The Nephin Beg mountains are perhaps Ireland’s most isolated. To hike around here is to walk in a land fashioned by north Atlantic weather systems. West Mayo, with its wonderful coastline, endless islands and inner bogs, is a result of the constant rain and wind blown in by the great and fierce ocean.
Stripped of her natural Scots Pines, were it not for the heavy plantations of non native conifers over the last fifty years and more, this would be a virtually tree-less landscape. Only around the larger lake shores will you find native trees of any note. Even then, they are often smaller than elsewhere, with that characteristic lopsided growth, as they bend over away from the strong prevailing winds. Indeed, the majority of lakes and bog pools can boast no such trees on their shorelines.
But with the conifers comes life too. The Pine Marten is here. The Otter has cover, as he darts between drainage ditches and small fast rivers, with the odd slower, deeper pool to hang around in. The Red Deer hides away in the huge plantations. You might spot them at dusk, or hear them during the rut in autumn. Kestrels can be spotted around the perimeters of the conifers, as they perch looking out across the bog for prey. The smaller Merlin is harder to see, flying at a much lower level than the Kestrel. Look around the crags, cliffs and mountain peaks and you may just come across the majestic Peregrine.
But the call of this wild west Mayo is ultimately one of silence. Get yourself out into the vast boglands of this place and sit down for a while, among the bog heather and grasses. Listen. You won’t hear much.