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Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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North Mayo Cliffs with Ravens and Choughs

Walking the spectacular North Mayo cliffs is an exhilarating but tough 2-day hike. From the tiny village of Belderg, heading west, this is an area you will have all to yourself. Apart, that is, from the entertaining Ravens and Choughs.

The cliffs around here are just extraordinary. These are not the sloping cliffs of certain parts of the west coast of Ireland, but sheer vertiginous drops into the wild Atlantic foam below. The beginning of the walk, westward from Belderg over Glinsk, reveals stunning little coves far below, hidden in inaccessible nooks of the seemingly never-ending cliffs. This majestic first section is without question the highlight of the entire 36km hike. Take a detour to see the remains of Glinsk’s Napoleonic Tower, from the early 19th Century.

North Mayo Cliffs

Hidden beach beneath the North Mayo cliffs

Far from being a flat hike, the 20 km from just outside Belderg to Portacloy requires a staggering 2700m climbing, as you wander up and down the various hills. While these hills slope gently away into the North Mayo blanket bogs to the south, to the north they have been eroded away by millennia of unrelenting North Atlantic waves smashing into them. In places, the cliffs plunge 270m, then 230m, then 210m into the ocean, with plenty of ups and downs in between. By the time you’re done, you’ll have felt it in your legs.

In comparison to the first stretch into Porturlin, the middle section onwards to Portacloy is less enthralling, though still utterly beautiful. Enjoy the views out toward the schist rocks of the Stags of Broadhaven and southward, across the vast bogs, towards the Nephin Beg Mountains. Dancing and playing Ravens and Choughs will keep you amused, as they play ‘hide and seek’ with each other over the wild bogs. The honks of the former, yelps of the latter and the crashing waves below are the only soundtrack to this wonderful walk.

North Mayo Cliffs cove

The sun struggles to reach the north-facing coves

Note that the only accommodation along this North Mayo cliffs route is here, at Stag View B&B. Note also that if this one-day A to B route is preferred to the two-day marathon, then an enjoyable 19-km cycle back to Belderg is easily achieved, with virtually no traffic to contend with on narrow tarmac tracks that meander between the conifer plantations slightly inland from the coast.

Leaving Portacloy westwards towards Benwee Head (250 m cliffs) and on to Rinroe Point and Carrowteige (An Ceathrú Thaidhg), the terrain regains some of the magnificence of the earlier part of day one. This hike is rounded off by beautiful views across Broadhaven Bay towards Erris Head. Again, if you’ve left a bicycle at Carrowteige, enjoy the cycle back to Belderg. You’ll have it done in 1.5 hours or less.

To view a video of this hike, please visit YouTube.

North Mayo Cliffs : Belderg to Portacloy

20 km; 8 hrs; total ascent 2700 m.

North Mayo Cliffs : Portacloy to Carrowteige

16 km; 6 hrs; total ascent 700 m.

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Clare Island

The old lighthouse at its northern tip was our target during a day trip over to Clare Island in late summer.

A beautiful day welcomed us to the pier at Roonagh, itself a lovely spot. Had we been a little earlier arriving, with some time to spare, we could have walked the low stony coastline southward from the pier’s carpark, down to the first strand reached, to look out for the seals that often lounge on the partly submerged rocks just off.

But today, our thoughts were on the offshore island lying 5 km to the northwest, guarding the entrance to Clew Bay to its east. Clare Island protects the inner bay, like a large humpbacked sentinel. Its highest point, Knockmore, rises 462 m above the foam below. The island measures around 7 km west to east and a maximum of 4 km north to south.

Our walk took us from the harbour along narrow tarmac roads and gravel tracks up to the lighthouse, perched precariously above impressive cliffs. We lounged around for a while on the very lovely machair grass, taking in some sun and appreciating the views north towards Achill, Corraun and Mulranny.

Clare Island

Clare Island lighthouse

We did not have time on this occasion to head westwards towards the end of the island, its Napoleonic tower and Knockmore. I know from previous visits what a great walk that is.

On our return leg, we tried and failed to locate the fulachta fia marked on a roadside signpost. By the lovely beach, we enjoyed ice creams and beer. I was disappointed, however, to see invasive Gunnera tinctoria that had been treated by spraying. I had believed the efforts to remove Clare Island Gunnera were by the more environmentally sensitive cutting and injecting method, rather than the somewhat more indiscriminate spraying.

Back by the harbour, we visited Gráinne Mhaol’s still reasonably intact tower house. The return ferry trip was just as enjoyable as the earlier crossing.

Clare Island guided walking holidays

“Take Island Away” !

P.S. We were amused by this sign and trust the islanders don’t really feel this way about their lovely home !

Clare Island Info

Roonagh pier is 29 km west of Westport, through Louisburgh.

