Hiking Blog


Guided Walking Tour in Spain

They start with the kids and it’s wonderful.

The colour is part and parcel of the tradition, with each group displaying its own version of the basic ensemble –tight trousers, bright top and broad black, stretchable waist support band.

guided walking tour in spain

castell is a human tower, traditionally mounted at festivals in Catalonia.

We’re in Olot on the first day of our guided walking tour in Spain – Catalunya to be precise. The local festival is in full flow, with great crowds thronging the narrow streets of the old town. The atmosphere is wonderful and typically Catalan, full of boisterous people having fun.

In front of Sant Esteve, the castell groups have gathered and the banter is in full flow. One by one, they offer up their initial ‘constructions’, with tightly-packed adults forming the solid base and the children, as young as 5 or 6 years of age, starting their ascent to the top. Topped with their rubber helmets, they acrobatically climb the adults’ backs, using the waist support bands as steps. Once they’ve summited, hands are waved in triumphant glee and back down they come at great speed. Their impressive achievement is greeted with well-deserved boisterous applause.

Later in the evening, this joyous celebration of local culture progresses to feature heavier adult women and men at its pinnacle, until the castell reaches a mind-boggling 6, 7 or even 8 ‘storeys’ high. Great stuff!

But we’re getting hungry.

Time to move on to one of the town’s lovely, smiley street-side eateries, where we tuck into some chorizo, bocadillos and more. Standing in this tight little space, beer in hand, we simply enjoy our time people-watching. Bliss!

A pleasant 20-minute stroll through the town brings us to our charming little hotel, nestled down a semi-rural laneway among lovely native trees. Tomorrow, we will begin our walking, among the wooded dead volcanoes of La Garrotxa Natural Park.

Guided Walking Tour in Spain

2020 tour dates are September 5 to 12 inclusive, flying from Dublin to Girona.

If you would like to learn about our small-group guided walking tour in Spain, where we spend one week hiking from the Catalunyan interior to its coast, please drop me an email to info@tourismpurewalking.com and I will send you the brochure with all the details.

To learn more about tourism in Catalunya, you might like to visit the official website for the region.

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Killary Famine Walk at Rosroe

Leaving the N59 between Leenane and Kylemore, we turn right onto the minor road L5102, marked Tullycross, to head to the Killary Famine Walk at Rosroe.

Killary famine walk at Rosroe
Killary Fjord

On the way, we pass Lough Fee and the former house of Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar. Beyond, at Salruck, stands the lovely old Church of Ireland church and, to its side and down a laneway, what was once the “pipe cemetery”.

J Harris Stone, writing in 1906, comments that

“A very curious old custom is associated with interments here…A box of pipes (short clays) is brought with each corpse, and a pipe with tobacco served out to each mourner. The pipes are smoked after the earth has been filled in and a mound of stones raised above the grave; the ashes are knocked out on the top and the pipes broken or left behind…The origin of this singular custom is unknown, but it certainly is very expressively emblematic of ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.”

‘Pipe Cemetery’ at Salruck

Continuing, we reach a cul de sac at the little harbour, where we can begin the lovely Killary Famine Walk at Rosroe.

During the multiple famines of the 19th Century, most notably the Great Famine of the 1840s, the local population would have been hit hard. Part of the route we follow here is what would have been a famine ‘relief’ road. We can see that it was well-engineered, crossing a relatively steep and rugged slope.

The way is punctuated with roofless ruins and long-abandoned potato ridges. Above the old settlement of Foher is a gap in the hills, known as Salrock Pass. Legend has it that the gap was formed when the devil dragged the local St. Roc over the hills with a chain, when enraged by the cross he discovered tied around the saint’s neck.

killary famine walk
Connemara light

While the nicest, unpaved section of this walk only lasts 5.4km, nevertheless it provides great views all around, especially of the fjord itself and Mweelrea on its northern shore. Note how aquaculture does not appear to be permitted in the County Mayo half of the fjord, as all infrastructure ends abruptly midway across the water.

Having gone through a gate, there remains another 2.6km of pleasant (though paved) minor road to the junction with the N59, then 800m on that busy road, before another 7km of off-road track into lovely Leenane village. This last section forms part of the Western Way long-distance hiking trail, coming northwards from Maam and Máméan to the south.

