Glencorbet, at the northern end of the 12 Bens range in Connemara, Co. Galway, does not immediately inspire like it’s southern counterpart, the Glencoaghan horseshoe. And whilst on a sunny day Glencoaghan will attract many hikers, you can find relative solitude to the north.

Glencorbet, like all the glens here, was formed by scouring glacial processes during the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, and is currently drained by the Kylemore river, which flows into the lough of the same name. Here you will find the well know tourist destination of Kylemore Abbey, with its Victorian gardens and well stocked tea rooms.
Not for us today, though, as we seek the quieter and more solitary slopes of the hills that overlook the lough.
On the grassy, northern flank of Glencorbet
The route starts on the northern flank, up wet slopes of mountain heath and grasses to the beginning of the ridge at the modest Minnaumore. From here we follow the ascending broad crest to a final pull to our first top, Benbaun. This is not the Benbaun that boasts to be the highest point in Galway, that comes later, but a hill of lesser stature using the same name, masquerading if you will.
From here you can look down to Kylemore Lough and the abbey, the cars on the distant road and the milling visitors unaware that they are being observed.
Now we are turning south, over rockier ground, and climbing through bare pale grey quartzite outcrops to reach the summit of Benbrack. On this day the cloud was low, barely above our heads and this gave the mountain a Mordor like feel, dark and somewhat foreboding.
Benbrack in low, glowering cloud.
From Benbrack we must descend 260 metres to the grassy col that separates Benbrack from Muckanaght, an imposing pile of rock with steep ascents all round, much of the route here is on steep grass and in wet weather it should be approached with a good deal of caution.
Another descent to another col before a grassy ramp leads to the long rocky and scree strewn pull up to the summit of Benbaun, the big fella this time, and at 729 metres, (2392 ft.), the highest point in Galway. (Now I know my American readers will think this a bit odd that I describe a mountain of this modest altitude as a ‘big fella’, but round these parts that’s respectable, and the route does start at around 40 metres above sea level).
Benbaun summit looking north towards Benbrack
By now we had clearing skies and magnificent views of the rugged ramparts of Bencollaghduff and the mountains to the south, Bencor and Benbreen. These craggy tops form the headwall of Glencoaghan, most often climbed from the south as part of the horseshoe of that name.
Our route now takes us down over boulder, rock and scree, as we head east on the southern flank of Glencorbet. The scree gives way to grass, heath and eroded peat hags along a gently descending and narrowing ridge, before we reach the outcrop of Knockpasheemore, and the end of the horseshoe.
Bencollaghduff from Benbaun
A step grassy descent north is followed by the crossing of the valley floor, a precarious undertaking in wet weather, but dry enough in July, where we find a conveniently placed foot bridge over the Kylemore river, and a short hike back to our starting point and waiting transport.
Though maybe modest looking on the map, this is a fine outing with several re-ascents during the day and some difficult terrain for the less experienced.

As with all mountain routes, treat it with respect, and pick a day when you can enjoy the superb views.

2012 was one of the wettest years on record in Ireland, and particularly so in the west, so this February it seemed like a good idea to head to Connemara and see for ourselves. Not as daft as it sounds, as February can be a cold, dry and sunny month, great for long views and memorable mountain days. However, our trip was presaged by the prospect of heavy rain showers and cloudy, windy weather.

Our base for the four days was Clifden, a lively little town on the southwest of the range, but at this time of year,half closed for the winter and very quiet. From here we could access the Twelve Bens, Maumturks, Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey, (who do a fine line in tea and sticky cakes).

The first day was windy with patchy blue sky, hill fog shrouding the tops of the higher summits.we decided on the Bengower horseshoe,a route that took in Benglenisky, Bengower, (664m), and Benlettery. The hills of Connermara are mostly comprised of quartzite, a hard pale rock, which is essentially metamorphosed silica rich sand, (baked under high pressure).There are outcrops of granite too, but the quartzites define these hills, and give them their silvery grey appearance when wet, (which they often are), and their glaciated, ice scoured, steep sided form. The lower slopes are boggy and infertile, sphagnum mosses, lichens,and molina grass dominate, giving poor grazing for the sparse sheep that dot the slopes. Higher up you will find crowberry, heather, cowberry, clubmosses and lots of bare rock, ice smoothed and rounded outcrops dominate the higher slopes. Hard angular blocks and weathered gravel litter the ridges and summits, ready to trip any unwary foot, but make for great walking after the steep slog up from the sodden lower ground.

Bengower from the ridge adjoining with Benglenisky

Day two dawned windy and wet, with a dark, glowering sky and a cloud base around 150 metres. Clearly not the best of hill days, but undaunted we set of for the National Park visitor centre and a hike up the 440 metre Diamond Hill, (aka Bengooria), so named as it glistens in the sunlight when the rock is wet. Like so much else here in winter, the centre was almost completely closed, with only the toilets remaining open, the cafe being closed for refurbishment. Diamond Hill has a rounded top, rather like an upturned bowl, with an elongated summit ridge. The route is popular, and largely on boardwalks,paths and stone steps, an easy route to follow on a cheerless, wet and cloudy day. So leaving my map and compass in the rucksack we took to the trail and were back at the centre by early afternoon, chilled and damp we fortified ourselves with a flask of tea and returned to the car to spend the afternoon touring the coast roads.

Another windy and showery day followed, and so we decided on a forest walk in the Derryclare Nature Reserve, in the south of the range. This is a strip of mixed deciduous and coniferous woodland, dominated by birch and willow, pine and spruce, and sits between Derryclare mountain and the lough of the same name. There have been reported sightings of red squirrel here, but suffice to say we never caught a glimpse of any squirrel, red or grey, we we did come across lots of frogs and associated frog spawn, croaking amorously in the flooded puddles and drainage channels alongside the forest tracks. It stayed dry long enough for a quiet lunch by the lough, but we soon chilled, and hastened back on our return route.

Derryclare Lough

On our final day we headed to Kylemore Abbey at the northern end of the Twelve Bens, here there was ample parking, and the prospect of tea and muffins after our hike. Our route was a horseshoe taking in the summits of Benbaun, Benbrack, (582 metres), and Knockbrack. The grassy flank of Benbaun, (this is a smaller hill than the Benbaun in the centre of the range and its highest at 729 metres), rises steeply after passing a megalithic tomb and a holy well in the Mweelin valley. We tasted the water for good luck, soft and cold, before beginning the slippery and unpleasant ascent on the steep and damp grass of Benbaun. As we approached the summit and began to anticipate the respite from the hard ascent, the cloud came in and a soft drizzly rain started.

The misty summit of Benbrack

There are meant to be fine views from here,but we were completely in cloud for the rocky ridge traverse up to the summit of Benbrack, an eiry, silent world, muffled by the hill fog around us.The cloud stayed with us as we decended the broad west ridge toward Knockbrack, eventually clearing as we approached the last hill, only to return again as the rain set in more heavily. By this time we were decending into the valley and a determined final push saw us at the tea shop half hour before closing, good timing!

So was the trip worth it? Absolutely, the ridges connecting the summits of the Twelve Bens make for superb hiking, and with the longer daylight hours that come with summer, bigger days can be planned and more stunning walks contemplated. And there are still the Maumturks, which we never got a chance to look at. We will definately be back to explore the area more fully in the near future.