Hiking Up and Around Nephin Beg

Here is a video I made of my hike up and around Nephin Beg mountain and the twin Scardaun Loughs last Saturday.

I hope the video gives you an idea of what this landscape is like.

Section 2 is from on the top of the 627 m mountain, with the camera facing directly west. The result is very strong wind, so you might like to tone down the volume just for that section.

A Winter Hike Up Nephin Beg

On Saturday, I left Castlebar at 7.20 am, to begin a climb of Nephin Beg at 8.20, from its eastern side. I parked the car on The Western Way and took to the hills from the little bridge over the second stream after the Coillte hut.

Nephin Beg summit; Slieve Carr in background.

Nephin Beg summit; Slieve Carr in background.

As I gained ground, I was quite surprised that the terrain was not much wetter than was the case and I made steady enough progress. I made the summit from the southeast ridge, looking across the corrie towards pt 311 m, which forms part of the Letterkeen Loop.

Of course, once I reached the top, I was no longer sheltered and became subjected to fierce wind and some snow coming in from the west. The views were wonderful in all directions, from Blacksod Bay, The Mullet, Duvillaun and Iniskea Islands to the west and northwest, all the way around to Nephin Mór in the east and Corraun and Achill in the west and southwest.

Scardaun Loughs in the shadow of Nephin Beg; Slieve Carr beyond.

Scardaun Loughs in the shadow of Nephin Beg; Slieve Carr beyond.

From the summit, I descended northwards and headed for the northern side of the Scardaun Loughs, passing them to the west. I saw seven geese (too far away to positively identify, but presumably White-Fronted, which over-winter here).

Having passed the twin lakes on my right, I then began to circumnavigate them to the north, underneath Slieve Carr. Swinging, around to the southeast on the far side, I began my descent to The Western Way. This section was by far the wettest on the hike, but was nonetheless easily manageable.

To come around Nephin Beg, I followed the tree line, with long, clear views north across the huge plantation forests to the wind turbines and disused power station at Bellacorrick. East of the Loughs, five additional geese came flying overhead from the NE and did not land on the lakes, rather continuing out to the pond-studded Scardaun bog beyond.

Passing Lough Namroon below me, I dropped down into the valley of its draining stream to rejoin The Western Way after 5 hrs 40 minutes in varying sunshine, snow and heavy rain towards the end.

Apathy – The Greatest Threat to our Environment

This is an article written by Michael Neal * in the US.

” So what do you think is the greatest threat to the environment?

We hear a lot about climate change, overfishing, mercury in the air and water – and that’s just what was in today’s paper. All are valid concerns, but I believe one other threat, if not the greatest threat, is the apathy of future generations.

Why are future and even present generations apathetic to the threats to the environment? Is there a disconnect when kids (and adults) aren’t exposed to the outdoors? Without this exposure, kids don’t learn to see the beauty or feel a connection to the outdoor world. Let’s go back in time for a moment.

Thirty-five years ago, (ancient history for the younger readers and just yesterday for those that are a bit seasoned by time) kids, like me, played outdoors. We wandered through fields, built forts in the woods, caught frogs in ponds. Many of us had relatives who took us fishing. We were immersed in the natural world. Spending so much time outdoors, we connected with nature. Even if we weren’t actually studying the environment, we were absorbing an inner sense of it. Fishing, for example, actually laid the groundwork for many becoming conservationists and researchers.

Today, the majority of children don’t have that same connect with nature. We, as a society, are taught to keep our kids safe. It would be wrong to let a child wander through the woods alone or to go fishing in the pond by themselves. It is much safer to have them come home after school, come in the house, watch TV and play on the computer.

Maybe you’re thinking, “this is not me, I take my kids fishing and boating.” Yes, I know I am preaching to the choir but we need more converts. I take out thousands of children of many ages for short eco-tours. It is amazing. When I have young kids on the boat they almost all have an interest in the outdoor world and what lives in it, but as they get older that interest wanes.

When I talk to older kids who do have a greater interest, I find their parents are usually avid outdoors people.

We will only protect what we love and we will only love what we know. We have to get children outside. We need to support scouting organizations that encourage outdoor recreation. We need to support school systems that make the outdoors a classroom. Beyond supporting, we also need to be involved.

If you have children, get them involved. Boating, fishing, sailing, exploring; we can’t rely on schools and organizations to teach our kids about the outdoors, kids need to enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t have kids, then look around. Do you have extended family you can take out? Do you have neighbours you can share this outdoor world with?

We are bombarded with messages of despair about the problems with our environment. Many people have gotten involved and work valiantly to affect change. Many of us are tired and a bit worn out from our everyday lives and don’t have the time to protest the deforestation of the jungles of Brazil. We can, though, make the time to get a child outdoors. The feeling of joy you receive when a child sees a dolphin for the first time or catches their first fish is amazing.

Perhaps the child who feels a connection to the outdoors will become the scientist who figures out the answers to climate change, overfishing and mercury in the water and air. Make the time to make a difference to a child and perhaps the world. ”

I could not agree more with what Mike writes.

* Michael Neal is the owner / operator of Bull River Cruises, in Savannah, Georgia, USA. See www.bullriver.com

Six Places to Walk in Mayo

Here is a selection of lovely places to go for a walk in County Mayo. 

The walks vary from hillwalking to ca. 800 m, down to on-road and some are more suited to bringing children than others. 

1. Sheefry Hills (SW Mayo) : 

Straight south from Croagh Patrick and northeast of the famous little village of Leenane lie the Sheefry Hills, culminating in Barrclashcame at 772 m. Wet and cold at this time of the year, but if you’re looking for a reasonably serious walk, go here. There are great views and you’ll know you’re out in the wilds, by the wind and frequent rain. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a view of Mweelrea to the west, Doo Lough below it and the Killary fjord to the south. 