A very nice day’s walking with great views.

Killary Famine Walk at Rosroe – Details

Total 16km; time 6h at a leisurely pace.

You’ll need your bike to get back to the start, a distance of 15km on the roads and 1 hour of cycling.

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Ancient Church at Kilcummin

The little ancient church at Kilcummin, near Killala in North Mayo, is well worth a detour. It was a beautiful crisp day when I visited in January.

Kilcummin (not to be confused with Kilcommon, further west towards Belmullet) is a place of some historical importance, as it was here that General Humbert landed with his small French force on the Concorde, Franchise and Médée in August 1798, in a futile attempt to help the Irish effort during the dying embers of the failed 1798 Rebellion.

But it’s much further back in history we’re concerned with here.

The small ruined church is attributed to Saint Cuimín, who may or may not have been the 7th Century person of similar name associated with Clonfert, Co. Galway.

ancient church at Kilcummin
Looking eastwards through the doorway

This is a stunning church, dating from perhaps the 10th or 11th Century, with massive stones forming the base of its walls (so-called “cyclopean masonry”). It boasts two windows, one each in the east and south walls, along with its entrance door in the west.

Around the church can be found both St. Cuimín’s ‘holy well’ and what is traditionally considered to be his leacht.

Holy well

The setting, too, is very pleasant, with expansive Killala Bay just behind and the picturesque quay in the village.

On a bright, crisp winter’s day

St. Cuimín’s supposed grave site is marked by very nice standing stones and an inscribed slab, showing a cross and circular forms, possibly representing the sun. Just a few metres away is the interesting sundial stone.

Ancient Church at Kilcummin – Location

Past Killala, heading towards Ballycastle and Belmullet on the R314, turn right immediately after the narrow Palmerstown Bridge. Follow the brown “Tour d’Humbert” signs to Kilcummin pier, then onwards a little more and you’ll see the church on your right hand side.

While you’re in the area, go visit Rathfran Abbey.

And visit the Sacred Landscapes website for more early Christian sites to visit in the area.

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Day Out by Lough Conn

The beautiful Early Marsh Orchids greeted us by the sparkling lake shore at Errew.

Day out by Lough Conn Early Marsh Orchid
Early Marsh Orchid by Lough Conn

We fancied a day out by Lough Conn and had come to discover the ruined medieval Augustinian Priory at the end of the wonderful peninsula that juts more than half way across the lake. On this sunny early summer’s day, the place was resplendent, with its ungrazed fields of long grass, lakeshore Alders and wildflowers galore.

To reach Errew ‘Abbey’, turn right at the sign for Errew, along the road heading north from Lahardane towards Crossmolina. If you reach the entrance to Enniscoe House, you’ve gone too far. The pleasant drive down to the very end of the road includes passing by the impressive ‘big house’ of Errew Grange, a late 19th Century Knox house with interesting châteauesque features, now seemingly unoccupied. It would make a great backdrop for a haunted house movie. Interestingly, the Knox family only held it for less than 10 years, before its cost apparently contributed to their bankruptcy. See its entry on the excellent Buildings of Ireland website.

Park your car at the very end of the laneway, where you’ll see a sign for the abbey. Cross the style and traverse a field to discover the ruin. Maybe bring a stick, in case you’ve to ward off some cattle. While not as impressive as Moyne, Rosserk or Urlaur, the priory does boast one very nice intact side of its unusual cloister walk, complete with roof.

Errew Priory
The cloister walk at Errew Augustinian Priory

Supposedly founded by St. Tiernan, there were, according to tradition, up to 1,000 students here at one time. Hard to imagine.

Having wandered around the ruin for a while, especially enjoying the wonderful views across the lake from the upstairs of the eastern domestic range, we rambled across another field to the much-ruined Teampall na gCailleach Dubh, the Church of the Black Nun.

Errew nunnery
Teampall na gCailleach Dubh

It was on our return that we were enchanted by the Alders and Orchids all around.

