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Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Posts tagged with: 'Castlebar'

Croaghmoyle Booster Station Walk

Although not particularly impressive, this Croaghmoyle booster station walk is a pleasant 8km stroll near Castlebar that includes an easy climb on tarmac. I do it a few times each year in spring, just to get some km into the legs before hiking season.

The track/roadway up to the TV booster station begins along the road out of Castlebar towards Glenisland. There is ample room here to park 6 cars. From there, we head through mostly unlovely conifer plantations towards the upland bogs beyond (although, thankfully, some of the trees along this lower section are larch).

Along the way, we encounter a typical West of Ireland scene. A small stream cuts through one little area of level land, walled out into tiny fields by past dwellers. A ruined cottage, now virtually swallowed up by the plantation, stands to one side where, once, a family eked out an existence from this little oasis of almost fertile ground.

From this miniature ‘valley’ begins the long slog to the booster station. Strangely, the road surface improves from here, becoming to all intents a proper roadway all the way to the top.

Croaghmoyle Booster Station walk

View from Croaghmoyle

At various points along this walk, we can enjoy nice views westwards towards the Nephin Begs, Corraun, Clare Island, Inisturk and Croagh Patrick, with Clew Bay in the centre of this fine arc. By the time we get to the top, however, we need to jump up onto the bog itself to regain such views, as the road is somewhat sunken beneath the level of the surrounding turf. The sort-of-conical summit of Birreencorragh to the NW grabs my attention, reminding me that it’s been a while since I last climbed her.

Pushing a  short distance beyond the booster station and out onto the bog proper brings us to the trig pillar, with views of Nephin mountain now joining the others already enjoyed.

As I turn for home, the unmistakable sound of a calling Red Grouse accompanies me, reminding me that this is, after all, West of Ireland upland bog, booster station or not …

Croaghmoyle Booster Station Walk

Length (total) 8 km; Climb 400m; Time 2 hours.

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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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Discussing Walking Holidays with the Heritage Council

Guided walking holidays Ireland

Walking holidays in Mayo

I was delighted to be invited to speak about my guided walking holidays at the Heritage Council’s event at Lough Lannagh, Mayo this morning, entitled “Heritage as an Engine for Economic Growth”.

I kept it simple, demonstrating how even a small operator like myself (and other colleagues) can bring a little economic benefit to an area, through delivery of guided walking holidays. The organisation of walking holidays requires partners – be that in accommodation, food provision, local transportation or great rural pubs. In a coastal county like Mayo, transportation can include not just bike and minibus hire, but also boat charter to reach offshore islands.

I try to work with B&Bs, like Hannah at Léim Siar, that will provide my guests with evening meals. Where that’s not possible, I work with local food providers, like the excellent John at the Clubhouse in Belmullet.

But I also spoke of how heritage tourism can involve getting down and dirty with locally based conservation projects, like the environmentally sensitive removal and eventual eradication of non-native invasive species, such as Rhododendron or Gunnera Tinctoria (‘Giant Rhubarb’). It was great to meet some people with whom I might be able to work on such projects in the future, by involving guests on my walking holidays.

Mayo is working hard to improve its position in the Irish tourism product offer. Domestically, we know we’re competing with the likes of Kerry and West Cork and much has been done by the County Council and other bodies on improving the walking product here. Internationally, we’re putting our offer up against Scotland, Norway and other European destinations for walking holidays. Where we’re different is in the quantity and quality of our heritage experiences. Being a county with a very low population density has allowed Mayo to retain much of its built, natural and cultural heritage.

Of course, I once again couldn’t resist the wheeling out of my big dream – to see long, looped walks of over 100 km around Mayo. Our county is a great, wild and very ‘real’ place for a walking holiday … and getting better.

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White Tailed Eagle Weekend

On Friday last, I tweeted the following :

“Not 1 but 2 WT Eagles above me in Killarney NP ! I will die happy.”

I was out walking around the lakes in Kerry, under the cover of mostly oak trees. When I emerged from beneath early summer’s developing canopy, I looked up to see a pair of magnificent White Tailed Eagles soaring up in the thermals above my head. It was a beautiful, sunny, dry and warmish day. I lay down on my back on the forest track and had a wonderful view of these magnificent birds through my binoculars for quite a few minutes. They were huge – we’ve all heard they’re called “flying barndoors”. I had seen eagles before in France, Spain and Poland, but nothing as big as these guys, and to think they’re possibly still immature. Had they even grown to their maximum size ?

After a while, they disappeared over the nearest mountain and were gone. A little later, one of them reappeared on my side of the hill again, but a little further away.

Now I decided that I would visit Clare on the way home Saturday to see the nesting pair on Lough Derg. Unfortunately, I ddin’t manage that, as I ran out of time to swing by and witness what would have made for a perfect White Tailed Eagle Weekend down south. Anyway, I was going to “die happy”, so it was no big deal and I thought I would surely get down there at some point over the coming weeks **.

White Tailed Eagle

White Tailed Eagle (source: Commons Wikimedia)

Die happy ? I’m afraid I didn’t even end the weekend happy. Back in Mayo on Sunday, I was told that “our” White Tailed Eagle, Lochlann, had been found dead near Castlebar.

Lochlann (“Place of the Lakes”, a name of Viking origin) liked Mayo and its lakes, big time. He first came here at the end of April 2011, spent almost all summer 2011 here, with the odd foray into Galway and had returned from winter roosting in Kerry at the end of March for this coming Mayo season.

Last summer, I spent three full 8-hour days out in the mountains looking for Lochlann. In addition, I spent god-knows-how-many sets of 1, 2, or 3 hours trying to spot him, when on the way to or from somewhere up in the wilds of west Mayo. I’d check out his satellite fixes on http://www.goldeneagle.ie/, which are time-delay released (three days later) and discover he was maybe just 500m from me on such-and-such a date. Alas, I never got to see our very own White Tailed Eagle.

