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Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Hiking Inisturk – The Most Beautiful of Mayo Islands

When I think of wonderful little Inisturk, I’m reminded of the sweet opening verse from Nancy Spain, the popular ballad most famously sung by Christy Moore, “Of all the stars that ever shone, Not one does twinkle like your pale blue eyes. Like golden corn at harvest time, your hair. Sailing in my boat the wind gently blows and fills my sail. Your sweet-scented breath is everywhere”. On the boat out from Roonagh to go hiking Inisturk, I can’t stop muttering it to myself.

Lying 15 km off Mayo’s wild west coast, Inisturk is the county’s most beautiful and striking island. From its little sheltered harbour on the east side, the island rises to a maximum height of some 190m in the middle before reaching its zenith at wonderful western sea cliffs.

hiking Inisturk

From the Signal Tower towards Achill Island.

While the marked walking trail up from the harbour turns left after the lake and swings back down by the surprising GAA pitch etched into the rocky landscape, we turn right. Up the small steep hill we wander, to the ruined Napoleonic Tower on top. The views from this early 19th Century signal tower are to die for. The great thing about Inisturk (Inishturk) is that it is at the centre of the string of fabulous islands and magnificent mainland coastline that marks out Mayo’s coastline from other parts of the Wild Atlantic Way.

From up at the ruined tower, you can look out at (N to S) Achill, Corraun, Clare Island, Nephin Beg mountains, Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick, Caher Island, the Sheeffry mountains, Mweelrea, Killary Harbour, Benchoona, Tully mountain, Inishbofin and Inishark. Arguably the finest view in Ireland.

If there is a heaven, then this is it.

We descend from this summit westwards, with the beautiful cliffs at the end of the island as our target. Bring your binoculars, as the views of all kinds of seabird, from Fulmar and Puffin to Razorbill, Guillemot and Peregrine Falcon are wonderful.

Continuing along the coast, then turning inland, we follow a long stone wall before re-joining the trail we had earlier quit. From the pitch, we visit the tiny natural cove at Port an Dún and its virtually no-longer-distinguishable caiseal remains, before rambling along the narrow road back to the Community Club. Dinner and a beverage are enjoyed, while we discuss one of the great Mayo experiences that is hiking Inisturk.

hiking inisturk 2

Looking back towards Croagh Patrick

Inisturk (Inishturk) boasts three B&Bs, which can be found on the local tourism website.

Hiking Inisturk

13 km; 5 hours with plenty of stops for birdwatching and taking it all in. Paradise!

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Bellacorick Bog Loop

Bellacorick Bog Loop – 13kms of flat, easy walking

While the first and last 1km is uninspiring, passing along a stony track shared by times with heavy machinery involved in the installation of a new wind farm, the recently designated Bellacorick Bog Loop both surprises and delights by the wild beauty of its inner 11km.

This loop walk follows now disused bog railway tracks through post-production peat cutting fields off the Crossmolina to Belmullet road, just east of the turn towards Castlebar. Having negotiated the not-very-pretty first stretch (and, by the way, having walked over the new gasline coming down from Bellanaboy), the loop leaves the new trackway to head off into the vast bog on mostly grassy tracks with Birdsfoot Trefoil beneath our feet.

Bellacorick bog loop

During May and June, we walk among beautiful wildlfowers in bloom, including Red and White Clover, Bog Cotton, Eyebright, Milkwort, Butterwort, Sundew, Tormentil, Silverweed, Yellow Iris and others.

Bellacorick Bog Loop offers great views over Nephin, Birreencorragh, Slieve Carr and Nephin Beg to the south, with Benmore and Slieve Feeagh rising above the seemingly endless bogs to the north. At various stages, we walk alongside the Oweninny River and its small tributaries. Long stretches are very pleasant indeed, although do take note that it tends to be windy up here in Ireland’s little “Big Sky Country”. Further along, we come in close proximity to the huge wind turbines being ‘planted’ all around, while five female Red Deer run away, having heard, smelled us or both.

