Ballycastle

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Ten Great Short Mayo Walks, Part One

I want to share with you 10 beautiful, but short, Mayo walks. These are places to go for a short, easy stroll and admire the surroundings. Bring the kids. I’ve chosen 10 places that you can easily reach in your car or, preferably, on your bike. No need for hiking boots to get to any of these spots, each of which is wonderfully representative of Mayo!

These are places where you can just wander around for a while at your leisure and take in the atmosphere and scenery. You might call it ‘meditate’ or ‘reflect’ on what is happening around you. Learn what Mayo is all about. Let me know what you think and where you feel should have been included in my list.

Here are the first five Mayo walks (in no particular order). Find the five remaining strolls here.

1 McMahon Park / Clare Lake, Claremorris
2 The Mall and Bridge Street, Westport
3 Céide Fields and Cliffs opposite, Ballycastle
4 Moore Hall, Carnacon
5 Belleek Wood, Ballina

 1. McMahon Park / Clare Lake, Claremorris

Mayo walks

McMahon Park, Claremorris

One of the nicest town parks in Mayo, the people of Claremorris are rightly proud of this wonderful space. The park is centred around Clare Lake and has beautiful walks, with cute little bridges over streams and fantastic flora, from native trees to lakeside reedbeds. Children and adults alike will enjoy the ducks and swans that have made the lake their home. As an added bonus, there’s a good children’s playground just outside. One gripe, however : The entrance to the park is not great and the playground really should be incorporated into the same space. Total walking time from car or bike, maybe 60 minutes (off-road).

 

 2. The Mall & Bridge Street, Westport

Mayo walks

Westport

Nowhere in Mayo is more lively than the main street (Bridge Street) in Westport, especially during the busy summer months. No street is prettier than The Mall, with the river flowing through its twin tree-lined avenues. Park your car or bike in any of the off-street carparks in town. Then go stand on the bridge for a while, take it all in and walk the lap of the Mall around the river, followed by the loop of Bridge St, Shop St and James St, before returning to the Mall. Then go find the craic in one of the many pubs on Bridge Street or James Street. Total walking time from car or bike, maybe 30 minutes (beware town traffic).

 

 3. Céide Fields and Cliffs, Ballycastle

Mayo walks

Cliffs at Ballycastle

The Céide Fields are the world’s oldest known farm system, at approx 6,000 years old. Here, stone walls encompassing a very large area have been discovered, lying intact beneath thousands of years of blanket bog. Straight across from the wonderful visitor centre and its carpark is a viewing platform out over the North Mayo cliffs. Stand here for a while, watch the seabirds and it will remain with you for the rest of your life. Indeed, go visit nearby Downpatrick Head, on the other side of Ballycastle afterwards. Total walking time from car or bike, including visiting Céide Fields, maybe 60 minutes (beware traffic on the road when going to view the cliffs).

  4. Moore Hall, Carnacon

Mayo walks

Moore Hall forest trail

In the county where the fight began, back in the 1870s, for the right to own the land one farmed, there are now almost no ‘big houses’ (landlord mansions) left standing. Moore Hall, though now a ruined shell, remains. Walk around here and think of the Irish National Land League, the campaign for land ownership for the tenant classes of the 19th Century and, ultimately, the struggle for Irish freedom. Better still, walk here at dusk during warm summer days and watch the Lesser Horseshoe Bats flying all around you. There is a fine carpark on the shores of Lough Carra, beyond Carnacon village. Total walking time from car or bike, over 60 minutes (off-road).

  5. Belleek Woods, Ballina

Mayo walks

Belleek Wood, Ballina

Belleek is the finest urban wooded area in Mayo. Situated on the northern side of Ballina town, the wood straddles the banks of the river Moy. It is a beautiful place, with lovely walks and river views. It is home to one of Mayo’s very few Red Squirrel populations and is a haven for the people of the north Mayo town. Park up your car and just lose yourself in here for a good hour. Total walking time from car or bike, over 60 minutes (off-road).

 

The second half of this Mayo walks list is presented in my next post here.

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The Pursuit of International Scale

Back in June of this year, while speaking at a tourism conference, I outlined my dream of a great 100 km long “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” – a single continuous, entirely off-road track for cycling and walking that would circumnavigate our beautiful and wild west Mayo mountain range. Complimenting this loop would be the already in situ Bangor Trail, for serious walkers only, which would cut the loop in half for choice of route. See my previous post, with map, here.

However, that 100 km loop is really only one part of what I believe could be provided in Mayo, to bring this county up to genuine international scale as a walking and cycling destination. The recent unsurprising decision by government to scrap the plan to extend the Western Rail Corridor northwards beyond Athenry reinforces my belief.

On the (from a tourism development viewpoint) much maligned eastern side of Mayo, we have the disused Claremorris to Collooney (Co. Sligo) railway line, part of the famous Western Rail Corridor. This line, at 76 km long, will doubtless never be reinstated for use as a railroad. To the south of Claremorris are the remains of the old branch line down to Ballinrobe, 22 km long. Ditto for its future as a railway. To my knowledge, only 1 km of that line has become a road surface, with the remainder through predominantly farmland. Together, these two track beds could get a cyclist or walker from just south of Sligo town to Ballinrobe, on the shores of Lough Mask in south county Mayo – off road! That’s a distance of around 100 km.

