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Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Posts tagged with: 'hill walking'

Birreencorragh, a Hillwalking Day in Mayo

It’s 6.00 am when I leave the house to hike Birreencorragh, hoping to start by 7.00 am. Hiking boots, two pairs of socks, waterproof jacket, rucksack, woolly hat and baseball cap all in the car boot ? Check.

In my rucksack is my food, consisting two ham and cheese sandwiches, hot flask (though I rarely drink from it), bottle of water, apple, banana and chocolate bar. The chocolate is always either a Mars or Snickers – today it’s the former. Deep down under some first aid stuff and my headlamp in one of the rucksack’s pockets lies my “Emergency Snickers”. I’m disciplined and never touch it, save to update it once a year. Check.

By 6.50, I’ve arrived at the starting point, where I meet my two co-walkers. We’re actually on time ! As it’s not raining this morning, I choose the woolly hat, though I always carry the other with me in the rucksack anyway. A baseball cap is much more useful in rain.

The first 3 km of the Glendorragha Horseshoe is along a Coillte forest track. In the morning sunshine, we spot a fox moving along the track towards us. He doesn’t seem to notice us and continues to advance in our direction. We’re downwind and don’t budge. Eventually he spots us, takes a short gawk and jumps into the undergrowth to the side. Beautiful.

Birreencorragh, Hillwalking in Ireland

Our Fox below Birreencorragh

At the end of the track, we need to negotiate about 200 m through plantation forest. It’s never pleasant, trying to avoid the straight, short and sharp lower branches that stick out of the Spruce trees. We make it through and emerge on the other side to that classic West of Ireland view – a gently sloping, bog covered hill, with its drenched grasses and sedges. It’s the strangely named Glenlara (564 m) – a name that really should only apply to the valley below, but which has been adopted to the hill / mountain itself.

Now the real hillwalking begins. Two streams start their lives on this one slope of Glenlara. At their sources is a wall of rushes, thick and energy sapping, that we need to cross. It can be surprisingly difficult to get through this, all the more so when it’s wet underneath and between them – as it always is. We reach the shoulder of the hill and begin our ascent to our target – Birreencorragh.

Birreencorragh is one of the few Mayo mountains boasting what we can justifiably call a peak. Apart from it, I can think only of Corrannabinnia, Croagh Patrick of course and, arguably, Mweelrea. Other Mayo mountains, like the Nephins Mór and Beg, Slieve Carr, Barrclashcame and Achill’s Slievemore only have rounded or plateau tops.

You could argue that Achill’s Croaghan has a ‘peak’, but to do so would be to ignore the fact that it only appears to have one because the far side of the mountain fell in to the ocean immediately below.

Approaching from the south, we begin to see the cone of Birreencorragh ahead. Where we cross a boggy plateau between the two mountains, we stop for a snack behind one of the many turf tussocks protruding up to 1.5 metres above the ground level – great for a bit of shelter from the wind.

Below us to the West sits Mount Eagle, really just a spur off the main mountain. We have a strange habit in Ireland of giving names to high points on spurs, thereby elevating them to a status they barely deserve. I discuss elsewhere how many Mayo mountains there are. To the North-East we observe the spectacular scree face of Birreencorragh, which falls steeply down 450 m, until it begins to level off somewhat. Ahead is the final ascent to the summit, at 698 m.

Birreencorragh, Mayo, Ireland

Scree-covered SE face of Birreencorragh

On the top of the mountain, with its broken trig pillar, we are joined by a Peregrine flying just above us. In the wind at the top, the bird appears to remain fairly still, almost hovering. You might think it was a Kestrel, but no, a Peregrine he is. He soon disappears below the steep edge of the mountain, gone hunting down in Glendavoolagh perhaps.

As usual, we don’t hang around at the top. The wind is cold and the desire to descend is strong. We push on north-eastwards towards the ridge with Knockaffertagh (517 m), before turning south-eastwards and descending onto the col.

Having traversed Knockaffertagh, we descend to the valley below and onto part of the so-called Keenagh Loop. A section of this pleasant loop walk brings us along the bank of the stream we saw from the top of Birreencorragh. From above, it seemed to slice through the bog in the sunshine, like a twisted silver sword across the brown-purple blanket bog landscape below.

Birreencorragh

Birreencorragh from valley below Knockaffertagh

We see Otter spraint (droppings) along the riverbank. Two hares run across the bog to our left. The black-faced sheep seem surprised to see us. As we near the cars, we pass an abandoned farmstead, with Rowan and Hawthorn trees around and the mountain as backdrop. The ground all around is wet. The heather lies thick between us and the trees beyond. We know we’re in Mayo.