Bellacorick bog loop - bog cotton

Birds encountered include Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Northern Wheatear and Sand Martin, while Kestrels have been seen on previous visits. This is Fox, Otter and Pine Marten country too, although none are spotted today.

While an inland flat walk like the Bellacroick Bog Loop cannot compare with, say, Mayo’s fabulous cliff-top trails, it is nevertheless a very pleasant stroll at this time of year, with lovely wildflowers all along. The loop also boasts two nice picnic tables, made of recycled plastic. Go and discover – you’ll enjoy!

Bellacorick Bog Loop walk : 13 km; 3.5 hours, plus stops.

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Enjoy 90 Seconds of a Windy Lough Adanacleeveen

Lough Adanacleeveen is a very lovely corrie lake below Slieve Carr, the highest peak in the Nephin Beg mountains of Mayo.

Get your hiking boots on some day and wander up to this very remote part of these mountains. Just pick a rock, sit down, switch off and take it all in.

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Review : Wild Nephin Map from EastWest Mapping

2015 saw the publication of its Wild Nephin Map by EastWest Mapping, employing a 1:25,000 scale to give greater detail than the 1:50,000 scale of OSI’s Discovery Series. So as a Christmas present to myself, I went out and bought it here in the Castle Book Shop. To be honest, I was disappointed.

OK, so what’s good about the map? The amount of work that must have gone into its production must be acknowledged. The naming of the most obscure little features, like tiny streams and flanks of low hills is outstanding. Also, I guess having just one map to cover the area is better than the three OSIs required (Sheets 23, 30, 31). But even that’s not quite true, as this map omits a large section of Birreencorragh, a major mountain of the Nephin Beg range. The space allocated to the furthest west 2 km on the Mulranny side of the map could instead have been devoted to Birreencorragh and its satelite Knockaffertagh. [In fairness, it should be admitted that Birreencorragh doesn’t strictly come within the “Wild Nephin” designated area]

Greater scale is generally a plus in any map you might like to use while out hiking, so the detail regarding forest tracks, bridges and the like can certainly be useful to visitors unfamiliar with the area.

The problems with this map, however, are essentially twofold : colouring and feature naming.

The colouring of this Wild Nephin map is not optimal, with too much dark toning, making the deciphering of many feature names unnecessarily difficult. The green representing Coillte plantation forestry and the blue for water are too dark, resulting in identification lettering being surrounded by a pale ‘shadow’ in an unsuccessful attempt to make them more easily readable. Indeed, the lettering is the same colour as water background. Compare the two photos below, with the OSI on the right hand side. I think it’s safe to say the OSI is significantly easier to read, although obviously much less detailed.

 wild nephin map

But the real issue of this Wild Nephin map is the naming of major features. For example, Glennamong mountain has been labeled “Mamer Dougher”,but also “Curranyarry” and “Glannamu Mountain”. The aforementioned Birreencorragh has become Birreen Corrough on the map itself and Birreen Corr, where given as an example on the Grid Reference System. Tirkslieve has morphed into Tirclieu, etc., etc.

Wild Nephin Map

Anyways, the detail in this map is excellent and I will carry it with me when out in these wonderful mountains and you should too. Just ignore the major feature names employed. You can buy online from East West Mapping.

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Wildlife Tour Poland 2015 – Trip Report

What a great week we had on our Wildlife Tour Poland during May. Wow, how time flies and I only writing up my report now! For me, the highlight was unquestionably on the double. First, we had Marsh Harriers passing food while flying above a little rushy marshland. Then, a few days later, we were treated to the extraordinary sight of 7 White Tailed Eagles fishing on a relatively small lake and in full sight of local farmers just going about their business, in wonderful harmony with these magnificent birds of prey. Farmers of Ireland, take note!

Wildlife Tour Poland

Lake holding White Tailed Eagles

And it was so fascinating to meet two border guards on the Polish-Belarussian border and listen to them recount their story of the time they decided to patrol along the border on foot for a while, only to return to find their trusted German Shepherd surrounded by three wolves! That same day, we had come across wolf tracks ourselves. Fantastic!