Discover more about Clare Island in County Mayo.

View the ferry timetable.

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Twelve Bens – Walking the Gleninagh Circuit

What I like about the Twelve Bens is that lots of them boast proper conical or pointed peaks.  Moreover, most of them are rocky on top. Coming from Mayo and our almost universally turf-topped mountains, they make for a nice change. This earlier post names which Mayo mountains have rocky summits.

Twelve Bens, Walking in West of Ireland

Looking towards Bencorrbeg from Benbaun

The Bens offer the hiker five very fine long horseshoe hillwalking days (plus a further two shorter loops), with the Glencoaghan (Benlettery) Circuit on the south side of the range the most celebrated. On this bright spring day, however, I decided to tackle the wonderful Gleninagh (Benbaun) Circuit, on the east side.

Climbing SW up Knockpasheemore from the R344, I would swing slightly S to the summit of Benbaun, the highest Ben of all at 729 m, before turning SE to Bencollaghduff, then E to Binn an tSaighdiúra, returning to the low ground in the valley from Bencorrbeg and following the Gleninagh and Tooreenaconna Rivers to rejoin the road.

It was a ridiculously fine and dry day for early March. I left Castlebar at 07.30 and began my hike at 8.40. The pull up Knockpasheemore is a drag, but relatively easy. A tougher stretch awaits, as we ascend the side of Benbaun. The flat, peat-covered top of Knockpasheemore gives a 3 km long chance to recover from the initial climb. (As an aside, the northern peaks of the Twelve Bens, such as Muckanaght, tend to be peat-covered).

Twelve Bens, guided walking Ireland

Bencullaghduff

While the pull up to the highest point of the range is nice, through scree fields and rocks, Benbaun is, nevertheless, overshadowed by its brother to the southeast, Bencollaghduff. Unquestionably the highlight of the Twelve Bens, this peak (696 m) boasts a fabulous approach from Maumina col, a nice (though not particularly narrow) ridge and great cliffs falling away northwards. You’ll need to scramble at various stages, making it a great stretch.

The approach to Binn an tSaighdiúra is another tough climb from Mám an bhFonsaí col. Bencorrbeg, beyond, attracts you northeastward before easing you down into the valley below. There’s more scrambling to be done on the way down. Walking along the riverbank below is a nice ending to a great day’s walking.

A small range, in the classic West of Ireland style, the Twelve Bens offers excellent hiking over rocky scree and boulders, with fabulous views in all directions. Lacking in sheer bulk and measuring just 9 km x 9 km at most, with those five valleys cut deep into its sides, there simply isn’t a large enough mountain ‘footprint’ (no more than 42 km2 of ‘upland’) to get in the way of your views. You can truly appreciate the indented, irregularly shaped Connemara coastline. Not to mention the innumerable lakes and bog pools that encompass the mountains.

Twelve Bens – Gleninagh Circuit

I walked 15.4 km, with a total positive climb of 1,305 m, in 8.5 hours.

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Inishbofin

I had wanted to visit Inishbofin during winter and so, last week, took the ferry out from Cleggan. As it was February, there were only 9 of us on board.

Inishbofin - Walking in the west of Ireland

Approaching Inishbofin

As the days are still short, I wasted no time. I threw my bag into The Beach B&B and headed straight for the northern side of the island, in order to complete an anti-clockwise loop that would bring me out towards Middlequarter before swinging towards Westquarter. Accuweather let me down (hardly a surprise in these parts and at this time of year), telling me Saturday would be reasonable and Sunday rainy. In fact, my first day was miserable enough, with very low cloud and drizzle all day, turning to heavier rain before I completed my circuit. Sunday, on the other hand, was beautiful, with clear blue skies above.

The walk brings us north from the village leaving tarmac roadways behind, then west, crossing the stone beach that separates Lough Bofin from the sea immediately beyond. The Celtic Tiger airstrip seems an unnecessary scar on the landscape. Further along, we reach the blow holes, before looking out onto the Stags of Bofin. It is between these and the return towards the village that the coastline is at its most impressive, with 30 m high cliffs, a promontory fort and the views across to Inishark. A lovely stretch.

This loop walk is 11 km long, virtually flat and took 5 hours to complete at a very leisurely pace.

On Sunday, I took the relatively short stroll eastwards, to reach St. Colman’s ruined 14th Century church and the beautiful beach looking out towards Mweelrea and Mayo. The highlight of the weekend was observing a Peregrine in pursuit of what looked like pigeons. He didn’t succeed.

Walking Inishbofin Connemara

St. Colman’s Church

With a 2011 census population of 160, Inishbofin is comparable with the Mayo island of Clare (168) in terms of residents. It would be well ahead of the island that lies between them, Inisturk, which boasts fewer than 60 islanders.

