Posts tagged with: 'Cong'

Cong Lakes Walking Weekend 2013

Join our group for this fantastic guided walking weekend in May. Taking place over the May bank holiday weekend, from May 3 through 6, Cong Lakes Walking Weekend is one of the top walking weekends the West of Ireland has to offer.

Walking is graded easy on two of the days, with the third graded moderate and includes a hike to the top of the 411 m Benlevy mountain outside Clonbur.

Cong, at the very southern tip of County Mayo, is one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. The village is criss-crossed by numerous channels of the same river, with deep pools dotted all around. Cong even enjoys the added attraction of beautiful native and exotic woodlands all around.

Cong is a wonderful place for walking, with good quality off-road trails that skirt along the edges of the great western lakes of Loughs Corrib and Mask. The trails meander through lovely woodland, a mix of native broadleaves and the typical conifers of the West of Ireland.

Two pubs in Cong are excellent – Danagher’s at the bottom of the village and Lydon’s at the top. Both are home to really good trad music sessions.

Cong Lakes Walking Weekend is a three-night guided walking event, involving three days of walking. Cong and neighbouring Clonbur inhabit the narrow isthmus between the great Loughs Mask and Corrib, on the Galway Mayo border.

We stay in a choice of a Cong B&B or Cong Hostel, both directly across the street from eachother, with full board, including three breakfasts, three dinners and three packed lunches for the walks.

Day One (Fri.) : Arrival, dinner and orientation.

Day Two (Sat.) : Hiking the linear walk between Clonbur and Cong, through the native woodland regeneration site and on the limestone pavement (a ‘mini Burren’) landscape at Lough Mask.

Day Three (Sun.) : Hill climb of Benlevy, wedged between the two lakes and offering fabulous views of Mask, Corrib and the higher Connemara and South Mayo mountains in all directions. Visit the haunting deserted village at its base.

Day Four (Mon.) : Low lying walk through woodland and along the shore of Lough Corrib. Departure.

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Ten Great Short Mayo Walks, Part Two

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!

Part One, with 5 places, is here. Now for the remaining five spots to go visit.

These are places you will not need hiking boots to reach and, while most are more or less by the road, all are within a short, flat walk of one.

6 Causeway at Mulranny
7  Newport River leaving Beltra Lough
8  Limestone Pavement at Clonbur Wood
9  Erris Head Look Out Post, Belmullet
10  Minaun, Achill Island

 6. Causeway at Mulranny

When the railway (now The Greenway cycle and walking track) came to Mulranny in the late 1890’s, a hotel (now The Mulranny Park Hotel) was built. Down from the hotel, and in order to reach the nearby beach in greater comfort, a causeway was built across the saltmarshes. Park your car or bike at the hotel, descend the steps across the road, walk the causeway, take in the beautiful views all around and suck in the sea air. Then return for a beverage in the hotel’s bar, overlooking Clew Bay (certainly one of the nicest views any Mayo bar can offer). Total walking time from car or bike, up to one hour (beware traffic when crossing the road).

I can’t seem to locate my picture of this, so will have to go take a new one and insert later !

7. Newport River leaving Beltra Lough

Mayo walks - Newport River

The Newport River

The most remote spot on my list is located in the middle of a Castlebar – Westport – Newport triangle in west Mayo, at the southern end of Beltra Lough, in the middle of nowhere. It’s a wonderful mix of native woodland, reed beds, river, lake and bog. This is inland Mayo at its wild best, with the beautiful mountains of Nephin Mór and Birreencorragh as backdrops to the north. Total walking time from car or bike, maybe 45 minutes (off-road).


8. Limestone Pavement at Clonbur Wood

Mayo walks - Clonbur Wood

Clonbur limestone pavement

Our ‘mini Burren’ is a beautiful area of exposed limestone, with dwarfed trees and prostrate shrubs eking out an existence in any tiny piece of soil they can find. A magical place of grykes and clints on the shores of Lough Mask. You’ll have to walk from the carpark at Clonbur village to reach this, but on forest tracks, runners will do fine. Total walking time, a good hour (off-road).

(psst, this is actually just inside Galway, but don’t tell anyone…)

9. Erris Head Look Out Post

Mayo walks - Erris Head

Erris Head

At the very tip of the wild and wonderful Mullet peninsula, out beyond Belmullet town in NW Mayo, lies Erris Head with its fantastic ocean views. Walk for 40 minutes from the carpark at Glenlara to reach an excellent example of Ireland’s World War II marine and coastguard service Look Out Posts that were dotted all along neutral Ireland’s coast. This is ocean coastline at its finest. Total walking time approx. 1.5 hours (off-road).

