A Tourism Without Visiting ?

Okay, so the headline isn’t altogether precise.

What I really mean is, should we not be moving to a type of tourism, in which the visitor doesn’t necessarily get to actually visit everything he or she has come for ? By that, I mean not get to walk on or in the “main attraction”. Or at least, part of it.

The world’s national parks and nature reserves seem to be ever more opened to development. Headlines are all across the internet of “ABC Corp opens $ 300 m resort in XYZ nature reserve”, etc.

I find it can work just as well to introduce a place to people, then bring them so far, explain why we’re not going any further and move away. An example of this would be Tern breeding grounds on pebble beaches. Another would be  seal breeding beaches. Yet another would be delicate wetland habitats.

Sometimes, we come across board walks, for example jutting out into wetlands, so the humans can encroach that bit more and get a better ‘feel’ for the place. But do we need them ? Wouldn’t it be just as good to walk simply to the edge and have a knowledgeable expert explain what goes on inside ? Or perhaps build a sensitively designed, maybe somewhat camouflaged low watch tower on that edge ?

Do we need to place candles inside those 2,000 + year old cairns atop the remote hill ? Maybe we should stop 5 m short of the entrance and simply wonder at the magnificence.

Visiting – yes, but in part and not at all costs.


Leave No Trace + Geocaching + Kettle

Altaconey River, Nephin Beg mountains.

Altaconey River, Nephin Beg mountains.

I was up the Altaconey River in the Nephin Begs last Sunday with my Kelly’s Kettle, having just located a pretty easy geocache nearby. Feeding small twigs into the kettle, I began to wonder what Leave No Trace’s (LNT) opinion might be of both the kettle and geocaching as a pasttime. 

I was confident of what LNT would say about the Kelly’s Kettle and other similar products, for the simple reason that I use it properly and do not leave a trace behind me. 

Use it properly ? What does that entail ? Well, I don’t break twigs or pine cones off trees, but use what is already on the ground. And I don’t lie the kettle on ground that might get burned or scorched, but use rocks or sand, where there is some. And I don’t discard the burnt materials afterwards, but pack them away. 

I was much less sure about geocaching. Why ? Because, even if I come across a geocache, pay my respects, maybe do a swap of what’s in it for something new, nevertheless, this is still a (typically) plastic item in the natural environment – an imposter, if you will. 

So here is the reply I got from Boulder, CO, USA, with which I’m happy : 


Thank you for your inquiries via Twitter.  In reference to your Kelly’s Kettle question:

This is similar to the http://www.zzstove.com/, which is a stove that uses natural combustible material (pine cones, twigs, leaves, etc.) and burns them in a very controlled way. It’s essentially like a fire in a can. 

Our position is that as long as it’s used in accordance with local land manager regulations, it’s both safe and responsible to have a fire (i.e. an open flame even if contained) and there are appropriate and readily available fuel sources, then we have no issue with this stove. Our only additional recommendation would be to follow our standard guidelines about minimizing campfire impacts since this device utilizes open flame. 
Regarding geocaching (from our FAQ page – http://lnt.org/aboutUs/FAQs.php#geocaching):


The Center views geocaching as a fun and worthwhile recreational pursuit when done in accordance with land management agency regulations and with Leave No Trace in mind. As the popularity of geocaching has exploded over the past few years, land managers in many areas are seeing more impacts related to geocaching. However, because of geocaching, more and more people are enjoying the outdoors. Both people placing caches and people seeking caches need to research current regulations on geocaching for the areas where they wish to partake in this activity. 

The Center also has geocaching-specific information https://store.lnt.org/teach> .

Thanks again for your questions.  We appreciate the dialogue.

All the best,

Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
PO Box 997
Boulder, CO 80306
P:  303.442.8222 X109
F:  303.442.8217

Two Projects for 2010

1. Gunnera T. / Giant Rhubarb

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera Tinctoria continues to spread through certain parts of west Mayo, including Achill Island and the southern end of The Mullet peninsula.

Better known as Giant Rhubarb, this is a highly invasive introduced plant species from South America.

A project has been run by UCD, led by Spaniard Cristina Armstrong, the aim of which is to eradicate the plant from Clare Island. I attended a presentation she put on last year about the scale of the problem and the project’s progress. However, its spread is much greater on Achill and The Mullet. It is very prevalent around Blacksod (especially the Garda station) and is creeping over the hill towards Deirbhle’s Twist and up Termon Hill too.

Read this from The Botanic Gardens website.

I want to get involved in curbing its growth in 2010 and beyond. For this, I’ll need equipment but, more importantly, manpower. Get in touch with me if you’d like to spend a voluntary week on this work during late summer. If you don’t want to do the dirty work, but would be willing to sponsor the purchase of some equipment, or even provide materials as required, get in touch too please. I would be more than happy to acknowledge any contribution, whether monetary or of materials.

2. Inland Otter Observation

Otter (madra uisce)

Otter (madra uisce)

I’m fascinated by the otter. I think the animal is really one of our most interesting mammals. While those that live near the sea (for example, along brackish water lakes) have food from both fresh and sea water to fill their stomachs, those who live exclusively inland would appear not to have such choice. Why don’t they move to the coast (joking) ?

By the way, sometimes people erroneously believe we have two sub-species of otter – the ‘Sea Otter’ and the ‘Freshwater’. In fact, it’s the same animal in two habitats.

