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Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Posts tagged with: 'Slieve Carr'

Bangor Erris to Slieve Carr

Rather than simply moving along The Bangor Trail and then veering left, while out for a hike last week, I decided to leave the village of Bangor Erris, cross over the modest summits of Knocklettercuss and Maumykelly and head for the peak of wonderful Slieve Carr beyond.

This was a fine 23 km hike that took me 8h30, to and from the mountain.

Leaving Bangor Erris, I headed straight up the grassy, heather-filled northern slopes of Knocklettercuss. This modest hill of three bumps rises to 370 m and boasts a trig pillar. From there, I skipped E then S to avoid the deep blanket bog, with Maumykelly as my next goal. This hill, again unimpressive at 364 m high, does nevertheless know how to burn the thighs, with a fairly steep incline on its N side. The stretch here is lovely, dotted with small blanket bog lakes and bogpools, as well as the embryonic Tarsaghaunmore River.

From there, I was able to zone in on Slieve Carr itself (721 m), one of Mayo’s finest mountains and said by many to be Ireland’s most remote. I really love this area, with its excellent corrie lakes like Loughs Drumderg and Adanacleveen, its rocky approach and the sheer vastness of the bog that surrounds it.

Slieve Carr near Bangor Erris

The final pull up to Slieve Carr

As yet another lesson in how quickly the weather can change in our lovely West of Ireland, I was on my hands and knees studying some St. Patrick’s Cabbage and Bilberry for maybe 2 minutes while at the top. When I lifted my head, the mist had descended and it was time to exit stage left, pronto.

Bilberry in bloom, Bangor Erris

Bilberry in bloom at the top of Slieve Carr

I returned to Bangor by the same route, taking more time than I had on the outward leg of the hike to enjoy the wildflowers of the blanket bog. The area is dominated by Lousewort, Milkwort, Orchids, Bog Cotton, Bilberry and Tormentil, with Bogbean in the bog pools and both St. Patrick’s Cabbage and Fir Clubmoss higher up along the rocky top of Slieve Carr. I saw my first ever white variety of the more typically blue Milkwort. Very pretty.

Bogbean near Bangor Erris

Bogbean in a blanket bog pool below Slieve Carr

Bangor Erris to Slieve Carr and back

22.7 km; 8.5 hours; total ascent = 1200 m approx.

Visit the website of Ballycroy National Park.

Posted in Walking in the West of Ireland | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wild Nephin – Wilderness or Wasteland ?

Wild Nephin is the title given to Coillte’s project to ‘rewild’ a large area of blanket bog and plantation forest to the east of the Nephin Beg Mountains of northwest Mayo. The State-owned forestry company aims to ‘create’ Ireland’s first wilderness over the next 10 – 15 years.

Indeed, the area would appear to have already gained the support of the internationally-renowned PAN Parks Foundation, as a “wilderness in a modified landscape”. [2014 update : PAN Parks has closed down, but the European Wilderness Society has taken the project on board. Read this article.] [2016 update : The above mentioned article has now been removed from the website of the European Wilderness Society, perhaps in the belief that the so-called ‘Wild Nephin’ is no more a rewilding project than the man in the moon …]

Lying immediately east of Ballycroy National Park, with which it shares the mountains of Slieve Carr and Nephin Beg, Wild Nephin occupies the second largest tract of roadless land in Ireland. Whether choosing here or the even larger area immediately to the north and across the Ballina to Belmullet road, this is the place in Ireland to come to, if it’s aloneness and wild country you seek.

Given the past history of aggressive afforestation in this area, however, it is valid to question whether this is, in fact, a wilderness or simply a rural wasteland.

 

Wild Nephin

The Wild Nephin Project, Mayo

Along with many other parts of the West of Ireland, the area to be rewilded was heavily planted with non-native conifer trees during the 1950s, 1960s and more recently. Of exceptionally poor quality, the land had to be extensively worked, digging ridges and trenches to help keep the densely-packed young trees somewhat dry. Chemical fertilisers were also employed in the early days, to supplement the nutrient-poor nature of the bog. While this work was carried out with the honourable aim of alleviating emigration from this very rural area, by providing employment in forestry, it has resulted in a vast area of wildness, certainly, but wilderness, hardly. What visitors observe today is a landscape massively impacted upon by modern-day humans. Much of the natural, barren Atlantic blanket bog landscape that will become Wild Nephin is smothered under a carpet of alien monoculture.

And yet, should today’s Coillte be blamed for the deeds of its predecessors ? Certainly not. Perhaps we should be grateful that a little sanity has come into the organisation – Ireland’s largest landowner, lest we forget. It should be acknowledged that Coillte has indeed managed a few environmental successes, notably the removal of many conifers at Clonbur Wood, in favour of the re-establishment of native woodland. Mind you, that job was only half-heartedly carried out, as many conifer stands were left in place. Neither should it be ignored that the organisation has singularly failed to eradicate or even control the invasive Rhododendron that chokes much of its lands, for example at the Tourmakeady Millennium Forest or here in Wild Nephin. Management of its felling sub-contractors also leaves a lot to be desired, as sites are often littered with hazardous waste post-intervention.