Be sure to bring a proper map with you – Ordnance Survey sheet no. 37. Preferably, do not go alone. Count on 5 hours to do the loop, so leave it til springtime. 

2. Brackloon Wood (near Westport) : 

If climbing the Sheefrys isn’t your thing, then go for a gentle stroll in Brackloon, ca. 4 km south of Westport town. Turn right off the Leenane road where the sign says Drummin. There is a nice loop walk in this mixed oak wood, that will take you 1 hour (more if you have children with you). The mixed trees are attractive and there are some benches where you can take a rest, just breathe in the air and listen to the birds. 

3. Balla Wood (SE of Castlebar) : 

This is another good walk for families. It traverses mainly beech wood and there is a good loop walk that will bring you through part of the wood, past the golf course and back. If entering Balla from Castlebar, take the road to Mayo Abbey at the top of the village and turn right, when still in the village, signposted GAA pitch and golf course. Park your car where there is attractive wooden fencing on your left. The nice easy walk also has a lovely meadow in the middle of the wood, where your kids will like to play ‘hide and seek’ in the long grass during summer. 

4. Nephin Mór (Lahardane) : 

Nephin Mountain (806 m).

Nephin Mountain (806 m).

Back to the mountains. This climb will take between 3 and 4 hours up and down. Get to Lahardane, turn left just before you leave the village in the direction of Crossmolina, drive for ca. 2 km and you’ll see a rough carpark on your right. Park up there and take the forest track on the other side of the road. Keep to the left of the second forest and the wonderful corrie to reach the summit trig pillar. 

As with any mountain, be sure to bring a proper map with you – Ordnance Survey sheet no. 23. Preferably, do not go alone. 

5. Corraun (W Mayo, before Achill) : 

For this on-road walk, turn left just after Mulranny village, down to where you’ll see the church, then continue out towards the sea. Most people will always head to either Achill or Ballycroy from Mulranny, but you will turn to the southern side of Corraun peninsula. Park wherever you can and just walk the little road as far as you like. There are wonderful views of Clew Bay and Clare Island, as well as out to the open ocean. 

6. Downpatrick Head (N Mayo) : 

Coming from Ballina, turn right before Ballycastle village and head out to the Head. See the amazing blow holes and the extraordinary Dún Briste sea stack. Walk along the cliff tops, but be careful not to get too close. Strong gusts can come at any moment. Do not bring children up here. This is the North Atlantic. 

Afterwards, if you like, return to Ballycastle and continue westward along the road and visit the Céide Fields just beyond, or look out over the cliffs from the excellent viewing stand opposite the car park for the Fields.

Schizophrenic Coillte

I regularly bring groups walking on Coillte managed land. Although virtually exclusively non-native afforestation, nevertheless these habitats do support a range of wildlife and afford good long off-road walking routes. You can ‘get lost’ in these huge conifer plantations, forget about the world outside for a while and enjoy the fresh air. 

If lucky, you might spot Kestrel, Merlin, Red Deer, Pine Marten, Otter, Red Grouse and small birds, like Coat Tit, Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Pipits, etc. These are not the ‘dead zones’ some would like us to believe. Low in biodiversity they are, but ‘dead’ they certainly are not.

I wrote a reasonably positive blog entry some weeks back about the good native forest restoration work ongoing under the EU-Life project. While I know that positive work is currently being done in places like Clonbur Wood and other sites, I also know that very little good is being done on the so-called Millenium Forest at nearby Tourmakeady Wood, where the site is severely infested with Rhododendron. A decade back, Coillte brazenly declared on the signage within Tourmakeady that the Rhododendron was to be eradicated. Nothing of the sort has happened.  

I am a pragmatist who realises that commercial conifer plantations play a role in Ireland’s rural economy and that the state-owned Coillte is not going to stop its main business any time soon. I avail of their open door policy to walkers, cyclists and so on and appreciate that.  

My gripe, however, has more to do with the way it behaves itself. While on the one hand waving its flag about Clonbur et al, on the other hand it seems to have abandoned Tourmakeady.  

Eskeragh, North Mayo

Eskeragh, North Mayo

On Wednesday, I visited another restoration project, this time at Eskeragh, north Mayo. This EU-Life project is about blanket bog restoration. Here, Coillte openly admits to having virtually destroyed the natural habitat, through drainage and conifer planting in the 1980s. It has removed the conifers, blocked up drains in order to allow the site to waterlog once more and has even installed a nice attractive boardwalk with accompanying explanatory panel for visitors. 

Good for them, I hear you cry. 

However, no more than a few kilometres away, I then visited a vast plantation at Carrowkilleen / Carrowgarve. Here, you see the ‘real’ Coillte at work, away from the PR and the public.  

Felling has recently taken place here on a vast scale, far greater than what might be considered reasonable. The destruction is terrible, leaving a landscape of mangled tree stumps, broken branches, churned up ground, compromised water quality and heavy machinery tracks. I hear you say “well, that’s the price you pay for commercial forestry on a large scale”. I reiterate that it does not have to be on such a massive scale all at once.  

The problem here is wanton environmental damage being perpetrated at these sites. I found this upturned drum of gearbox oil dumped in a water channel. You can clearly see that the spout is open. Further along, Pipits and Wagtails dipped their beaks in oil-polluted puddles. A large tyre was dumped in another water channel. This is disgraceful behaviour and demonstrates clear disregard for the environment Coillte claims to care for at other sites.  

So, Coillte, go ahead with your commercial non-native plantations, but why not carry out your business in a responsible and environmentally respectful manner. Oh yeah, and give us more native broadleaves. Oh yeah, and hand over your bogland and forest restoration project sites to an independent body that might actually care and be focussed on sustainability, environmental care and biodiversity.