We rewarded ourselves with a trip to the aforementioned Enniscoe House, just a few km to the north. In the afternoon sunshine, we enjoyed coffee and cake, while admiring its lovely walled garden. Later, we took a stroll to the lakeshore, along its pleasant woodland trails, before heading for home after a lovely day out by Lough Conn.

Enniscoe House Lough Conn
The walled garden at Enniscoe

Visit the North Mayo Tourism website for more things to do in the north of the county.

If you enjoy visiting ruined monasteries, read my post on Monasteries of the River Moy.

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Monasteries of the River Moy

Flowing just 103km from source to sea, the modest Moy isn’t the longest river found entirely within Connacht. That title belongs to the Suck, which runs for over 130km before entering the Shannon below Ballinasloe. Along with its salmon fishery, however, it is the medieval Monasteries of the River Moy that makes this water very special.

Ireland has no remaining wooden churches. While some examples exist from as early as the 8th to 9th Centuries, the ruins of stone-built stand-alone churches and oratories we see throughout the country today generally date from the 10th and 11th Centuries onwards. The larger, more complex ruins of mendicant monasteries, such as these Monasteries of the River Moy, mostly date from the 13th – 15th Centuries.

Religious orders came to Ireland from the 12th Century, with the Cistercians founding their first house at Mellifont, County Louth, in 1142. The Dominicans arrived in 1224, the Franciscans around 1231 and the Augustinians around 1280.

Monastic houses across Ireland and Britain were dissolved during the 16th and 17th Centuries, as a result of the Suppression of the Monasteries, a series of decrees enacted by Henry VIII from 1536 to 1541 and followed up upon by Elizabeth I and through to Cromwell’s time.

From its source 4km east of Lough Easkey in the southern slopes of the blanket bog capped Ox Mountains, the Moy is still young when we visit Court Abbey at Lavagh. I should admit straight away that it’s a bit of a cheat including Court as one of the Monasteries of the River Moy, given that it’s situated 4km away. But here goes anyway …

Monasteries of the Moy - Court
Court Franciscan Friary

This 15th Century Franciscan Friary was established by O’Hara for the Third Order Regular, consisting of both friars and sisters. While the building is much ruined and its remains heavily covered in ivy, nevertheless it boasts two features of notable interest.

First, like Moyne and Rosserk, there is what appears to be a secretarium (a type of anchorite cell) inside one of its walls, measuring approx 2m x 1m, with a small window to the outside. Anchorites were people who withdrew from secular life, to lead instead a life of prayer and confinement. The cell’s doorway is currently blocked by a late 19th Century tombstone.

Second, some of its still partially plastered walls show traces of medieval murals, including, again like Moyne, etchings of ships. The various colourations on the wall may be, at least in part, remaining paint from these wall murals.

Following the dissolution of monastic houses during the 16th Century, Court Friary was in a state of ruin by 1586.

View a 3min video of my ramble around Court at https://youtu.be/mpjvO1gJRqI

Among these Monasteries of the River Moy, the first genuine riverside site is at Banada. This Augustinian Friary, dedicated to Corpus Christi, was founded in 1423 by O’Hara and was the first foundation of the Observant Movement that was sweeping through the Augustinian order at that time. Banada was dissolved around 1613. Very little remains, although it too has some interesting features, most notably part of the stairs to the dormitory which, despite the almost complete collapse of the higher sections of the chancel walls, has managed to survive within them.

Monasteries of the Moy - Banada
Banada Augustinian Friary

As a side note, it was a Banada friar, Hugh O’Malley, who was tasked with establishing the well-known abbey at Murrisk, sometime around 1456.

Our third house is, once again, admittedly a few km from the river. The Priory of the Holy Cross at Straide was established by the Jordans (De Exeter) around 1240 for the Franciscans and was the first mendicant house in Mayo. Around the time of a fire in the 1250s, Straide was transferred to the Dominicans. It would be suppressed around 1578.

Indeed, the story goes that Basilia de Birmingham, wife of Jordan de Exeter, “having invited her father to a feast, refused to eat until such time as her husband replaced the Franciscan community with a Dominican one. He agreed and envoys were dispatched to Rome ‘with a great sum of money’ to confirm the arrangement.”

