A Grand Day Out in North Mayo (in the car!)
When I plan a day out in North Mayo, my mind usually pictures a great long hike along its spectacular ocean cliffs.
But it’s sometimes fabulous to simply jump in the car and take in more of this little-visited but wonderful part of the country. So, the other day, that’s just what we did.
Our first stop was to hike the beautiful and more-or-less flat trail at Erris Head, 10km beyond Belmullet, in the very NW of the county. This loop is 5km long, takes 2hr and boasts great cliff scenery at its climax, looking out over Pigeon Rock and Oileán Dhabhaic. Be sure to visit the little World War II Look Out Post (LOP) and its associated EIRE 62 stone marker while you’re there.
Taking a detour off the road towards Ballycastle, we visited the small but beautifully located Dooncarton Stone Circle. There are many more impressive in the country, but few can match the stunning setting of this one, perched above Srahwaddacon Bay.
Then onwards to An Ceathrú Thaidhg and our second hike of the day. With occasional short climbs, this 13km trail will take you 4 to 4.5 hours. One stretch of cliffs, heading northwards from Rinroe Bay towards Kid Island, is perhaps the most photogenic in Ireland.
“The finest sustained coastal walk in western Ireland, with a profusion of precipitous cliffs,
crags, caves, chasms and islands along the remote North Mayo coast”
[Lonely Planet, 1999].
Driving further eastwards along the coast road, we made a quick stop at the impressive cross-inscribed stone pillar at Doonfeeney. It’s well worth the short detour – don’t miss it. Short of time, we skipped past the Céide Fields, the world’s most extensive Neolithic stone field system, just allowing ourselves a quick photo stop at the magnificent stratified cliffs across the road.
Our target instead was the singular Dún Briste sea-stack at Downpatrick Head, beyond Ballycastle. On this autumn day, we had the place virtually to ourselves. Here is quintessential Mayo, an icon of the Wild Atlantic Way and the pride of the North Mayo tourism offering. One minor complaint, however. I don’t like at all the modern glass and steel structures put in place a few short years ago. They do nothing but detract from this otherwise glorious natural site.
We were short of time and out of light. On a longer day, we’d have continued onwards to enjoy Killala’s round tower, the ruined monasteries at Moyne and Rosserk and the red squirrels at Belleek Wood in Ballina.
But not today. Instead, we headed southwards from Ballycastle, through extensive blanket bogs towards Lahardane and Castlebar, leaving lovely, wild North Mayo behind. Until next time.
Day Out in North Mayo – what to do and see
To learn more about what to do and see in North Mayo, visit the region’s tourism portal at www.northmayo.ie.