Tourism Pure Walking Holidays

Guided Walking Holidays in Mayo & Connemara, Ireland

 

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Posts tagged with: 'Westport'

Ten Great Short Mayo Walks, Part One

I want to share with you 10 beautiful, but short, Mayo walks. These are places to go for a short, easy stroll and admire the surroundings. Bring the kids. I’ve chosen 10 places that you can easily reach in your car or, preferably, on your bike. No need for hiking boots to get to any of these spots, each of which is wonderfully representative of Mayo!

These are places where you can just wander around for a while at your leisure and take in the atmosphere and scenery. You might call it ‘meditate’ or ‘reflect’ on what is happening around you. Learn what Mayo is all about. Let me know what you think and where you feel should have been included in my list.

Here are the first five Mayo walks (in no particular order). Find the five remaining strolls here.

1 McMahon Park / Clare Lake, Claremorris
2 The Mall and Bridge Street, Westport
3 Céide Fields and Cliffs opposite, Ballycastle
4 Moore Hall, Carnacon
5 Belleek Wood, Ballina

 1. McMahon Park / Clare Lake, Claremorris

Mayo walks

McMahon Park, Claremorris

One of the nicest town parks in Mayo, the people of Claremorris are rightly proud of this wonderful space. The park is centred around Clare Lake and has beautiful walks, with cute little bridges over streams and fantastic flora, from native trees to lakeside reedbeds. Children and adults alike will enjoy the ducks and swans that have made the lake their home. As an added bonus, there’s a good children’s playground just outside. One gripe, however : The entrance to the park is not great and the playground really should be incorporated into the same space. Total walking time from car or bike, maybe 60 minutes (off-road).

 

 2. The Mall & Bridge Street, Westport

Mayo walks

Westport

Nowhere in Mayo is more lively than the main street (Bridge Street) in Westport, especially during the busy summer months. No street is prettier than The Mall, with the river flowing through its twin tree-lined avenues. Park your car or bike in any of the off-street carparks in town. Then go stand on the bridge for a while, take it all in and walk the lap of the Mall around the river, followed by the loop of Bridge St, Shop St and James St, before returning to the Mall. Then go find the craic in one of the many pubs on Bridge Street or James Street. Total walking time from car or bike, maybe 30 minutes (beware town traffic).

 

 3. Céide Fields and Cliffs, Ballycastle

Mayo walks

Cliffs at Ballycastle

The Céide Fields are the world’s oldest known farm system, at approx 6,000 years old. Here, stone walls encompassing a very large area have been discovered, lying intact beneath thousands of years of blanket bog. Straight across from the wonderful visitor centre and its carpark is a viewing platform out over the North Mayo cliffs. Stand here for a while, watch the seabirds and it will remain with you for the rest of your life. Indeed, go visit nearby Downpatrick Head, on the other side of Ballycastle afterwards. Total walking time from car or bike, including visiting Céide Fields, maybe 60 minutes (beware traffic on the road when going to view the cliffs).

  4. Moore Hall, Carnacon

Mayo walks

Moore Hall forest trail

In the county where the fight began, back in the 1870s, for the right to own the land one farmed, there are now almost no ‘big houses’ (landlord mansions) left standing. Moore Hall, though now a ruined shell, remains. Walk around here and think of the Irish National Land League, the campaign for land ownership for the tenant classes of the 19th Century and, ultimately, the struggle for Irish freedom. Better still, walk here at dusk during warm summer days and watch the Lesser Horseshoe Bats flying all around you. There is a fine carpark on the shores of Lough Carra, beyond Carnacon village. Total walking time from car or bike, over 60 minutes (off-road).

  5. Belleek Woods, Ballina

Mayo walks

Belleek Wood, Ballina

Belleek is the finest urban wooded area in Mayo. Situated on the northern side of Ballina town, the wood straddles the banks of the river Moy. It is a beautiful place, with lovely walks and river views. It is home to one of Mayo’s very few Red Squirrel populations and is a haven for the people of the north Mayo town. Park up your car and just lose yourself in here for a good hour. Total walking time from car or bike, over 60 minutes (off-road).