Walking, hiking, cycling in Mayo, Ireland

Around Mayo Loop – Northern Section

RED = OFF ROAD

RED DASH = WHERE THE ROUTE COULD EASILY BE TAKEN OFF-ROAD

PURPLE = ON MINOR ROADS

BLUE = MAIN ROADS

Ballinrobe is just a short 11 km hop from the beautiful forests at Cong and Clonbur, where a further 10 km of off-road tracks already exist (more, if you include the gorgeous local loop trails by the lakes).

From there to Westport (79 km) would admittedly use 45 km of roadways, but minor ones. Using the 10 km long Seanbhóthair between Clonbur and Cornamona, then the 24 km of off-road sections of the Western Way would give a total of 34 km off-road. This part of the trail would take the walker or cyclist along the edge of the magnificent Lough Corrib and by the lovely Sheaffry Hills to Westport. Indeed, this south Mayo stretch of The Western Way could hopefully be taken much more off-road. This work has already begun.

Now we’ve reached Westport from Collooney, a distance of some 200 km, with around 144 km off-road and 56 km on small and minor roads.

As we know, the off-road Greenway already exists from Westport quay north through Newport and Mulranny to Achill. Leaving the Greenway just north of Newport, you could turn inland, on very minor roadways for 7 km and then take The Western Way all the way to the north Mayo coast, at Ballycastle and the Céide Fields. There are just 8 km on-road, which could relatively easily be converted to off-road by the local authorities.

Walking & Cycling in Mayo, West of Ireland

Around Mayo Loop – Southern Section

RED = OFF ROAD

PURPLE = ON MINOR ROADS

BLUE = MAIN ROADS

To Ballycastle, this would give a walking and cycling trail that would be a total 281 km long, with just 71 km on-road – and virtually all very minor roads at that. That’s 210 km of off-road cycling and walking !

The final piece in the jigsaw would be to join Ballycastle, on the breath-taking north Co. Mayo coastline, taking in the superb abbeys at Moyne and Rosserk, back down to the old railway at Swinford, using minor roads via Ballina and the low Ox Mountains, plus The Foxford Way.

Total trail length : approx. 353 km

Total off-road : approx. 226 km

Total minor roads : approx. 111 km

Total other, larger roads : approx. 16 km (8 km of which could be quickly taken off-road)

Fantastic !

Mayo is in a pretty small country. However, ours is a very large county and we have the real opportunity to produce a (mostly) off-road walking and cycling experience that would actually be of international quality length. Beginning with my proposal and with vision from the local authorities (who are already doing great work here), we would then have the motivation to get ever more of this potentially fantastic trail off-road, until, one day, it all would be.

What, there’s more ? Yes there is.

This trail would have four rail access points directly on it, at Collooney, Claremorris, Westport and Ballina. Also, just imagine what this could do for small tourism providers, local food producers, artists and craftspeople, traditional pubs, etc., along the route – particularly in the more remote areas. Now that’s sustainable tourism.

Check out the Sligo Mayo Greenway website, which proposes the conversion of the Collooney to Claremorris rail line.

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100 km Walking & Cycling Loop

Last week, at the first Mayo Walking Seminar, held in West Mayo’s lovely Mulranny Park Hotel, I was speaking on hillwalking and the Nephin Beg Mountain Range. I used the opportunity to present my dream of a world-class 100 km walking and cycling loop in Mayo.

The loop, which I called the “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” would encircle the mountains of Northwest Mayo and bring the walker or cyclist along rivers and small bog lakes, through blanket bog and by the seashore. Even better, at four points, there would be the opportunity for cyclists and long distance walkers to head off on spurs leaving the central loop. One would head towards Ballycastle, The Céide Fields and the north Mayo coastline. A second would branch off towards Belmullet and The Mullet peninsula, while the third would bring the visitor west to Achill Island. Finally, the fourth branch from the loop would go south, to the tourist hot-spots of Westport and Croagh Patrick.

Even better, The Bangor Trail (for walkers only) would bisect the 100 km loop straight down the middle, giving serious walkers another choice.

Not all walkers are in to hillwalking. A lot of this low-level loop is already in place. The new Great Western Greenway cycleway and walking trail, built on the old dismantled Westport to Achill railway line, makes up some 18 km of the 100 envisaged. The Western Way national waymarked walking trail meanders for some 25 km north of Newport into the wilderness and is hugely underutilised and neglected. There are already plans afoot to extend the Greenway northwards from Mulranny, in the general direction of Belmullet and Bangor Erris.

What I am calling for that is new consists of two parts. First, a modest 3 km stretch needs building to take the Western Way off-road in its entirety in this area. That’s hardly a big ask, as the land to be crossed is either Coillte or Bord na Móna owned. The second section would be around 6 or 7 km long, along the northern border of my Loop. Again, not a major task, with the land once again being mostly in Coillte hands.

While the new Greenway is nice, it is nowhere near international quality in length or variety of scenery. This “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” most certainly would be.

Here is my aspirational map of the finished product. I think it can and should be done. What do you think ?

The solid red lines represent already existing tracks and trails. The dot-dash lines are what I am putting forward here.

hill walking Mayo Ireland

Nephin Beg Mountains Loop

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