It is beyond my comprehension how a person could poison or raise a weapon, point it and deliberately shoot such a magnificent creature of our shared planet. But the fact that I can’t fathom such actions is not what is important. What is vital is that it become incomprehensible to the type of person who actually did this.

What is required here is education. People like the person who did this need to be educated. The Irish Farmers’ Association and other rural bodies should play an active role in educating people about these magnificent birds and the level of threat (or lack thereof) they pose to livestock.

I am well aware of the attitude of many country people to “environmental” bodies, like An Taisce and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). Frankly, many country people do not trust them. Some think these bodies would prefer if all farming and rural activity was stopped and the whole country turned into one big National Park.

The people who work on these projects are undoubtedly wonderful. I am terribly sorry for them and the obstacles they seem to so regularly be confronted with.

Here is what I think must be done.  NPWS, together with the IFA and other rural organisations (what about Leader?), should get Norwegian, Welsh and Scottish farmers and other rural dwellers, who live with these magnificent birds in their countries, in to talk to Irish rural communities and farmers. Get them to tell the Irish what, if any, threat is posed by eagles and other birds of prey. Brand the events “IFA”, not “NPWS”, for greater buy-in.

Do it now, before any more are needlessly slaughtered.

Two years ago, Conall, a Golden Eagle, was poisoned up in Leitrim. I blogged angrily about that here.

** Today, May 18th, I read that the nesting effort at Mountshannon has unfortunately failed. However, those are young birds and hopefully they will find success in 2013 or beyond.

White Tailed Eagle

Measuring up to 95 cm in length and with a wingspan up to 245 cm, the White Tailed Eagle is a massive bird. Also known as the Sea Eagle, or indeed the White Tailed Sea Eagle, it is the largest raptor of northern Europe. Ireland’s reintroduced birds were donated by Norway, which boasts the largest population in Europe. These eagles mostly eat fish, small mammals and other seabirds.

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Nephin : A Mountain and a Lost Ship

Steve came hillwalking last March and wrote the following article about the day, which he has kindly permitted me to reproduce here. We climbed Nephin – at 806 m, Connacht’s second highest mountain.

 

Nephin

Hiking Nephin in March

” A Mountain and a Lost Ship

Barry Murphy met us outside the post office in the village of Lahardane, County Mayo. He was our guide for a hike up Nephin Mór – the second highest mountain in Connacht. With introductions made, our small group set off.

As we approached the trail, Barry introduced us to the local history of the parish of Addergoole. A ruined house had once been the home of a victim of the sinking of the Titanic. A total of fourteen parishioners had sailed on the ill starred voyage; only three survived. The loss is reputed to be the greatest in Europe from a single small locality.

Catherine McGowan is credited with putting the ‘Addergoole Fourteen’ together. She had spent several years in America and had originally returned home to bring her niece out to the States. Others decided to join her and their dream of a new life ended in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Catherine perished, but her niece, 17 year old Annie McGowan, was rescued. She lived to the grand age of 95 and is buried in Illinois.

Each year, the tragedy of 1912 is commemorated by the ringing of a lone church bell at 2.20am on 15th April; the moment when the great liner slipped beneath the waves. There is a thriving Titanic Society, and relatives of the passengers still live in the area. A centenary programme is planned for 2012.

We now began our ascent of the mountain. A fine Irish drizzle closed in;  it seemed our efforts would not be rewarded with a spectacular view. Boots crunched in deep snow as we neared the summit. Then, right on cue, the mist lifted and all was revealed in sunlight. Directly below us was the anglers’ paradise of Lough Conn. On the horizon, the conical outline of the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick. To the west, the grandeur of Achill Island and the very Atlantic Ocean that had taken such a toll.

Poses were struck, and cameras clicked as we enjoyed our good fortune.

 

Nephin summit

At the summit of Nephin Mór

With hike over, we returned to our hotel where Barry joined us for a pint and the swapping of tales. We much enjoyed his account of hitching through a divided Germany. An East German policeman inspected his belongings. Barry’s meagre rations had consisted of a Mars bar and a hard boiled egg. ‘Crack ze egg’, insisted this paragon of suspicion.

A fine evening was rounded off by a Guinness fuelled screening of the Ireland v England rugby international. I awoke next morning with a heavy head, but a light heart. On checking out, I reminded the receptionist of my heroics in scaling Nephin Mór. I suggested that perhaps they would consider renaming the peak after me. She smiled as she lied that she would ask someone to look into it… “

Many thanks to Steve for this guest blogpost. Read the Addergoole Titanic Society’s website.

Hiking Nephin Mór

Nephin may be hiked from several spots, but I always choose to climb it along the rim of the great northern corrie. Find my next guided hike up. Up and down in a loop usually takes around 5 hours.

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Mayo Alive Festival, Dublin, June 19

I’m looking forward to taking part in this weekend’s Mayo Alive Festival in Dublin. A wonderful initiative of The Mayo Association in Dublin, this event is a free day of fun for all the family, taking place around Fishamble Street and the Dublin Corporation offices at Wood Quay.

I will man a stand on hill walking in Mayo. On an hourly basis, I will give a talk about gear you need for hill walking in Mayo, looking at layers, compass, maps and so on. I’ll let you know of upcoming events and answer any questions you might have.

Come by my stand and say ‘hello’, pick up a flyer and learn about the wonderful outdoors we enjoy over here on the western seaboard.

Music on the day is being provided by The Saw Doctors, Tommy Fleming and others. Things to do and enjoy include zorbing, archery and more. So come on in to the city centre for the afternoon.

Check out the website for Mayo Alive Festival here.

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