to follow paths, you need to plan your own way when you walk in the Bens. The only exception is Diamond mountain that has an easy to follow path.
– Laminate your map!
– Don’t be disappointed when you get to the top, just to find that it is not really the top! Perspective really plays with your mind in these mountains, and there always seems to be “just one more bump!”
Benbaun (Binn Bhán in Irish) is the tallest of the 12, at 729m, but it isn’t too tough to climb. You just need to park on the road (R344), walk up Knockpasheemore (412m) which is a little steep, but covered in grass so not hard to climb. From there, you follow a ridge-walk straight up to Benbaun. The grass makes way for more and more rocks. There are some paths (they are probably sheep tracks as they come and go!) You can see the long ridgewalk on the left of the first photo below, then on the right in the second photo. The day I climbed this with my Dad, brother George and friend Ariane, it suddenly became cloudy at the top, so we didn’t get to see the views.
Once you’ve made it to the top of Benbaun, there is another ridge-walk to get you to the top of Benfree on the same day. Benfree (Binn Fraoigh in Irish) is 638m and it’s green once you’ve escaped the scree from Benbaun. You can then keep going onto Muckanaght (Meacanach in Irish) 654m. I love looking at Muckanaght from the coast as it looks really steep and impossible from that direction. It is in the middle of the photos of below, in the centre of the 12 Bens. The first photo is from the Top of Diamond mountain and the other is from Tully Mountain.
The easiest Ben to reach and climb is Diamond Mountain which is 442m high. You can park in Connemara National park and follow the paths to the top. Do keep to the path on this one as it helps stop erosion.
The side of the mountain is covered in rock which shines in the sun. I love the top of Diamond as it is right in the middle of the Bens and also has stunning views out to sea. Just be careful if you decide to walk up on a windy day as there is quite a narrow ridge at the top, with steep cliffs either side.
Another, not too difficult trio of mountains in the North side of the Bens, are Benchoona (Binn Chuanna in Irish) 581m, Garraun (Maolchnoc in Irish) 598m, and Garraun South 556m. Benchoona is the mountain you can see from some of my favourite beaches. This meant I was so, so happy the first time we managed to climb it! We walked up as a big group of children with my parents. We were rewarded with chocolate bars when we reached the top. It is also the first trio of Bens that I climbed with my husband when he came to visit. The bad thing about these three mountains is that you have to walk through bogs to reach them, this means although they are not very high, they are knackering!
We haven’t always made it to the top when we go walking. Once Dad took me, my brother George and my friend Hannah up Doughruagh (Dúchruach in Irish) 526m. We climbed up from Kylemore Abbey by walking around the back of the mountain. We knew there was a ridge somewhere around the back, but we started climbing too early and got stuck on a very steep mountain face when the mist came down. My friend Hannah fell down the cliff and managed to rip her trousers before falling into a boggy puddle. The mist didn’t show any sign of clearing so we had to go back, giggling the whole way because Hannah’s ripped trousers had exposed her pants. Eep!
The next time we were a little more prepared, found the ridge and made it to the top. That time we started wearing T-shirts in the sun, then walked through hail and snow before building little snowmen at the top. I gave up my jammy dodger for a snowman’s mouth, and then George (the little bugger) stole it and ate it!
Lots of people have climbed half way up Doughruagh as it has a statue half way up that you used to be able to walk up from Kylemore Abbey. I used to love looking up to the statue as we drove around this mountain or visited the Abbey.
I hope you like the look of the 12 Bens! The photos I chose are all on sunny days, but please don’t expect them to look like that all the time! I’ll probably write more about these mountains another time, but for now, I will leave this amazing link that shows the peaks of the mountains. Click on the name of each peak to find out more about it.