Walking in the West of Ireland

Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Walking in the West of Ireland

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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Round Towers of County Mayo

Of the 60-odd Irish round towers remaining, in various states of repair, 5 are to be found in County Mayo. Round towers are believed to have been built around the 8th to 12th Centuries and were most probably bell towers associated with the church that would have stood alongside. Famously, they have a doorway set several metres above ground level and a few window slits inserted into the stone walls higher up. Window slits tend to be dispersed one per floor, with four at the top floor, in under the conical roof. The top floor windows tend to be larger than the others on the way up, presumably to let the sound of the bell be better heard and are generally (more or less) set in the cardinal directions.

Round Tower Killala

Killala Round Tower

Magnificent relics of medieval Christian Ireland, our round towers are superb examples of medieval stone masonry. Perhaps they are the architectural structures that most symbolise Ireland?

While presumably primarily for bell ringing, I can easily imagine these early medieval monks spending time alone in one of the tiny upper floors, crouched beside the single window slit to one side, a lit candle to the other, perhaps reading scripture or working on a new codex. I admit I can less easily imagine the towers being used as hideaways, in case of attack.

Round Towers of County Mayo

Mayo’s round towers are at Aughagower, Balla, Killala, Meelick and Turlough.

Aughagower : Standing 16m high, this partial tower had a second door cut into it at ground level in recent centuries, allowing the visitor to access it and look up into its interior. It is roofless. Extensive ecclesiastical ruins adjoin this tower.

Round Tower Aughagower

Inside the Round Tower at Aughagower

Balla : The smallest remnant in Mayo, the remaining stub of this tower is just 10m high and, again, features a later second door at ground level. What appears to be the original door is a whopping 8m off the ground. I’m still dismayed at how the new community hall was allowed to be erected so close to it.

Killala : Mayo’s finest extant tower stands 26m high and occupies a site bang in the middle of this medieval North Mayo fishing village. Its (repaired) conical top remains.

Meelick : Despite being without its roof, but at 21m high, this remains an impressive tower in a lovely rural setting. There is a very fine inscribed cross slab at its base.

Round Tower Meelick

Meelick Round Tower

Turlough : This 23m high tower, near the excellent National Museum – Country Life, gives an impression of being unusually short and still boasts its roof (repaired).

Round Tower Turlough

Turlough Round Tower by night

Of Mayo’s round towers, only Aughagower and Turlough still have their churches alongside, although both are ruined.

Visit this excellent website that describes all of Ireland’s remaining round towers.

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Farbreiga – A Hill with a Strange Name

Sixteen km north of Castlebar stands the modest but pleasant hill of Farbreiga. Though only reaching 395m high, a hike up this oddly-named hill offers wonderful views in all directions, especially eastwards over Loughs Conn and Cullin – two of our great western lakes.

‘Fear Bréige’ translates into English as something like ‘false man’, ‘fake man’, or indeed ‘scarecrow’! Wouldn’t you love to know how a hill could have acquired such a name? There may, perhaps, be a clue in its quite distinct conical top. Maybe, from a particular angle, it looks like a head. I’ll have to investigate further …

Farbreiga hill

Birreencorragh (l) and Nephin from Farbreiga

Leaving a side road at Derreens, north of Castlebar, the walk takes us onto part of the old Foxford Way *, heading north to the east of the hill. When a relatively high point is reached, we swing westward and make for the trig pillar on top of Farbreiga. Note that these early, low stretches of bog are absolutely covered in bog myrtle. Very nice indeed. Later, having reached the top, the views are really splendid and it is worth moving along the ridge to the north so the best views of Nephin beyond can be enjoyed. Don’t forget to glance back in the direction from which you’ve come. You’ll see the outlines of long-abandoned fields, with their distinctive parallel lines formed by hedges or walls no longer maintained. The relentless bog now blankets everything. The descent is then eastwards back down to the same track as before.

Farbreiga

Loughs Conn (l) and Cullin from Farbreiga.

Farbreiga Hike :

Distance 7.0 km; ascent 500 m; time 2h45.

Hike times on this website always include pauses.

* Note : The Foxford Way, as it used to be, seems no longer to be a waymarked way and there is no reference to it on any website that I could find.

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Maumturks & Bens Weekend

Join our small group hiking the Maumturk and Twelve Bens mountains of Connemara this May bank holiday weekend.

The Inagh Valley in Connemara is a wonderful spot for hiking, with the Maumturk mountains to one side and the Twelve Bens to the other. Beautiful Lough Inagh dominates the valley between these quartzite ranges. The Western Way traces its way along the valley floor on its way to Killary fjord and Leenane village to the north.

Maumturks walking weekend

Maumturk mountains of Connemara

Our small group will spend three nights in a lovely B&B, with evening dinners in a nearby hotel.

Friday, Apr 29, 2016 : Guests should arrive at our B&B around 7 pm, for dinner together at 8 pm.

Saturday, Apr 30, 2016 : Maumturks and Máméan pilgrimage site. We will be walking for 5 – 6 hours, with a total ascent of approx 800m. Level : Moderate / tough.

Sunday, May 1, 2016 : The Western Way and Killary Fjord. We will be walking for 6 – 7 hours, with a total ascent of 300m. Level : Easy.

Monday, May 2, 2016 : Derryclare and Bencorr in the Twelve Bens. We will be walking for 6 – 7 hours, with a total ascent of 900m. Level : Moderate / tough.

Please note that walking times are approximate and depend on the level of the group. Our route on Monday may be altered in function of the ability of the group, as will have been gauged on Saturday.

Price :

Euro 325 pps.

This package includes the following –

3 nights B&B accommodation in shared rooms

3 evening dinners in hotel (3 course meals, plus tea/coffee)

3 packed lunches

3 days guided hill walking

This package does not include the following –

Getting to Inagh valley.