After six days of enthralling wildlife watching, we had accumulated a grand total of 103 bird species (either seen or heard), plus 8 mammals, including Bison, Elk, Stone Marten and Beaver. We came upon fresh Wolf tracks. Simply a great week spent in awe of the wildlife that thrives in this far eastern corner of Poland. I could list all the bird species, but that would almost spoil it. Let’s just mention a few – Golden Oriole, Bittern, Crane, Corncrake (excellent viewing), White & Black Stork, Pygmy Owl, Woodpeckers x 4, Warblers x 10, Ortolan Bunting, Penduline Tit (plus its amazing nest), Hoopoe, Thrush Nightingale, etc, etc.

Wildlife Tour Poland 2015

Pygmy Owl through the viewing scope

Accommodation was lovely as always and the food is really good too. Great company and a few beverages thrown in makes for a week to remember. And getting up really early one morning to go looking for the grazing Bison is a special moment also. Not to mention an evening boat trip in search of Beavers!

If you would like to join our 2017 renewal of this really enjoyable week spent in two separate Polish National Parks, do get in touch on 086-8318748 or by email to info [at] tourismpurewalking.com. If you’re into your wildlife and some nice strolls in broad river valleys and stupendous primeval forests, then this trip is most definitely for you.

Wildlife Tour Poland 2015 Reviewed on “Mooney Goes Wild”

Listen back to what Éanna and Richard from “Mooney Goes Wild” on RTÉ Radio 1 had to say about this year’s trip.

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Exposing the “Wild Nephin” Charade

Wild Nephin, states Coillte, would “involve taking 4,400 hectares out of … commercial forest operation and rewilding this land, improving habitat and landscape quality over a 15 year period. The eventual intention … protecting a landscape of scale with functioning ecosystems while providing an authentic ‘wilderness experience’ for those that visit.”

Minister Jimmy Deenihan TD, commented at the time that this project would “protect a large landscape from human artefacts”.

You can read this March 2013 press release.

The Wild Nephin area consists essentially of densely afforested and blanket bog Coillte lands to the East of Nephin Beg and Slieve Carr mountains in Mayo. These are huge non-native conifer plantations, typical of Coillte’s West of Ireland holdings.

Note that, contrary to Mr. Deenihan’s point, the Wild Nephin project team and associates have built human artefacts where previously there were none.

Wild Nephin steps

Steps in the forest : It doesn’t come any wilder than that !

This week I visited the area for the first time since last October. On my previous visit, I had not been surprised to see that felling of trees was ongoing and I was anxious to see if this was still the case in spring 2015.

Not only is tree felling still happening, but new non-native conifers (Lodgepole Pine) are still being planted. In addition, new fencing is being erected where previously there was none. Would you call this “re-wilding”? Does this sound like a true effort to develop an authentic wilderness experience?

Wild Nephin conifers

Bags of Lodgepole Pine waiting to be planted in Wild Nephin

Wild Nephin fencing

New fencing recently erected in Wild Nephin

Timber extraction machinery is also still on site.

Now, I never for a moment believed that Coillte was in some way going to simply abandon this site. The truth, I suspect, is that not the entire plantation is of such poor quality as to be uneconomical to extract. So it seems to me that they will continue to extract the parts they deem worthy of the work, while abandoning only the worst of it. But this week’s visit also suggests that they will, in fact, re-plant those areas that are capable of delivering a reasonable crop over future years.

Wild Nephin is, in my opinion, just a cynical PR exercise by Coillte. As somebody who’s hiked this area for 20 years, I can tell you that, in addition to the active forestry that has been going on for decades, the signs of human influence on this environment are in fact on the increase, rather than the other way around. There are now invasive huts and other structures, where previously there were none. Forest tracks for heavy machinery have been widened and strengthened over the last year.

Wild Nephin Beg Mountains

Our beautiful Nephin Beg Mountains have always been wild, but are now less so than before this project was devised. And the forestry operations continue. The European Wilderness Society, if it is serious, should review its ‘endorsement’ of what is going on here. [June 2016 Update : All references to this project have indeed been removed from the website of the European Wilderness Society.]

Read my previous post about Wild Nephin.

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