 

The second half of this Mayo walks list is presented in my next post here.

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The Pursuit of International Scale

Back in June of this year, while speaking at a tourism conference, I outlined my dream of a great 100 km long “Nephin Beg Mountains Loop” – a single continuous, entirely off-road track for cycling and walking that would circumnavigate our beautiful and wild west Mayo mountain range. Complimenting this loop would be the already in situ Bangor Trail, for serious walkers only, which would cut the loop in half for choice of route. See my previous post, with map, here.

However, that 100 km loop is really only one part of what I believe could be provided in Mayo, to bring this county up to genuine international scale as a walking and cycling destination. The recent unsurprising decision by government to scrap the plan to extend the Western Rail Corridor northwards beyond Athenry reinforces my belief.

On the (from a tourism development viewpoint) much maligned eastern side of Mayo, we have the disused Claremorris to Collooney (Co. Sligo) railway line, part of the famous Western Rail Corridor. This line, at 76 km long, will doubtless never be reinstated for use as a railroad. To the south of Claremorris are the remains of the old branch line down to Ballinrobe, 22 km long. Ditto for its future as a railway. To my knowledge, only 1 km of that line has become a road surface, with the remainder through predominantly farmland. Together, these two track beds could get a cyclist or walker from just south of Sligo town to Ballinrobe, on the shores of Lough Mask in south county Mayo – off road! That’s a distance of around 100 km.

Walking, hiking, cycling in Mayo, Ireland

Around Mayo Loop – Northern Section

RED = OFF ROAD

RED DASH = WHERE THE ROUTE COULD EASILY BE TAKEN OFF-ROAD

PURPLE = ON MINOR ROADS

BLUE = MAIN ROADS

Ballinrobe is just a short 11 km hop from the beautiful forests at Cong and Clonbur, where a further 10 km of off-road tracks already exist (more, if you include the gorgeous local loop trails by the lakes).

From there to Westport (79 km) would admittedly use 45 km of roadways, but minor ones. Using the 10 km long Seanbhóthair between Clonbur and Cornamona, then the 24 km of off-road sections of the Western Way would give a total of 34 km off-road. This part of the trail would take the walker or cyclist along the edge of the magnificent Lough Corrib and by the lovely Sheaffry Hills to Westport. Indeed, this south Mayo stretch of The Western Way could hopefully be taken much more off-road. This work has already begun.

Now we’ve reached Westport from Collooney, a distance of some 200 km, with around 144 km off-road and 56 km on small and minor roads.

As we know, the off-road Greenway already exists from Westport quay north through Newport and Mulranny to Achill. Leaving the Greenway just north of Newport, you could turn inland, on very minor roadways for 7 km and then take The Western Way all the way to the north Mayo coast, at Ballycastle and the Céide Fields. There are just 8 km on-road, which could relatively easily be converted to off-road by the local authorities.

Walking & Cycling in Mayo, West of Ireland

Around Mayo Loop – Southern Section

RED = OFF ROAD

PURPLE = ON MINOR ROADS

BLUE = MAIN ROADS

To Ballycastle, this would give a walking and cycling trail that would be a total 281 km long, with just 71 km on-road – and virtually all very minor roads at that. That’s 210 km of off-road cycling and walking !

The final piece in the jigsaw would be to join Ballycastle, on the breath-taking north Co. Mayo coastline, taking in the superb abbeys at Moyne and Rosserk, back down to the old railway at Swinford, using minor roads via Ballina and the low Ox Mountains, plus The Foxford Way.

Total trail length : approx. 353 km

Total off-road : approx. 226 km

Total minor roads : approx. 111 km

Total other, larger roads : approx. 16 km (8 km of which could be quickly taken off-road)

Fantastic !