Beverages and other miscellaneous spend.

What you need to bring :

Good waterproof ankle-protecting hiking boots.

Hiking wear (including layers, rainproof top and legs).

Sunglasses, sun cream, insect repellent.

Enthusiasm for three days of outdoor fun in the mountains of the West of Ireland.

Please do not bring :

Jeans, ponchos or umbrellas on the walks.

Maumturk and Twelve Ben Mountains of Connemara

The Maumturks culminate at Binn Idir an Dá Log, at 702 m, while across the valley, the Twelve Bens have their highest point at Benbaun (729 m).

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North Mayo Cliffs with Ravens and Choughs

Walking the spectacular North Mayo cliffs is an exhilarating but tough 2-day hike. From the tiny village of Belderg, heading west, this is an area you will have all to yourself. Apart, that is, from the entertaining Ravens and Choughs.

The cliffs around here are just extraordinary. These are not the sloping cliffs of certain parts of the west coast of Ireland, but sheer vertiginous drops into the wild Atlantic foam below. The beginning of the walk, westward from Belderg over Glinsk, reveals stunning little coves far below, hidden in inaccessible nooks of the seemingly never-ending cliffs. This majestic first section is without question the highlight of the entire 36km hike. Take a detour to see the remains of Glinsk’s Napoleonic Tower, from the early 19th Century.

North Mayo Cliffs

Hidden beach beneath the North Mayo cliffs

Far from being a flat hike, the 20 km from just outside Belderg to Portacloy requires a staggering 2700m climbing, as you wander up and down the various hills. While these hills slope gently away into the North Mayo blanket bogs to the south, to the north they have been eroded away by millennia of unrelenting North Atlantic waves smashing into them. In places, the cliffs plunge 270m, then 230m, then 210m into the ocean, with plenty of ups and downs in between. By the time you’re done, you’ll have felt it in your legs.

In comparison to the first stretch into Porturlin, the middle section onwards to Portacloy is less enthralling, though still utterly beautiful. Enjoy the views out toward the schist rocks of the Stags of Broadhaven and southward, across the vast bogs, towards the Nephin Beg Mountains. Dancing and playing Ravens and Choughs will keep you amused, as they play ‘hide and seek’ with each other over the wild bogs. The honks of the former, yelps of the latter and the crashing waves below are the only soundtrack to this wonderful walk.

North Mayo Cliffs cove

The sun struggles to reach the north-facing coves

Note that the only accommodation along this North Mayo cliffs route is here, at Stag View B&B. Note also that if this one-day A to B route is preferred to the two-day marathon, then an enjoyable 19-km cycle back to Belderg is easily achieved, with virtually no traffic to contend with on narrow tarmac tracks that meander between the conifer plantations slightly inland from the coast.

Leaving Portacloy westwards towards Benwee Head (250 m cliffs) and on to Rinroe Point and Carrowteige (An Ceathrú Thaidhg), the terrain regains some of the magnificence of the earlier part of day one. This hike is rounded off by beautiful views across Broadhaven Bay towards Erris Head. Again, if you’ve left a bicycle at Carrowteige, enjoy the cycle back to Belderg. You’ll have it done in 1.5 hours or less.

To view a video of this hike, please visit YouTube.

North Mayo Cliffs : Belderg to Portacloy

20 km; 8 hrs; total ascent 2700 m.

North Mayo Cliffs : Portacloy to Carrowteige

16 km; 6 hrs; total ascent 700 m.

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Aasleagh Falls to Drummin Village

Aasleagh Falls is a tiny but celebrated waterfall at the head of the Killary, Ireland’s only true fjord, in south County Mayo. The very beautiful Erriff River tumbles down the couple of metres, before babbling over rocks and into the sea just beyond.

Aasleagh Falls

Aasleagh Falls near Killary Fjord, Mayo

Come to Aasleagh around the summer solstice to witness wonderful Salmon and Sea Trout, as they make their way back into the river system from the sea. It’s a magnificent sight.

Beginning at Aasleagh Falls, I walked 20 km of The Western Way to Drummin, a tiny village south of Westport. This is a varied walk, with the first 6 km along the banks of this lovely river, among fertile fields filled with sheep. Sharing the banks with the fly fishermen, the beginning is a far cry from the blanket bog covered stretches that await me later on.

From Houston Bridge, where we leave the river behind, the walk turns northwards through 4 km of the plantation forest at Tawnyard. I cross the small Owenduff River at a fish counting and measuring station, before emerging on to the small road from where the best views of the brooding Tawnyard Lough are to be enjoyed. While I usually avoid walking on tarmac, I don’t really have a choice here and over the 3 km stretch, I don’t meet a single vehicle on the Sheeffry Pass road.

My attention now turns to tackling the climb to the col between Tawny Rower (510 M) and the Sheeffry Hills, which reach 772 m several km to the west. The col itself, at 450 m, is welcome after the trudge up its grassy, boggy southern slope. Under its impressive northern cliffs lies remote Lough Lugacolliwee, an unusually large corrie lake.

Western Way - Lough Lugacolliwee

Lough Lugacolliwee on The Western Way

I skirt the shore of this fine lake, before turning away to cross over a km of pure, unadulterated bog. Emerging on to a little lane, I then follow the small road to Drummin, jump on my bike and cycle back to Aasleagh, where I had left my car earlier.

Aasleagh Falls to Drummin, along The Western Way

Distance 20.4 km; total ascent approx. 600 m; time 6.5 hrs.

Cycle back to car (along minor roads) : 20.2 km; 1.5 hrs.

Read about a very different experience on The Western Way.

Discover Western Way maps on Irish Trails.

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