With the 175-square-kilometre Lough Corrib and a smattering of smaller lakes in Connemara, West Ireland is home to a picturesque cluster of shimmering waterways, amidst woodland and rugged mountains. It’s a place of wild beauty, with ample hiking, fishing, kayaking and cruising opportunities, as well as peaceful picnic spots and world-class bird watching. The historic Ashford Castle lies within this region on the scenic banks of Lough Corrib, making it the ideal base from which to explore the surrounding land and discover the beautiful lakes of Ireland.
The largest of the region’s three lakes, Lough Corrib, offers an abundance of activities both on the water and along its shores. Ashford Castle organises various trips, including Pedal and Paddle, a scenic tour that combines kayaking on the water with cycling along the riverbank.
But it’s fishing that the lake is most renowned for; salmon, pike and brown trout abound here, and visitors can hire boats from various points around the lake to have a go at catching some themselves. Excursions of this kind can be arranged through Ashford Castle, with the local gillie Frank Costello, who hand crafts his boats, hosts everything from fly-fishing to full day trips. The latter includes a picnic on one of the islands and the rare opportunity to cook up your catch at the end of the day.
To set sail across the lake, without getting your hands dirty, opt for a boat trip with Corrib Cruises, who offer daily outings from Ashford Castle. There’s nothing more relaxing than whiling away some time, gazing at the passing landscape. Various options are available, including a two-hour cruise to Inchagoill Island, where you’ll disembark to explore St Patrick’s 5th century church, the 6th century Lugnaedon Pillar, and other historic spots.
There’s plenty to explore beyond Lough Corrib, too, including the vast Lough Mask, which is a popular spot for trout fishing, and Lough Carra, a limestone lake stretching across a comparatively small six miles. Lough Carra offers breathtaking views as well as an abundance of wild brown trout and pike, which continues to draw in keen fishermen from the local area and beyond. Further afield, just under two hours to the north of Ashford Castle, you’ll find yet more fishing opportunities at Doo Lough, which lies alongside the Sheeffry Hills and Mweelrea Mountains.
An hour’s drive to the southeast of the castle, meanwhile, will take you Ballynahinch Lake in Connemara, which is bordered by beautiful woods in the south and overlooked by the mountain, Ben Lettery. This land makes for ideal walking territory and there’s plenty nearby in the way of sightseeing; don’t miss Kylemore Abbey, around a 20-minute drive away, where restored rooms, a Gothic church and a Victorian walled garden come together to create a fairytale scene.
This region has several hiking trails to set out on, including Connemara Way, a 49-mile route from Oughterard (County Galway) to Westport (County Mayo) past various lakes and through emerald green landscape. Walk Connemara organises guided walks, including Roundsmen Bog Wilderness, a three to four-hour trek encircling Lough na bhFaioleann (Lake of the Seagulls) through lush fields and along secluded trails. Lying against a backdrop of the Twelve Bens mountain range and Errisbeg Hill, it’s one of the most photogenic landscapes in the area, and for a little more adventure, Walk Connemara offer a good hike up Errisbeg Hill, too.
Nearby, within the valley that’s surrounded by the Twelve Pins and Maumturk mountain ranges, are Derryclare Lough and Lough Inagh, which both serve as popular fishing spots and also make for scenic picnic locations.
It’s the Maumahoge Mountain Lake, though, that impresses the most. After a three to four-hour uphill hike from Maumeen, visitors are rewarded upon reaching the top with swathes of colour and light bouncing off the lake’s surface, with views over the landscape beyond.
However you end up exploring, you’ll be in need of some downtime after a day in the great outdoors, so back at Ashford Castle and The Lodge at Ashford Castle take the time to relax as you soak up their undeniable charm.
Image credits: Cover photo of Connemara © iStock /pnwall71. Lough Corrib from Ashford Castle ©Robert Streeter . Sunset over Lough Corrib © iStock /Ceri Jones Photography. Kylemore Abbey © iStock / espiegle. Doo Lough, Connemara National Park © iStock /Klaus Kreckler.