Otter spraint beside small river

Otter spraint beside small river

A chance encounter a few months back with two otters in a conifer plantation drainage ditch, no more than 1 m wide with water no more than 15 cm deep, has me even more intrigued. The nearest stream of consequence was 500 m away, with a reasonable sized river 1 km off. I want to ‘stake out’ some such locations in Mayo this year and learn more. If you would like to join me on one such excursion, get in contact. If you are an ‘otter expert’ or student of this wonderful creature, even better.

Ecotourism in 2010

Unspoiled mountain stream, County Mayo, Ireland.

Unspoiled mountain stream, County Mayo, Ireland.

At the end of the day and the beginning of this new year, is there really anything more to ecotourism than “more environmentally responsible nature tourism” ? 

The world and Ireland is full of nature tourism operators – walking, hill climbing, kayaking, cycling, surfing, rock climbing, abseiling, mushroom gathering, sailing, scuba diving, even fishing and, some would say, hunting. 

I know people who are involved in these activities and couldn’t give a damn about the environment. Last year, I met a guy involved in outdoors tourism who told me that he didn’t consider his food waste an issue – “It all goes into the ocean”. That’s a fact ! 

Shouldn’t we be delighted with a world where tourism providers care about and respect the environment, strive not to damage it and tell others about what they do and encourage them to do likewise ? Would that not be a seriously great step forward ? 

Now let’s build on that. It would be wonderful if every kayaker, cyclist, hiker in the countryside also left with more knowledge about the place and people they had visited. It would be great if they contributed to the conservation of the area, by not uprooting flowers or scaring animals. That’s a step beyond not littering. 

Let’s call that ecotourism. It ‘excludes’ those in the outdoors activity sector who don’t give a damn and those who might but don’t bother spreading the word and educating. But ecotourism should in no manner be exclusive. So if you’re involved, then try to get others in also. I told the guy above what I thought he should be doing with his food waste and it didn’t involve the ocean. 

The one thorny issue which always arises is the question of transport to the venue. If your ecotourism venture is extremely rural, then guests are most likely to come in cars. Yes, inform them of what public transport can be used, but in the end, if they’re travelling to furthest northern Scotland, the high Pyrenees or western Mayo, it’s most likely going to be by car. Get them out of it once they arrive ! 

So what do I consider to be the essential elements of ecotourism for 2010 ? 


Interest in the environment 



Lough Carra, County Mayo


Lough Carra

Lough Carra

Lough Carra is a 1,500 hectare marl / limestone lake, located around 16 km straight south from Castlebar. On its eastern shore lies the ruined Moore Hall, home now to an important population of Lesser Horseshoe Bats.

While the land around Moore Hall is now owned by Coillte, and therefore unfortunately mostly planted with non-native conifers, nevertheless, the area is a pleasant one for walking and is particularly child-friendly, being pretty much flat all around.

Indeed, the on-site car park has recently been tarred, which is no harm either when you have the children along.

You’ll be tempted to walk inwards and away from the lake, along the path which completes a circle around the ruins of the big house. This is a nice walk and you can divert into the middle of the circle to view the house. But I’d rather you turned around at the car park and faced the lake. Walk to the right, across a small bridge on the narrow road and then turn immediately left, over a stile and continue in through this largely broadleaf wood, down to the lake shore. It’s nicer.

For more information on Lough Carra, a truly beautiful spot in Mayo, look here, at a website largely developed by Chris and Linda Huxley, who live down there.

Mayo Adventure 2010

I’m in the middle of planning a new event for 2010. By taking advantage of the new cycleway / walkway between Newport and Mulranny (referred to in a recent posting below) and the bicycles available from my accommodation partner, Hannah at Léim Siar in Blacksod, I’m creating a 5 to 7-day walking and cycling tour of Mayo, which will almost entirely be off-road.

Indeed, even the roads which must be taken will only be minor roads, with extremely little traffic anyway.

Mayo is just a great place for walking and cycling. The northern half of the county is traversed by both The Bangor Trail and The Western Way, with large tracts of both off-road. Then we have the little travelled routes of the western part of the county, around Ballycroy, which have almost no traffic and offer great views of the Atlantic to the west and the Nephin Begs to the east.

Then we have The Mullet peninsula. There’s not much traffic there either and it can boast truly wonderful beaches and views in all directions, including south over the high cliffs of Achill’s Slievemore mountain.

More on this tour later. It will combine cycling and walking, as always at a leisurely pace. We’re not in the racing business.

Email me or post a comment if you’d like to be kept up to date with this new tour for 2010 – The Mayo Adventure.

New Cycle and Walkway in Mayo

When I came home to Ireland in 1996 and installed myself in Westport at the time, I was amazed to find the old railway spur from Westport to Achill Sound lying disused.

Well, 14 years later, at last, the section from Newport to Mulranny is to be opened in early 2010 as a superb cycle and walking route.

Named the “Great Western Way”, this off-road track will be a 17.5 km peaceful, safe and truly beautiful route for walking and cycling. The track will, of course, retain old railway bridges and retention walls, which are really attractive features. At certain points along the way, there are wonderful views out over Clew Bay, to the West, as well as into the Nephin Beg mountain range, to the East. I know this, because I’ve walked it on more than one occasion.

The potential is clearly there to extend this route in the future, in both directions, on to Achill and Westport. What a pity it is that this wasn’t undertaken long ago – because several sections of the railway were lost to building in the 1990s, most particularly coming out of Westport and at the northern end of Newport village. Still, it’s better late than never and I, for one, will certainly be leading groups along it in 2010.

Looking forward to that. Great stuff.