As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Saturday’s plan was to get up early enough in the morning to make it over to Connemara National Park in time for the Pony Walking Tour that was taking place at 11:00. After that, we hoped to explore some other areas of the park, then spend the rest of our day taking in downtown Westport.
Our Airbnb host, Evleen, prepared us a lovely breakfast of cereals, juice, tea and coffee, fresh fruit, and plenty of bread, butter and jam. This is a far cry from the “full Irish breakfast” experience we’ve been having at our hotels every other day of the tour, so it was a refreshing way to start the day. Huge breakfasts can sit like a lump in your stomach, and since we were going to be walking around the park, we didn’t want to be uncomfortable for the hour drive back to the park or for our walk.
With comfy shoes and layered jackets on, we hopped in the car and took off. We ended up arriving at the park around 10:00 which gave us time to go back through the Visitor Center and look at the exhibits they had on display that talked about the Connemara landscape and history. Information about the peat trace in Ireland was particularly interesting. Peat is basically the middle level between dirt and coal. I won’t go too in-depth about it, but it is the primary use for heating all over Ireland, so if you’re curious about what peat is, I highly recommend learning more about it. (Google works wonders for these sort of things).
The tour started promptly at 11:00 and was led by a park employee named Madeline. She had an interesting background herself in relation to the pony walking tour as she had worked with the Connemara ponies nearly 20 years ago, so she was familiar with the mothers and grandmothers of the ponies we learned about on our walk. Just up the hill from the visitor center was a mare, Fiona, and her foal that had just been born in April. They both were very friendly, coming right up to the fence, letting us pet them and get kisses while Madeline talked to us about them. From there on we went up what is labeled in the park as the yellow trail, the shortest of three, and learned about different flowers and plants along the way, as well as the other animals currently living on park property near the center. Once Madeline finished her tour with us, we walked a bit more around the shorter walking trails. Some took us through the woods, and by the stream. Some of the trees along the walk way had plaques with poems imprinted on them that you could stop to read along the way. A few were actually rather touching. Before long, it was mid-afternoon and it was time to head back to Westport for a snack (and impromptu nap and then exploring the town.
I have to say that of all the towns we have visited so far, Westport was a little on the more simple side. The streets made it hard to keep track of where you were going, and every store and shop seemed to be closed by dinner time on a Saturday which was a little sad. However, it was still so busy in town that we struggled to find parking. This is very much a pub oriented town, with food, booze and music available every few doors down. We opted for the cheap food option of eating at the cafe section of the local grocery store, and I immediately wished we hadn’t. My “lasagna” was a bowl of dry ground beef, with no flavor, and layers of under/overcooked noodles in between, topped with melted cheese. There was no red sauce so speak of, no cottage or ricotta cheese layers, no extra mozzarella cheese throughout. The only redeeming part was the gooey cheese on top. The fruit smoothie I bought there was fantastic, but since that came from a different area, I won’t consider it as part of the same meal. As someone who is obsessed with and addicted to pasta, I was made very unhappy by this sad excuse for a traditional Italian meal. Once we walked around town a bit more, I cheered up, but that was also because I knew we had some snack meats and cheeses waiting in the car that I could munch on if I wanted to since I’d hardly eaten half of my “lasagna” at dinner.
As it got later, we all were feeling tired from all the walking, so we got back in the car and headed home for the night. None of us like being out late when we have places to be the next day, and the next morning was sending us off in the direction of Bushmills, a good 5 hour drive away, without stops. We already planned two stops, so we knew it could make out to be a long day.