Walking the Cong Clonbur Isthmus
Cong, at the very southern tip of County Mayo and the northern end of Lough Corrib, is one of Ireland’s prettiest villages. It is reminiscent of L’Isle sur la Sorgue in southern France, in that it is criss-crossed by numerous channels of the same river, with deep pools dotted all around. Cong even enjoys the added attraction of beautiful woodlands.
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. Go there.
I have written before about Coillte’s native woodland restoration project at Clonbur Wood, on the Galway Mayo border. I’ve been walking down around Cong and Clonbur for maybe 14 years, often lamenting the overly dense conifer plantations on vast tracts of the old Guinness estate.
But with the advent of the woodland project, the area is already beginning to be even more attractive as a walking destination than it already was.
Cong boasts wonderful sights for walkers, including the (in)famous dry canal, a failed 19th Century engineering project. You can walk the ‘bed’ of the canal and take in small roadways between the village and Loughs Corrib and Mask. Find a lime kiln in excellent condition, or the various sinks in the highly porous limestone rock that provides the sponge linking the two lakes.
Good hill climbing in the area includes the formidable Maumtrasna mountain to the north, or the more easy going Benlevy, in between the two, which offers superb views over both huge lakes.
But the special walk here is the entirely off-road linear trail. Walking the Cong Clonbur isthmus trail is about 14 km, but will take you up to 6 hours at a leisurely pace. This walk, well sign-posted, will bring you through both conifer plantation and new regeneration areas, past the ruined Ballykine Castle, lost in a beech wood, alongside a beautiful little bay of Lough Mask, which Mute Swans share with Mallards, Tufted Duck and others and onto the amazing lakeshore limestone pavement. Visit Pigeon Hole sink and enjoy the wetlands of the Cong River. Here you might see some of the resident Grey Herons, or visiting Cormorants. Emerge into Cong at the Abbey and Monk’s Fishing House.