 

Wild Nephin, Mayo, Ireland

Lough Namroon in Wild Nephin

While the company moves into a phase of abandonment of the Wild Nephin area, it nevertheless has still been felling trees on a substantial scale in recent times. It appears to still retain one eye on extracting whatever it can, before letting go. It is, after all, a commercial semi-state. You see, the underlying reason for this new-found “commitment” to wilderness and recreation may well be nothing other than an admission that this forest is of almost zero commercial value. Basically, as I understand it, the timber is of terribly poor quality and its ongoing management too demanding. As they put it themselves, “Coillte owns large areas of underperforming crops in this area with … constraints … which add to management challenges”.

Nevertheless, let’s assume that the company is well-meaning in its intention to leave this landscape to the forces of nature, after successive decades of the polar opposite. Why then do they plan to build huts (bothys) and other infrastructure ? Surely, if they want to “develop a … wilderness” [sic], inserting new infrastructure should not be considered.

But let’s take a step back.

Which is preferable : ongoing management of the plantation forest or its abandonment ? Well, clearly the latter. However, is it preferable to put up signage, bothys and trails or not ? Again, I would argue that the latter is clearly better. The one thing they could do is try to, in some way or other, reduce the density of the conifers, in order to let some light in. Ideally, they could chop down every second row, but I appreciate that that would be nigh impossible to achieve on the scale required. Local landowners could be given permission to remove trees in this manner, for their own consumption. Sound riparian zone management should see the removal of non-native trees from along the banks of rivers, streams and lakes and the creation of a buffer zone. If they could do that, then at least there would be somewhat less the impression of wasteland to the whole place.

Wild Nephin – Get Out There

Is the Wild Nephin project exciting and positive ? Without doubt. Is there a beautiful feeling of aloneness while out hiking the hills ? For sure. Will I continue to walk and lead groups in the area ? Certainly and I would recommend you go there too. Just be aware of the history …

Read my follow-up article written after a visit in early 2015.

Posted in Blog, Walking in the West of Ireland | Tagged , | 22 Comments

Slieve Carr

Heading out on our 8-hour hike of Slieve Carr, deep in the north Mayo bogs, we were in great spirits. We would attack the mountain from the Bangor Trail, to its southwest and retreat later along the Western Way, to its southeast.

We were lucky with the weather throughout, being subjected to only one, poor quality rain shower. The ground was reasonably dry and, even at the summit cairn, the wind was almost non-existent.

This is a lovely mountain, very remote and with great views in all directions. The climb itself involves a pretty tough and steep ascent from the twin Scardaun Loughs, but the top of Slieve Carr is pretty much a plateau, albeit at three slightly different levels. There are great views out across Blacksod Bay to Achill, The Mullet and the various islands beyond. Inland, it is the vast swathes of plantation forest that lie below, with the Bellacorick wind turbines, Nephin and Lough Conn beyond. But it is the corrie lakes immediately below us on the eastern flanks of the mountain that make this day very special. Each is really beautiful.

Slieve Carr

Slieve Carr | Laghtdauhybawn Cairn

Slieve Carr corrie lake

Lough Adanacleveen, Slieve Carr

Of course, tackling Ireland’s wet western hills doesn’t always work out, as the following account of a different day’s hike recalls :

We parked the car at  F 95 10 on The Western Way and headed north along the forest track, with Lough Kilnabrinnia as our first target, on the SE flank of Slieve Carr. Our plan was to ascend the mountain from a direction we had not previously taken. From Kilnabrinnia, we intended to move northwards along the E side, up as far as Lough Drumderg and the small, unnamed lake to the NW beyond.

But it didn’t happen. Even as we left the car, the rain was pouring down and the sky was very low indeed. We couldn’t see much of Nephin Beg, which should have been looming above us immediately to the W.

By the time we got to the end of the disused forest track at F 936133, where it meets a stream, we were pretty deflated. Our gear was holding up with no problem, but the spirit was somewhat damaged. The unending rain can do that to you, especially when there’s no view.

We ploughed on, starting the gentle slope towards the lake above. By the stream, we came across an area of deer activity – the bracken had been crushed and trampled, leaving a space of some 6m x 4m flattened in the middle of the otherwise 60cm high undergrowth. With deer droppings all around, this was a wallowing site.

We eventually gave up and retreated, still dry after 3 1/2 hours, but disappointed that we had not achieved more. On our return to the car, we came across some conifers that had been ‘barked’ by the deer. Barking occurs where the deer remove strips of bark for food. We also saw an impressively large frog and lots and lots of rain!

Slieve Carr (721 m) Hike

From the Scardaun Loughs up and back down is 8 km and an ascent of 470 m. Depending on where you start and finish, you may need to allow for up to 18 km extra hiking in and out.

Posted in Blog, Walking in the West of Ireland | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments