Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Posts tagged with: 'Mayo'

Hiking Inisturk – The Most Beautiful of Mayo Islands

When I think of wonderful little Inisturk, I’m reminded of the sweet opening verse from Nancy Spain, the popular ballad most famously sung by Christy Moore, “Of all the stars that ever shone, Not one does twinkle like your pale blue eyes. Like golden corn at harvest time, your hair. Sailing in my boat the wind gently blows and fills my sail. Your sweet-scented breath is everywhere”. On the boat out from Roonagh to go hiking Inisturk, I can’t stop muttering it to myself.

Lying 15 km off Mayo’s wild west coast, Inisturk is the county’s most beautiful and striking island. From its little sheltered harbour on the east side, the island rises to a maximum height of some 190m in the middle before reaching its zenith at wonderful western sea cliffs.

hiking Inisturk

From the Signal Tower towards Achill Island.

While the marked walking trail up from the harbour turns left after the lake and swings back down by the surprising GAA pitch etched into the rocky landscape, we turn right. Up the small steep hill we wander, to the ruined Napoleonic Tower on top. The views from this early 19th Century signal tower are to die for. The great thing about Inisturk (Inishturk) is that it is at the centre of the string of fabulous islands and magnificent mainland coastline that marks out Mayo’s coastline from other parts of the Wild Atlantic Way.

From up at the ruined tower, you can look out at (N to S) Achill, Corraun, Clare Island, Nephin Beg mountains, Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick, Caher Island, the Sheeffry mountains, Mweelrea, Killary Harbour, Benchoona, Tully mountain, Inishbofin and Inishark. Arguably the finest view in Ireland.

If there is a heaven, then this is it.

We descend from this summit westwards, with the beautiful cliffs at the end of the island as our target. Bring your binoculars, as the views of all kinds of seabird, from Fulmar and Puffin to Razorbill, Guillemot and Peregrine Falcon are wonderful.

Continuing along the coast, then turning inland, we follow a long stone wall before re-joining the trail we had earlier quit. From the pitch, we visit the tiny natural cove at Port an Dún and its virtually no-longer-distinguishable caiseal remains, before rambling along the narrow road back to the Community Club. Dinner and a beverage are enjoyed, while we discuss one of the great Mayo experiences that is hiking Inisturk.

hiking inisturk 2

Looking back towards Croagh Patrick

Inisturk (Inishturk) boasts three B&Bs, which can be found on the local tourism website.

Hiking Inisturk

13 km; 5 hours with plenty of stops for birdwatching and taking it all in. Paradise!

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Round Towers of County Mayo

Of the 60-odd Irish round towers remaining, in various states of repair, 5 are to be found in County Mayo. Round towers are believed to have been built around the 8th to 12th Centuries and were most probably bell towers associated with the church that would have stood alongside. Famously, they have a doorway set several metres above ground level and a few window slits inserted into the stone walls higher up. Window slits tend to be dispersed one per floor, with four at the top floor, in under the conical roof. The top floor windows tend to be larger than the others on the way up, presumably to let the sound of the bell be better heard and are generally (more or less) set in the cardinal directions.

Round Tower Killala

Killala Round Tower

Magnificent relics of medieval Christian Ireland, our round towers are superb examples of medieval stone masonry. Perhaps they are the architectural structures that most symbolise Ireland?

While presumably primarily for bell ringing, I can easily imagine these early medieval monks spending time alone in one of the tiny upper floors, crouched beside the single window slit to one side, a lit candle to the other, perhaps reading scripture or working on a new codex. I admit I can less easily imagine the towers being used as hideaways, in case of attack.

Round Towers of County Mayo

Mayo’s round towers are at Aughagower, Balla, Killala, Meelick and Turlough.

Aughagower : Standing 16m high, this partial tower had a second door cut into it at ground level in recent centuries, allowing the visitor to access it and look up into its interior. It is roofless. Extensive ecclesiastical ruins adjoin this tower.

Round Tower Aughagower

Inside the Round Tower at Aughagower

Balla : The smallest remnant in Mayo, the remaining stub of this tower is just 10m high and, again, features a later second door at ground level. What appears to be the original door is a whopping 8m off the ground. I’m still dismayed at how the new community hall was allowed to be erected so close to it.

Killala : Mayo’s finest extant tower stands 26m high and occupies a site bang in the middle of this medieval North Mayo fishing village. Its (repaired) conical top remains.

Meelick : Despite being without its roof, but at 21m high, this remains an impressive tower in a lovely rural setting. There is a very fine inscribed cross slab at its base.

Round Tower Meelick

Meelick Round Tower

Turlough : This 23m high tower, near the excellent National Museum – Country Life, gives an impression of being unusually short and still boasts its roof (repaired).

Round Tower Turlough

Turlough Round Tower by night

Of Mayo’s round towers, only Aughagower and Turlough still have their churches alongside, although both are ruined.

Visit this excellent website that describes all of Ireland’s remaining round towers.

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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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Wild Atlantic Way

“What do you think of it yourself?”, says I.

Sitting enjoying a pint of the black stuff in McDonnell’s pub in Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet, Co. Mayo), we were chatting about the sheer scale of the Wild Atlantic Way.

“Tis a fierce drive alright”, says Pat, bending down to recover his beer mat.

For sure, it’s a long way from Malin Head to Kinsale. Much more so when you hug the coast as you drive. But that’s a good thing.