In summer, Inishbofin is an extremely lively spot, which unquestionably adds to its attraction for day-trippers. I would recommend staying the night.

Visiting Inishbofin

Before your trip, visit the website of Inishbofin Tourism. Find out about ferries to the island.

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Hiking Boots – What You Need on Walking Tours in Ireland

Hiking boots – you cannot overestimate the importance of a good pair for West of Ireland conditions. By the end of 2011 it was time to change mine. The old pair had served me well, been through a lot and was beginning to come apart. So off I went during the winter sales to pick up a good pair. The criteria were fairly simple really. First, they had to be ankle high. Second, they had to be very tough hiking boots that would provide really good support, especially on rocky, scree-covered surfaces. Third, they absolutely had to be waterproof.

My old pair was from Meindl. They had been brilliant, giving me nine solid years of fun in the West of Ireland hills and bogs. They even got me up Kilimanjaro, which was a thrill indeed. Unsurprisingly, my new pair was also destined to be from Meindl, although I did enquire about other brands. So far, these too have been superb [End of 2013 update : they still have :-)]. I have tramped Mayo’s mountains and bogs in very heavy rain, with very wet and waterlogged underfoot conditions. I have yet to feel even slightly damp in the foot; nor do I expect to for years to come. They’re solid and tough hiking boots, with no issues on rocks.

What I want to show you here are some improvements between my new Meindl hiking boots and my old pair. Hopefully, this will help you in your future decisions on what features you’ll need in boots you decide to invest in.

Hiking boots for the West of Ireland

Hiking boots – new pair

1. Raised rubber soles.

Check out this first picture. See the raised rubber that has been formed around the leather upper. Class.

Hiking boots, walking holidays Ireland

Note stitching in older pair

2. Stitching, or lack thereof.

The image shows how the stitching has come apart on the old boots. Now, don’t get me wrong ! I’m most certainly not complaining, for after eight or nine years any stitching is entitled to come apart. However, if you refer back to the first picture, you’ll see that the new boots don’t have this stitching. No issue.

Hiking boots - ankle height

Waterproof ankle high boots are essential kit

3. Height.

I’ve placed the boots on my square-patterned patio to demonstrate the difference in height (image 3). The newer boots have an extra loop to pass the laces through, high up on the ankle area. This is great and adds a lot to the sense of strong support I’m getting.

Hiking boots for Ireland

So there you have it. I’m keeping it simple. Check that your prospective new hiking boots have these features. For West of Ireland hiking conditions, I recommend Meindl without hesitation. My pair is the MFS Vakuum model.  Read more of my hiking advice. Enjoy hill walking in the West of Ireland in a pair of hiking boots that will support you as you go !

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Walking Tours in Ireland – Anatomy of a Day

Walking tours in Mayo, Ireland, are about enjoying the beautiful coastal, mountain, lakeshore or woodland landscapes our part of the country has to offer. And they’re about the people we meet and share our time with.

Walking Tours - guided walking holidays Ireland

Enjoying themselves in Mayo

Sitting in a quiet rural pub by night, I observe members of our small group recounting stories and sharing opinions on where we’ve been today. They can be overheard admitting to one another that they had never really known much about Mayo until now. They’re having a good time.

Earlier in the evening, they had been enjoying each other’s company around the dinner table in our B&B. Telling eachother where they come from, where they’ve walked, what they like. Getting to know eachother. There’s a lovely camaraderie you find on walking tours, born from sharing 6 hours of hiking through wind and bog, with nobody around but us.

We had returned to the B&B around 5 pm, giving us all plenty of time to relax before dinner. People drifted off to their rooms for a shower and a lie-down, delighted with their day of walking two lovely, fairly easy cliff-top trails. With sea air in their nostrils and sea spray in their hair, they were glad to have the chance to rest their legs. It’s an integral part of a walking tour.

The day had begun with a wholesome breakfast – you know, the most important meal of the day for the walker. But we’re not talking about a 7 am rise here. No, this is a relaxing walking tour. Breakfast was at 8 and we left the house at our leisure, around 9.30.

Walking tours in Ireland - Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

A Wonderful Sea

Our first walk brought us along cliffs rising to 230 m, with great views across the North Atlantic. Even transferring from the first walk to the second was enjoyable, with good craic, interested questions and varying opinions being bandied about the minibus. When you hear opinions, you know you’ve a great group. We munched on our packed lunch and sipped a cup of tea. The second walk was easier than the first, with new views and seabirds to accompany us all along. They liked the wind. They loved the waves crashing on the rocks below.They didn’t even mind the rain shower. Finishing up after 4.30 pm, we happily regained our B&B.

So as we lounge in the local pub, I reflect that successful walking tours are first and foremost ones where walkers have fun. And, heck, if the sun shines, all the better.

Find walking tours in Mayo, in the West of Ireland.

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