Mayo is in a pretty small country. However, ours is a very large county and we have the real opportunity to produce a (mostly) off-road walking and cycling experience that would actually be of international quality length. Beginning with my proposal and with vision from the local authorities (who are already doing great work here), we would then have the motivation to get ever more of this potentially fantastic trail off-road, until, one day, it all would be.

What, there’s more ? Yes there is.

This trail would have four rail access points directly on it, at Collooney, Claremorris, Westport and Ballina. Also, just imagine what this could do for small tourism providers, local food producers, artists and craftspeople, traditional pubs, etc., along the route – particularly in the more remote areas. Now that’s sustainable tourism.

Check out the Sligo Mayo Greenway website, which proposes the conversion of the Collooney to Claremorris rail line.

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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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Brackloon Wood, Westport

Brackloon Wood, 7 km south of Westport, is a semi-natural remnant of Ireland’s once substantial mixed Atlantic Oak woodlands.

Walking in Ireland - Brackloon

Brackloon Wood in winter

The circular walk is about 4 km and will take you a little over an hour, or more if you have small children with you. Take a stroll through the wood at any time of the year, for a healthy and invigorating brush with our ancient landscape.

Brackloon was seriously reduced in size during the 1700s and into the 1800s, as much of the wood was used for charcoal. Nevertheless, today its 74 hectares make for a pleasant circular walk, entirely off-road and great fun for your children. See Oak, Ash, Willow, Hazel, Birch and Holly, among others. Indeed, leave the track and find your way down to the Owenwee River at the northern end of the walk, to add another dimension to this lovely spot.

Click on the link, below, for a map from the County Council’s Mayo Walks website.

Brackloon Wood, Westport, Co. Mayo

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New Year Walking Weekend 2014

Rejuvenate yourself with this New Year walking weekend in Westport.

Event Dates :

Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th of January 2014

Event Location :

Westport, Co. Mayo

Event Details :

This New Year walking weekend, based in lovely Westport, will be filled with a series of short to medium length walks around the hills, forests, bogs and coast of west Mayo. The weekend will be about shaking loose the cobwebs from the end of year festivities and getting out and about again.

New Year walking weekend

Croagh Patrick in Winter

Walks will be low level – no high hillwalks on this mid-winter weekend! We will stay in a nice, cosy B&B, with hot dinner included each evening (Fri and Sat).

Friday, January 3, 2014 :

Arrive in Westport Friday evening. Why not  take the train ? No need to bring the car to Mayo. Jump on a train from Hueston at 12.45, relax and arrive in Westport at 15.55.

We will enjoy a nice evening stroll of 2 hours under cover of dark, before heading in to town. I’ll be encouraging you to sample one of our local West Mayo Brewery craft beers.

Saturday, January 4, 2014 :

We will walk below Mayo’s most famous mountain, Croagh Patrick and out along the beach. There will be two separate walks, with a hot lunch in between. We will not be tackling the summit of The Reek, just rambling up to its shoulder and down the other side.

Sunday, January 5, 2014 :

An invigorating dawn walk will be followed by a midday stroll through a lovely forest, before departure on the 15.45 train that gets in to Dublin at 19.10.

Get in touch if you would like to join our small group on this relaxed, slow-paced guided walking weekend. Kick off your New Year with some activity out in the crisp, fresh West of Ireland winter.

New Year Walking Weekend Prices & Reservation :

Full Board B&B Accommodation in a twin or double room (price for one person)
Date :
€ 199
Full Board B&B Accommodation in a single room (total price for one person)
Date :
€ 219

Having hit the ” Book Now!” button, please proceed to the shop in the right-hand column of the website to checkout.

Please Note : This guided new year walking weekend is not suitable to people under the age of 18, or those with limited or restricted mobility. Access transport (including by train) is not included in the price.

Learn more about the town of Westport on Westport Tourism’s website.

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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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