Birreencorragh (The Glendorragha Horseshoe)

17 km; total ascent 840 m; approx. 7 hours.

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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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Great Mayo Walking This Weekend

I am really looking forward to this coming bank holiday weekend’s walking in Mayo. While hill walking it is not, Western Ocean Walking Weekend offers fantastic off-road walking in the wonderful north-west corner of Mayo.

Two spectacular cliff-top walks take place on Saturday, offering great views out over the North Atlantic. Each walk is filled with stories and legends of this part of Ireland.

On Sunday, we jump in a boat out to the abandoned offshore island of Iniskea. Hear about how the islanders lived, of whaling, piracy and more.

On Monday, we stroll the southern Mullet peninsula, with its lovely hills and sandy beaches, giving beautiful 360 degree views.

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Hill Walking in Mayo

Mayo is a great destination for moderate level hill walking in Ireland. With mountains to no more than 820 m, many with fabulous sea views, this place gives the walker fantastic panorama views of the wild West of Ireland coastline and its vast internal blanket bogs. We enjoy large areas of upland and bog, not spoiled by roads cutting through them. We have nice moderate mountain peaks, perfect for hill walking over 5 to 8-hour days.

Spots like Achill, Clew Bay and around Leenane boast some of the finest hill walking in Ireland. Lesser known high points like Corrannabinnia, Barrclashcame and Maumtrasna offer so much more than the overused Croagh Patrick. Standing on top of Croaghaun, boasting some of Europe’s highest cliffs, is a real treat not to be missed.

Down below, lovely West Mayo villages and small towns, like Newport, Mulranny, Westport and Belmullet will entertain you during the evenings. Not to forget Cong, the prettiest village in Ireland, standing beneath the mountains of South Mayo and North Galway.

So far this year the hill walking has been great. The severe lack of rain in the first several months of the year, following the incredible big freeze over the New Year period, has left the ground quite dry. Even the recent June rain has done little to make the upland bogs as wet as they normally would be.

I had a big group up The Bangor Trail last weekend and, while there was of course surface water, there was not the usual energy sapping trudge through the peat covered hills. This walk brings you to no more than 320 m altitude, a low level example of what is on offer.

Here is a selection of photos of hill walking in Mayo. Enjoy. If ou’d like to conme hill walking in Ireland, do get in touch and we’ll organise something for you and your group of walkers.

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100 km Walking & Cycling Loop

Last week, at the first Mayo Walking Seminar, held in West Mayo’s lovely Mulranny Park Hotel, I was speaking on hillwalking and the Nephin Beg Mountain Range. I used the opportunity to present my dream of a world-class 100 km walking and cycling loop in Mayo.

The loop, which I called the “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” would encircle the mountains of Northwest Mayo and bring the walker or cyclist along rivers and small bog lakes, through blanket bog and by the seashore. Even better, at four points, there would be the opportunity for cyclists and long distance walkers to head off on spurs leaving the central loop. One would head towards Ballycastle, The Céide Fields and the north Mayo coastline. A second would branch off towards Belmullet and The Mullet peninsula, while the third would bring the visitor west to Achill Island. Finally, the fourth branch from the loop would go south, to the tourist hot-spots of Westport and Croagh Patrick.

Even better, The Bangor Trail (for walkers only) would bisect the 100 km loop straight down the middle, giving serious walkers another choice.

Not all walkers are in to hillwalking. A lot of this low-level loop is already in place. The new Great Western Greenway cycleway and walking trail, built on the old dismantled Westport to Achill railway line, makes up some 18 km of the 100 envisaged. The Western Way national waymarked walking trail meanders for some 25 km north of Newport into the wilderness and is hugely underutilised and neglected. There are already plans afoot to extend the Greenway northwards from Mulranny, in the general direction of Belmullet and Bangor Erris.

What I am calling for that is new consists of two parts. First, a modest 3 km stretch needs building to take the Western Way off-road in its entirety in this area. That’s hardly a big ask, as the land to be crossed is either Coillte or Bord na Móna owned. The second section would be around 6 or 7 km long, along the northern border of my Loop. Again, not a major task, with the land once again being mostly in Coillte hands.

While the new Greenway is nice, it is nowhere near international quality in length or variety of scenery. This “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” most certainly would be.

Here is my aspirational map of the finished product. I think it can and should be done. What do you think ?

The solid red lines represent already existing tracks and trails. The dot-dash lines are what I am putting forward here.

hill walking Mayo Ireland

Nephin Beg Mountains Loop

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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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