Posts tagged with: 'walking'

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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Poland Birdwatching & Wildlife Tour, May 2021

I’m delighted to announce my Poland Birdwatching & Wildlife Tour, for May 2021, to the truly magnificent National Parks of Biebrza and Bialowieza, in eastern Poland.

Provisional Dates : May 8 – 15, 2021 (dependent on flight schedules, as yet unannounced)
Price : Euro 895 pps full board in shared rooms (excluding flights)
Interested ? Email info[at]tourismpurewalking.com or call 086-8318748

Poland birdwatching & wildlife tour
Crane at Biebrza National Park

These two wonderful National Parks boast magnificent wildlife, much of which we will see, while some of which, like Wolf and Lynx, is just too elusive. The range of birds is stunning, including Golden Oriole, Great Grey Shrike, Hen, Marsh & Montagu’s Harriers, Ortolan Bunting, etc, all in beautiful landscapes. Wildlife observation here is a truly magical delight, in a part of Europe that remains deeply rural and beautiful.

Our rough itinerary, subject to change,  is as follows :

Day 1 : Fly Dublin to Warsaw and transfer to Biebrza National Park.

Poland wildlife tour - Elk
Elk in Biebrza National Park

Days 2, 3, 4, 5 : Birds and wildlife spotting in Biebrza NP. The Park is home to Elk, Red Deer, Beaver, Wolf, Lynx and birds, such as Lesser Spotted Eagle, Crane, Black and White Stork, Woodpeckers, Hoopoe, Penduline Tit, Honey Buzzard and so much more. Biebrza (‘beaver’ in Polish) NP is based around the river basin of the same name and is a spectacular area of river marsh and wetland woodlands. Beautiful forest tracks are perfect for exploring the woodland and marsh areas. We’ll go on an evening river boat trip to look for Beaver!

Transfer to Bialowieza NP.

Day 6, 7 : Wildlife spotting in Bialowieza NP, home to Bison, Deer, Wolf, Lynx, various species of Woodpecker and many other fabulous birds, including Pygmy Owl. Bialowieza NP is based around the primeval forest of the same name – one of the very last tracts of such beautiful and serene forest in central and eastern Europe. An iconic location for lovers of nature and Europe’s exceptional biodiversity, memories of your visit to Bialowieza will never leave you.

Day 8 : Return to Ireland.

Poland wildlife tour
Biebrza NP, Poland

We stay in shared rooms in lovely traditional Polish ‘pensions’ (sort of B&Bs). Meals, transport within Poland and full guiding with our wonderful local expert are all included. The flights are not included and should not be booked until the group is confirmed. Instead, please indicate your interest in travelling by emailing me on info [at] tourismpurewalking.com.

The cost of this great Poland birdwatching & wildlife trip, based on per person sharing, is Euro 895. This does not include your flights.

I cannot recommend this trip highly enough. Our local guide is so good, he’s written the guide book to the nature and biodiversity of Biebrza National Park. We are accompanied throughout both by our principal guide and additional guides as required.

Poland wildlife tour Biebrza
Wildlife spotting in Poland

There is very little walking during this trip and what there is is easy, on forest tracks, with no hills of any note. This is a bird watching and wildlife spotting trip, rather than a walking trip. It is a very lovely and relaxing discovery of the vast nature of Poland, mostly in glorious native woodlands. Throughout the week, we pause to observe so much fascinating wildlife all around.

And don’t worry, there’s beer spotting to be enjoyed in the evenings!

See pictures of this trip in previous years, by visiting here.

Watch a YouTube slideshow of a past group, set to music by Poland’s great composer, Chopin, here.

Poland Birdwatching & Wildlife Tour Reviewed on “Mooney Goes Wild” :

Listen back to what Éanna Ní Lamhna and Richard Collins from “Mooney Goes Wild” on RTÉ Radio 1 had to say about this trip.

This relatively small, lowland lake holds around 8 White-tailed Eagles

Poland Birdwatching & Wildlife Tour, May 2021

If you would like to join our small group for this delightful Poland wildlife tour during May 2021, please get in touch, via e-mail to info [at] tourismpurewalking.com or phone, on 086-8318748, and reserve your place. Note that travel insurance is a prerequisite for this trip, as my walking guide insurance does not cover overseas birdwatching trips. Also, accommodation is in shared double or twin rooms, with a supplement due for those who would prefer a single room (where available).

Email me on info[at]tourismpurewalking.com

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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


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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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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Knockma Wood, Galway

Looking for a place to go walking with the kids at the start of this new year, we crossed the border into Galway. Knockma Wood is small, but very nice indeed, comprised mainly of Oak, Ash, Hazel and other broadleaf trees. The wood occupies a low hill in the otherwise flat north Galway plains. As gaeilge, its name is possibly Cnoc an Mhaigh, the ‘hill of the plain’.

Knockma Wood

Damaged cairn in Knockma Wood

A limestone outcrop, the hill boasts some excellent neolithic cairns on top, two of which are reputed to be the burial places of Queen Maebh of Connacht and of Finnbhearra, King of the Connacht fairies. Some meddling with the cairns by the 19th Century landlord has resulted in altered forms, including what appear to be steps up and walls along at least one of them.

Whatever you do, don’t tell the good people of Sligo that their beloved queen may, in fact, be buried down Galway way !

Being of limestone, it is interesting that Knockma is said to house the cairn of Finnbhearra, as it was believed that the fairies inhabited the ‘Otherworld’. This ‘Otherworld’ connected with Ireland at various points, such as caves, cracks in the earth and other passageways, like springs. At its summit, the hill has many Burren-like clints and grykes in its limestone scalp.

” The Tuatha Dé Danann went into the hills, the region of the Sídhe [fairies], then, and they submitted to the Sídhe under the ground. ” [Ancient Irish Tales, by Tom Peete Cross]

By the entrance to the wood stands Castle Hacket(t), a 13th or 14th Century tower house whose external walls are still in reasonable condition. Across the road is the more recent Castlehacket(t) House, a very large ‘big house’ from the 19th Century. The Kirwans, one of the famous tribes of Galway, were the local landlords. This house, like many other landed mansions, was burnt down in the 1920s but, unusually, was actually rebuilt and occupied, I understand, until the 1980s.

Read its entry on the excellent Landed Estates website, here.

From the carpark at the tower house, the walk is a pleasant 4km loop, with lovely views across the north Galway plains and, in winter, the many turlough lakes that dot this landscape, before they disappear once more as summer approaches. Among the fine specimen trees, we encounter some areas where efforts have been made to remove invasive laurel. The extensive thickets that remain and the new growth elsewhere demonstrate the work that is yet to be done. Surprisingly, quite a number of non-native conifers remain. Why the NPWS has left these in situ, I do not know. Bat boxes are to be seen on many trees, as the Wood holds Pipistrelles.

Knockma Wood fern

Polypody Fern on Oak Tree

But it is especially the Oaks and the relative ‘naturalness’ of the Wood that attract the visitor to Knockma. Having no deer to contend with, this is a wood that is free to regenerate, with a good variety in age of trees and a healthy understorey. With your children, you can spend an enjoyable 90 minutes here, exploring the wood and its wonderful archaeology.

Knockma Wood location

Learn more about Knockma Wood and its surrounding area, situated a few km west of Tuam, north Co. Galway, on the R333. Get out and about walking in this new year of 2013.

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