Its highlight is the superb sculptured tomb in the north wall of the chancel.

Monasteries of the river moy straide
The exquisite tomb at Straide

Ardnaree Abbey in Ballina town is situated just beside the modern cathedral (and the river) and was founded sometime prior to 1400, perhaps by the O’Dowds. It was the first Augustinian priory in the West of Ireland. Its remains are scant, though it does retain a very beautiful west door. One curious feature of Ardnaree is how we can see the degree to which the ground level has changed over the centuries, with the door half buried nowadays.

Ardnaree (Ardnary) was suppressed around 1580.

Ardnaree (Ardnary) Augustinian Priory
Ardnaree in Ballina Town

The superb Rosserk Abbey stands right beside the estuary of the river and is one of the finest in the country. Like Court, it was established for the Franciscan Third Order Regular. Founded around 1441 and suppressed around 1578, its very impressive and extensive ruins feature foliate decorations on pillars, the famous depiction of a round tower on its piscinae and its ‘cell’. Its east window is also still in unusually good condition, while its residential wing includes the kitchen, refectory, barrel vaulted rooms, etc.

Monasteries of the Moy - Rosserk
Rosserk Franciscan Friary

Challenging the claim of Rosserk is the remarkable Moyne Friary, a mere 5km further west. Built by MacWilliam de Burgo around 1455 for the Franciscans, this exceptional ruin boasts an intact cloister and ship murals on its walls, along with a superb secretarium. Moyne was suppressed around 1590. While there is no carpark and the abbey is not the most easily accessed, a stroll through fields with cows will get you there.

Moyne Franciscan Friary
Moyne Franciscan Friary, with its ‘cell’ to the right of the central column

Finally, nothing but the impressive round tower remains of the earlier monastic settlement that must have once stood in Killala town.

As a footnote, while not really on the Moy, or even its estuary, the remains of nearby Rathfran Dominican Priory, dedicated to the Holy Cross, are also well worth a visit. This house was established in 1274 by de Burgo and appears to have been suppressed around 1577.

Piscinae at Rathfran

Distances to visit the Monasteries of the River Moy

Court Franciscan Friary is 9km north of Tubbercurry and 41km east of Ballina, just outside the village of Lavagh.

Banada Augustinian Friary is 16km southwest of Court Friary.

Straide Dominican Friary is 31km southwest of Banada.

Ardnaree Augustinian Priory is in Ballina town centre, 25km north of Straide.

Rosserk Franciscan Friary is 11km north of Ballina.

Moyne Franciscan Friary is 6km north of Rosserk.

Killala town, with its round tower, is 4km north of Moyne.

Rathfran Dominican Priory is 8km northwest of Killala and 21km from Ballina town centre.

You can learn more in-depth information on some of these sites and other fascinating places in north Mayo on the excellent resource of Sacred Landscapes.

Of course, the Monasteries of the River Moy are not the only ones that Mayo can boast. Others include Aughagower, Murrisk, Cong, Burrishoole and the lovely lakeside one at Urlaur, near Kilmovee in the east of the county.

The sun sets beneath the tower at Court

For all tourism-related news and information, visit the North Mayo tourism website.

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9 Great Beaches of County Mayo

A wild, windy and often wet coastal county, boasting particularly spectacular sea cliff landscapes, Mayo is also home to some of the finest beaches in Ireland.

Caressed (more often, pounded) by the North Atlantic, 8 of these 9 great beaches of county Mayo offer fabulous sea views. As for the ninth, read on.

They may not all be particularly long stretches of strand, but wonderful they most certainly are. So, in alphabetical order, here are 9 great beaches of county Mayo, plus a bonus each from 2 of our neighbouring counties.

Back Strand at Lacken/Kilcummin

A beautiful, north-facing beach in north Mayo, beyond Killala. Feel the full brunt of any north winds at this strand. Shake the cobwebs away! Then continue around the dunes to the protected side. Both wonderful.

Back Strand, Kilcummin

Cross to Caisleán, The Mullet Peninsula

SW of Belmullet, this beautiful series of interconnected beaches boasts stupendous views out towards the uninhabited islands of Iniskea and Inishglora. With a neolithic stone circle at its southern end and offering fab views of diving Gannets, this is a great place to walk for hours on sand. Choose low tide for this walk, then go ahead – take the North Atlantic’s winds straight in the face. Invigorating.

great beaches of county mayo

The beach at Cross

Doo Lough, between Louisburgh and Leenane

It’s small and not on the sea, but it’s still jaw-droppingly beautiful. At the southern end of this most poignant of lakes, get out of your car and stand on the tiny stony beach. Admire the magnificent mountainous terrain all around. Spine-tingling.

great beaches of county mayo

Doo Lough beach


Strictly speaking not in Mayo, this gigantic West Sligo strand seems to go on forever. Not counted among the nine, for tribal reasons. Ditto for Lough Nafooey, below.

Enniscrone Beach

Keel, Achill Island

The stand-out feature here is the epic backdrop of the Minaun cliffs beyond. Fix your eyes on them and off you go down the 3km beach, letting your gaze drift off across the sea and towards Clare Island as you go. This is the only one of these nine great beaches of county Mayo that is a short skip and hop from accommodation, restaurants and pubs.

great beaches of county mayo

Keel Beach, Achill Island

Keem Bay, Achill Island

A very small beach, Keem is unrivalled for its awesome location. Wedged between the high cliffs to its south and the pull towards Croaghaun to its northwest, the drive or cycle down to this very remote beach is worth the trip alone. This place is the most enchanting beach in Mayo and certainly one of the most magical places in Ireland. If it’s a long beach walk you’re looking for, then this is not the one. But if it’s a spiritual experience by the sea you’re after, come here.

Note that back around 2016 there was a dreadful idea to build some type of hideous tourism structure above Keem Bay, as part of the Wild Atlantic Way (to have been plopped in the top right of my pic). I haven’t heard anything of it since and let’s hope that it never materialises.

Keem Bay, Achill

Lough Nafooey, near Finny

Like Enniscrone, above, this beach isn’t actually in Mayo, but we won’t squabble over a few hundred metres. This gorgeous little sandy beach is at the western end of this north Connemara lake, in a stunning location.

Lough Nafooey in Connemara

Mulranny Golf Course

At low tide, this is one of the best beaches in Mayo for you, your buddy, two hurls and a sliotar. Drive the ball as far as you can, on flat, hard sand. This is my favourite Clew Bay beach. Magic place.

great beaches of county mayo

Mulranny (golf course) Beach

Rinroe, beyond An Ceathrú Thaidhg

This lovely spot looks out across Broadhaven Bay towards the Mullet peninsula beyond and boasts a beach on either side of a small peninsula. Extensive dunes make for a spectacular backdrop to this wild spot.

great beaches of county mayo

The twin beaches at Rinroe, near An Ceathrú Thaidhg

Surgeview, The Mullet Peninsula

Another couple of km south of Caisleán and around the corner brings a small beach of no more than a few 100 metres in length. This little strand, however, affords extraordinary views of the rugged coastline of Achill Island to the south, with its majestic finger of Saddle Head jutting out into the foam. Not to mention the Duvillaun Islands and their rocky outcrops. Sublime.

Achill, from Surgeview on the Mullet

White & Silver Strands, south of Louisburgh

Two very remote strands, of which the first goes on and on, incorporates the quickly disappearing remains of an ancient graveyard and is surrounded by sand dunes. The second is small and bordered by rocky outcrops on both sides. Look out towards Caher, Inisturk and Inishbofin islands, south to the Connemara coastline and behind you to Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest mountain. If you’re lucky, the wind will be up when you visit and you’ll know afterwards that you had been walking one of these 9 great Mayo beaches along the Wild Atlantic Way.

White (r) and Silver (l) Strands

Great Beaches of County Mayo – Location Map

These great beaches of County Mayo are scattered around our wonderful land. Why not make it a goal for the coming year to visit and walk as many as you can manage? And let us know if your favourite hasn’t been included. By the way, here’s an article on the varied coastline of county Mayo.

And, to amuse you, here’s an article from the Irish Examiner listing the world’s supposedly finest beaches.

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