Fáilte Ireland’s new Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s first long-distance tourist driving route. At 2,500 km, the Way brings the visitor far out west, to strange places like Clare’s Loop Head or Mayo’s Mullet Peninsula, two great West of Ireland fingers jutting out into our beloved ocean.

Now, I’ve been urging you to ‘come wesht’ for years. Maybe this innovation will be the spur that drives you (no pun intended) to do so. Check out An Fál Mór and Ceann Iorrais in far-flung Mayo, or the magnificent Inch Strand in western Kerry. Visit Clifden, the Sky Road and the Alcock and Brown landing site at Derrigimlagh, way out in Connemara.

Wild Atlantic Way, Erris Head

Ceann Iorrais (Erris Head), Mayo

But, once there, get out of your car. Walk to the tidal island of Omey (Galway), the towerhouse at Easkey or up to Queen Maedbh’s Cairn above Strandhill (both Sligo). Stroll around the beautiful Rosserk and Moyne Abbeys, just outside Ballina (Mayo) or feel the wind and spray below Sliabh Liag (Donegal). Heck, there’s even a little bit o’ Lovely Leitrim thrown in for good measure. But don’t blink – you’ll miss it.

The Wild Atlantic Way transports you to the far extremities of Europe, to a land fashioned by ocean, wind and rain. Ours is a place of bog and metamorphic rock, standing testament to a world that has been transformed over hundreds of millions of years. At Ceann an Eaniagh (Mayo), you’ll tread on Ireland’s oldest rocks.

At the Céide Fields (Mayo), you’ll find the world’s oldest field system and, as if that wasn’t enough, you’ll marvel at the staggering cliffs straight across the little road. Further west, at Achill, you can hike to the top of the tallest sea cliffs in Europe (outside of the Faroe Islands). Stare in awe at the ocean’s tumultuous surface, 688m below you.

In Clare, walk around Black Head’s Burren landscape and up to the mass rock. In Sligo, fly a kite above the beach at Rosses Point. In Cork, skip lightly out to the beautiful southwestern islands of Dursey, Clear and Sherkin.

Where to overnight ? Forget about the crowded destinations of Westport, Dingle, Bundoran and Doolin. No, choose the lesser lights and get out and meet the people of the smaller towns and villages, like Falcarragh, Easkey, Belmullet, Cleggan, Fanore, Ballyferriter and Union Hall. Choose Inis Meáin over Inis Mór on the Aran Islands.

We might even see you in McDonnell’s for a ‘scoop’.

Wild Atlantic Way Route Maps

View the Wild Atlantic Way Maps.

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Connacht

Ireland’s western province, Connacht, holds an especially intriguing place in the national self-perception. Far from the seat of power and the more densely populated Leinster, Connacht is a little-understood part of our country.

Connacht

Coat of Arms of Connacht

As far back as the first millenium, Connacht was already seen as different, wild and distant. An early poet described the characteristics of the (then) five Cúigí, or provinces, of Ireland. While Ulster was about war, Leinster about wealth and Munster about music and art, Connacht was said to be about learning. Cúige na Mí, of course, was about kingship. This idea of Connacht being about learning may perhaps come from the notion that druidic influence may have lasted longer out west than elsewhere in a land being increasingly dominated by Christian teaching. ‘Learning’ evokes notions of druids’ knowledge, teaching, stories and chronicles – essentially the domain of people more in tune with their natural surroundings, their own culture and the teachings of elders passed down over the millenia.

During the Middle Ages, then, came the famous declaration, attributed to Cromwell, of “To Hell or to Connacht”. In the 1650s, as English efforts to suppress the resisting Irish continued, Cromwell’s army was trying to shift the native Irish away from the fertile lands of the east and south of the country. The choice facing the displaced Gaelic Irish was, essentially, between ‘hell’ and the far-away, infertile, damp and rocky boglands to the west.

By the late 19th Century, Connacht was firmly depicted as the real, the essential, the historical Ireland. Rural, poor and agricultural, the province was very much the opposite to the rich, urban, developed, sophisticated east (which, of course, was in turn backward compared to the affluent and sophisticated London and England of that era).

Connacht continues to evoke two very different images among the Irish. Is it, on the one hand, backward, conservative and inferior ? Or, on the other hand, is it uncorrupted and deeply rooted ? Is Connacht desolate and isolated, a land covered by endless useless wet and boggy ground ? Or is it, in fact, natural and unconstrained in its beautiful simplicity ?

Connacht Today

Today, Connacht comprises the five counties of Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway. With a population of just over 540,000, it is the least populated province of Ireland and, apart from Galway city (75,000), has no urban area with more than 25,000 residents. The province is roughly bordered to the west and north by the Atlantic ocean, to the south by the Burren of Co. Clare and to the east by the River Shannon, although half of Leitrim is, in fact, on the east side of the river.

Physical Features of Connacht

Ireland’s largest offshore island is Achill, Co. Mayo. The country’s only true fjord, the Killary, forms part of the border between counties Mayo and Galway. Our second largest lake, Corrib, is mostly in county Galway and other great lakes of Connacht include Loughs Carra, Conn, Cullin and Mask. Mountain ranges include the Nephin Begs of Mayo, the Twelve Bens and Maumturks of Galway and the smaller ranges of Dartry and Ox in Sligo. Northwest Mayo contains the two largest tracts of land in Ireland without through-roads.

Come to Connacht and experience authentic, true, wild and wonderful Ireland !

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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, this 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.

This 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.

Book this walking weekend :

You can book your place on this relaxing, lovely walking weekend here.

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