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Mayo Mountains – How Many are There ?

While Ireland’s mountains are modest on a European scale, Mayo mountains are modest even in the national context. They are, nonetheless, wonderful for one characteristic at least – the fabulous ocean or lake views they afford the hiker.

I once stood in the then Bord Fáilte office in Paris back in the 1980s and read a letter enquiring as to the very best mountains in Ireland for skiing ! It made me smile. Often, in continental Europe (and perhaps beyond), people imagine that our north-western outpost is much more mountainous than is the case.

Mayo is a county characterised by mountains, bogs and coast. But just how many Mayo mountains are there ?

Before answering that question, let’s have a look at some loose mountain-related terms. A ‘spur’ is a ridge projecting downward from a mountain towards lower ground, while a ‘ridge’ itself is a long, narrow raised land formation with (sometimes very steep) sloping sides. A ‘shoulder’ is an often quite rounded flank of a mountain, perhaps before it transforms into a downward-sloping spur.

With these unscientific terms in mind, we quickly see that there are many fewer mountains in Mayo (and, indeed, Ireland) than some people, websites and physical features’ names might suggest. You see, very often what are called mountains are really little more than high points on shoulders, ridges or spurs. They’re sometimes referred to as ‘peaks’ and there’s talk of ‘prominence’, though I’ve never been terribly comfortable with those terms either.

For example, it is clear to me that Mweelrea is one single mountain and that names attributed to sections of that mountain, such as Ben Lugmore and Ben Bury are really of no significance. This is one big mountain massif, where the summit is surrounded by ever-so-slightly lower ground that just happens to be big enough to have a few high points (‘peaks’) jotted around its obviously uneven top and slopes.

Mayo mountains, Birreencorragh

Birreencorragh, 698m

Birreencorragh is another example. To its S is the so-called Glenlara, to its W Mount Eagle while, to the E, Knockaffertagh occupies its spur. Yes, there are ‘cols’, or lower points, between the summit and these points, but since the mountains aren’t man-made, we can hardly expect them to descend in a straight line with equal gradient from top to bottom. Once again, this is clearly just one single mountain, with the usual few shoulders followed by spurs running down in various directions to lower ground.

So, just how many Mayo mountains are there then ? Well, in a land where the highest point is a mere 1,038 m and not one of the (supposed) top 20 Irish summits is in Connacht, here are the top heights in the Mayo mountains (400 m + summits). Mayo mountains are most often not rocky at the top, so while I’m at it, I’ve noted which are more or less boggy on top and which can claim some degree of rockiness.

Mayo Mountains

Mweelrea – 814 m – boggy – no. 16 on map

Nephin Mór – 806 m – boggy – no. 11

Barrclashcame (Sheeffrys) – 772 m – boggy – no. 15

Croagh Patrick – 764 m – rocky – no. 14

Slieve Carr – 721 m – boggy – no. 6

Corrannabinnia (Coiscéim Carrach) – 714 m – rocky – no. 8

Ben Gorm – 700 m – boggy – no. 17

Birreencorragh – 698 m – rocky – no. 10

Croaghaun – 688 m – rocky – no. 1

Maumtrasna – 682 m – boggy – no. 18

Slievemore – 661 m – boggy – no. 2

Nephin Beg – 627 m – boggy – no. 7

Buckoogh – 588 m – boggy – no. 9

Corraun Hill – 541 m – boggy – no. 5

Minaun – 466 m – boggy – no. 3

Knockmore (Clare Island) – 462 m – boggy – no. 13

Knockletragh (Corraun) – 452 m – boggy – no. 4

Croaghmoyle – 430 m – boggy – no. 12

That’s 18 mountains, 7 of which rise to 700 m or more. Each of these mountains is clearly demarcated by low ground, or sea, all around. Of these, 12 lie in roughly the Castlebar – Newport – Achill – Bangor Erris area, while the remaining 6 are to be found west or south of Westport, heading down towards Killary Harbour and Lough Mask. I consider just 4 to have something approaching mildly rocky tops. The rest, dear friends, are boggy on top. But I love them all.