10. Minaun, Achill Island

Mayo Walks - Minaun Heights

Minaun Heights

If your car can handle it, drive on up towards the mast atop Minaun and look west, across Keel Strand and Keem Bay to the top of Croaghan beyond. This amazing view is one of the finest in Mayo. The winds are strong too. Stunning is too weak a word for it. Total time walking around in the wind, as long as you like (off-road).


I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and get out to some of these spots, whether rural or urban. Just relax, take it all in and experience Mayo walks.

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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





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




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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Mayo as Green Walking Holiday Destination

Ecotourism in Mayo | Guided walking holidays

Cong Lakes Walks - May Bank Holiday Wekend 2011

The value of anything a Green Party representative says in the current circumstances, where the party faces wipe-out in the upcoming election, has to be questioned. Nevertheless, it is nice to see them talk up Mayo’s wonderful rural tourism and walking holiday product offer.

According to them, Mayo can be Ireland’s number one destination for green holidays and ecotourism. I agree wholeheartedly. The statement, which also mentions food tourism, continues that “the area where tourism is growing is in the activity, environmental and cultural sectors. Mayo’s magnificent natural environment is a haven for eco and adventure tourism.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Mind you, the statement, as reported, then gets a black mark, in my view, when it goes on to mention creating walkways and cycle trails “along existing rural roads”. Ouch ! No thank you. Walking on roads, no matter how rural and unused, is of very little interest at all. It is quality we need to offer.

So what do we have ? Well, for starters, there’s the Greenway cycle and walking trail, soon to be open from Westport to Achill along its full 42 km off-road route. Then we have Erris, with its wonderful cliff-top walks. We have the Coillte managed native forest regeneration project site at Clonbur and Cong, where non-native conifers have been removed to allow the recolonisation by our native oaks, hazel and ash.

We have The Bangor Trail, the wildest and finest old track in the country. We have the fabulous Nephin Beg Mountains, so remote, wild, wet and wonderful. In the south, we have Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest peak and its awesome views all around, over the Atlantic and Killary Harbour.

We have cycle hire, sea kayaking, wind surfing, kite surfing, sailing, curragh racing, duathlons, triathlons, orienteering, Gaelforce West. We have scuba diving, sea angling, environmentally serious hotels and B&Bs, etc, etc.

This is Mayo – come check us out.

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Walking The Cong Clonbur Isthmus

Walking the Cong Clonbur Isthmus

Cong, at the very southern tip of County Mayo and the northern end of Lough Corrib, is one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. It is reminiscent of L’Isle sur la Sorgue in southern France, in that it is criss-crossed by numerous channels of the same river, with deep pools dotted all around. Cong even enjoys the added attraction of beautiful woodlands.

Cong is a wonderful place for walking, with good quality off-road trails that skirt along the edges of the great western lakes of Loughs Corrib and Mask. The trails meander through lovely woodland, a mix of native broadleaves and the typical conifers of the West of Ireland.

Two pubs in Cong are excellent – Danagher’s at the bottom of the village and Lydon’s at the top. Both are home to really good trad music sessions. Go there.

I have written before about Coillte’s native woodland restoration project at Clonbur Wood, on the Galway Mayo border. I’ve been walking down around Cong and Clonbur for maybe 14 years, often lamenting the overly dense conifer plantations on vast tracts of the old Guinness estate.

But with the advent of the woodland project, the area is already beginning to be even more attractive as a walking destination than it already was.

Cong boasts wonderful sights for walkers, including the (in)famous dry canal, a failed 19th Century engineering project. You can walk the ‘bed’ of the canal and take in small roadways between the village and Loughs Corrib and Mask. Find a lime kiln in excellent condition, or the various sinks in the highly porous limestone rock that provides the sponge linking the two lakes.

Good hill climbing in the area includes the formidable Maumtrasna mountain to the north, or the more easy going Benlevy, in between the two, which offers superb views over both huge lakes.

But the special walk here is the entirely off-road linear trail. Walking the Cong Clonbur isthmus trail is about 14 km, but will take you up to 6 hours at a leisurely pace. This walk, well sign-posted, will bring you through both conifer plantation and new regeneration areas, past the ruined Ballykine Castle, lost in a beech wood, alongside a beautiful little bay of Lough Mask, which Mute Swans share with Mallards, Tufted Duck and others and onto the amazing lakeshore limestone pavement. Visit Pigeon Hole sink and enjoy the wetlands of the Cong River. Here you might see some of the resident Grey Herons, or visiting Cormorants. Emerge into Cong at the Abbey and Monk’s Fishing House.

Walking the Cong Clonbur Isthmus – watch the video

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