cycling

Posts tagged with: 'cycling'

Thank you very much, Walshes

We had absolutely beautiful weather as we completed The Bangor Trail on Friday last. Even though we were in the dying days of winter, I had never experienced the trail in such a dry condition, not even in summer. I guess that’s not really surprising, as we’ve had very little rain this winter.

We took 9 h 45 min to complete the 26 km trail, which included a diversion up to the Scardaun Loughs for lunch. We had no rain at all.

Quite the opposite on Saturday, however. Having only one car, our small team had to cycle back from Bangor to Letterkeen to pick up mine, a distance of around 32 km. It didn’t stop raining for one minute. Leaving Bangor, we had the wind and rain to our backs. That was okay, but I realised what lay ahead. Having turned at Bellacorick, we had it hitting us from our  right hand side, sweeping in and down over Slieve Carr and Nephin Beg, nearly knocking us into the ditch. The real problems, however, arose when we turned at Keenagh. Now it was straight in our faces. Now we started to feel the 2 h 20 min already in our legs, piled on top of the long hike the day before. Not to mention the fact that J didn’t really have waterproof boots …

With the very hilly section ahead and our willpower waning, J asked for assistance, with 7.5 km of serious ups and downs still to go. Mr. Walsh agreed to give me a spin up to the bothy, where I could collect the car, drive back, pick up the others and head for Castlebar. We were very grateful.

At the bothy, I met some acquaintances who had failed to get beyond the third stream to be crossed on the Trail, such was the amount of water that had fallen since the previous day.

On my return to the Walsh household, I found the lads in the kitchen, pulled up to the table and eating soup and bread served up by the lady of the house, to these unannounced total strangers. I was invited in and shared of their generous hospitality. Later, in the car on the way back to Castlebar, I noticed J was wearing jeans. Mrs. Walsh had invited them to use the bathroom to change their clothes. Genuine West of Ireland people. Thank you very much.

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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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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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Greenway Cycleway Extension Coming Soon

The Greenway / Cycleway, currently running between Newport and Mulranny, will soon be opened along its full length from Westport to Achill, giving a 42-km long almost entirely off-road cycling and walking (hiking) route here in West Mayo.

The Greenway traces the old disused railway line from Westport mainline train station to the terminal at Achill Sound, situated just before the bridge over to the island itself. The railway was in place from 1894 to 1937 and its most famous feature is undoubtedly the magnificent viaduct over the Newport River in the village of the same name.

In 2010, the Greenway was opened and became successful immediately, with many locals joined by growing numbers of tourists using it for exercise and as a day-trip tourism facility. There are at least three providers of bicycles for hire, based in Westport or Newport.

There is a map of the currently open stretch of the Greenway here.

April 2011 should see the full opening of the line and I look forward to seeing if other cycle hire businesses spring up at the Achill end of the line, to provide competition to those based around Westport.

There are also plans to develop a walkway / cycleway from Castlebar, through Islandeady, out to meet the Greenway perhaps at Westport. That would be a longer term project and would surely take several years to realise. It would certainly be an interesting extension.

If you are thinking of making the Westport – Newport – Achill area your base for an outdoors activity break in 2011, then do consider coming along on one of my entirely off-road guided walking events in the hills and bogs of the same area. Take a look at my events on this website. You’d be most welcome to come hillwalking in West Mayo.

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Something about the Uplands

There is something about being up in the uplands – actually, that’s a word I never use. I prefer to call them mountains, even if around these parts they’re not particularly high. In Mayo, we have few peaks above 700 m, but quite a few more over 600 m.

Anyway, I love going up there, no matter what the weather. There is an excitement and anticipation about heading up into the hills, most especially the remote ones in the Nephin Beg Range. You never know what you might see. More to the point, the fact that’s it’s by no means easy to see the likes of Red Deer, Otter, White-Fronted Geese, Peregrine or whatever works even better.

But quite apart from spotting some iconic mammals and birds, it is the sheer isolation of the place which pulls me back. Standing on the summit of Slieve Carr or Birreencorragh, you know you’re away from it all. If there’s the usual fierce wind blowing in off the great North Atlantic, even better! Rain adds to the experience and should not be seen as a bother. Rain is this place.

Trudging through blanket bog and upwards towards the more rocky summits can be physically tough, but the reward is wonderful. Gaze down over the vast north and west Mayo bog landscape and out towards the rocky, heavily indented western coastline. Spot Achill, The Mullet, offshore islands like Duvillaun, Iniskea, Inisbiggle, Annagh and places barely clinging to the mainland, like Corraun and Doohoma. On a super clear day, you can see Blackrock lighthouse, far to the west.

But thoughts always return to the splendid isolation offered by the mountains. Crouch down behind a tuft of bog for the shelter, or stand brave with your face in the strong winds. But there is definitely something about the ‘uplands’ of Mayo.

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Just Get Out There

Last evening’s RTE programme Tracks and Trails was a nice ad for Mayo outdoor and active holiday breaks. It’s a pity, however, that they didn’t cover just a little bit more of the terrain than the Cycleway. And did you notice the ridiculous and unattractive fencing along the track, immediately on both sides ? Not exactly pretty.

Anyway, Mayo has what it takes to pass some wonderful outdoors days. Getting out into the fresh (yes, often wet) air does wonders for your mind and body.

Guided walking holidays in Clew Bay and Nephin Beg mountains, Mayo

Get Out There in Mayo - Clew Bay & Nephin Beg Mountains

If you’re in the area, join me for a guided walk on waymarked ways, hills, cliff-tops and so on. I will show you a Mayo that is off the beaten track. We’ll venture into the remote Nephin Beg Mountains or skip along high ocean cliffs. The important thing is to get out into our wild spots and breathe in that unique Mayo air.

You’ll enjoy the break and re-charge the batteries.                                                                             

But also, check out these local providers of outdoor pursuits and great Mayo fun.

Saoirse na Mara sea kayaking –

Call Ali and book a day out on Clew Bay.

http://www.irelandwestseakayaking.com/

Electric Escapes electric bike hire –

Call Paul. http://www.electricescapes.ie/

Clew Bay Bike Hire –

Call Travis. http://www.clewbayoutdoors.com/

All Play wind surfing –

Call Cathal. http://www.allplay.ie/

So, whichever activity you fancy, come to west Mayo for your fix of guided or self-guided walking, cycling, sea kayaking, wind surfing and others like horse riding, sailing, sea fishing, etc.

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