Corrannabinnia, or Coiscéim Carrach to give the mountain its more correct name, remains one of my favourites. The ascent is up and down over several spot heights, giving a total positive climb of around 1,000m. There’s a proper rock strewn summit (a pretty rare feature in Mayo mountains, as they are more typically peat covered even at the top) and a nice arête between its main and SW tops. To the north of this very steep cliff lies the awesome Owenduff blanket bog. There’s the added bonus of a great view out across Clew Bay as you descend after a 6 to 8 hour mountain horseshoe hike. It’s great.

East and North Mayo cannot, unfortunately, claim any mountains of over 400 m altitude, although the latter does, of course, boast magnificent low hills offering splendid views out over the ocean. See my post on walking the North Mayo coastline.

Here’s a rough map of Mayo mountains – all 18 of them !

 

Mayo Mountains, hillwalking in Mayo

Mayo’s Mountains

So do come along and explore the Mayo mountains. You won’t bag any overly impressive heights, but you’ll enjoy day-long experiences and views you won’t forget for many a day.

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Up the Mountains with Eleven

I had a gas day last week in the Nephin Begs, with a lovely group of 11.

We left our cars at 10.30 am, I in the knowledge that the walk would take somewhere between 6 and 8 hours, but knowing that we had plenty of time, even if it turned out to be longer.

My fastest time doing the circuit in question was 6 hr 20 and even that time I was dawdling, as it was in the middle of Orchid season. I had been stopping every couple of metres to look at specimen. On the other hand, I had once brought a group of okay, but a little slow, walkers and it had taken 8 hr 30.

Anyway, this lovely group did the horseshoe in 8 hr 10. But the fun we had with the weather !

We enjoyed brilliant sunshine and warm winds from the east / southeast, mixed with loud thunder over our heads and accompanying fork lightning. The man with the camera had a classic West of Ireland opportunity to take pictures of a sky entirely black on the one side and clear blue alongside to the west.

We peeled off layers, only to pull them back on five minutes later. This is the great attraction of hill walking in Ireland’s west. If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.

We saw Frogs, Hares, Meadow Pipits, just one singing Skylark, but no Wheatears, Foxes or Grey Herons, which might ordinarily be encountered.

But it was a day to remember for its truly dramatic weather. Clare Island, off to the west, would appear clearly, then disappear entirely soon after. We even had two occasions where the walking had to stop and the group come in close together, as visibility shrunk to 10 metres.

That’s walking in Mayo – brilliant.

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Two Projects for 2010

1. Gunnera T. / Giant Rhubarb

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera Tinctoria continues to spread through certain parts of west Mayo, including Achill Island and the southern end of The Mullet peninsula.

Better known as Giant Rhubarb, this is a highly invasive introduced plant species from South America.

A project has been run by UCD, led by Spaniard Cristina Armstrong, the aim of which is to eradicate the plant from Clare Island. I attended a presentation she put on last year about the scale of the problem and the project’s progress. However, its spread is much greater on Achill and The Mullet. It is very prevalent around Blacksod (especially the Garda station) and is creeping over the hill towards Deirbhle’s Twist and up Termon Hill too.

Read this from The Botanic Gardens website.

I want to get involved in curbing its growth in 2010 and beyond. For this, I’ll need equipment but, more importantly, manpower. Get in touch with me if you’d like to spend a voluntary week on this work during late summer. If you don’t want to do the dirty work, but would be willing to sponsor the purchase of some equipment, or even provide materials as required, get in touch too please. I would be more than happy to acknowledge any contribution, whether monetary or of materials.

2. Inland Otter Observation

Otter (madra uisce)

Otter (madra uisce)

I’m fascinated by the otter. I think the animal is really one of our most interesting mammals. While those that live near the sea (for example, along brackish water lakes) have food from both fresh and sea water to fill their stomachs, those who live exclusively inland would appear not to have such choice. Why don’t they move to the coast (joking) ?

By the way, sometimes people erroneously believe we have two sub-species of otter – the ‘Sea Otter’ and the ‘Freshwater’. In fact, it’s the same animal in two habitats.

Otter spraint beside small river

Otter spraint beside small river

A chance encounter a few months back with two otters in a conifer plantation drainage ditch, no more than 1 m wide with water no more than 15 cm deep, has me even more intrigued. The nearest stream of consequence was 500 m away, with a reasonable sized river 1 km off. I want to ‘stake out’ some such locations in Mayo this year and learn more. If you would like to join me on one such excursion, get in contact. If you are an ‘otter expert’ or student of this wonderful creature, even better.

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