Up the Mountains with Eleven

I had a gas day last week in the Nephin Begs, with a lovely group of 11.

We left our cars at 10.30 am, I in the knowledge that the walk would take somewhere between 6 and 8 hours, but knowing that we had plenty of time, even if it turned out to be longer.

My fastest time doing the circuit in question was 6 hr 20 and even that time I was dawdling, as it was in the middle of Orchid season. I had been stopping every couple of metres to look at specimen. On the other hand, I had once brought a group of okay, but a little slow, walkers and it had taken 8 hr 30.

Anyway, this lovely group did the horseshoe in 8 hr 10. But the fun we had with the weather !

We enjoyed brilliant sunshine and warm winds from the east / southeast, mixed with loud thunder over our heads and accompanying fork lightning. The man with the camera had a classic West of Ireland opportunity to take pictures of a sky entirely black on the one side and clear blue alongside to the west.

We peeled off layers, only to pull them back on five minutes later. This is the great attraction of hill walking in Ireland’s west. If you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes.

We saw Frogs, Hares, Meadow Pipits, just one singing Skylark, but no Wheatears, Foxes or Grey Herons, which might ordinarily be encountered.

But it was a day to remember for its truly dramatic weather. Clare Island, off to the west, would appear clearly, then disappear entirely soon after. We even had two occasions where the walking had to stop and the group come in close together, as visibility shrunk to 10 metres.

That’s walking in Mayo – brilliant.

A Great Weekend in West Mayo

Last weekend was excellent fun. I led guided walks on The Mullet on Saturday and Sunday, treated myself to the Ceathrú Thaidgh cliff-top walk on Sunday and completed the wonderful Glendahurk Horseshoe in the Nephin Begs on Monday.

You’d never know, but the fabulous weather we’ve been having to date might just as quickly come to a shuddering halt in an Irish summer, so better to take full advantage while it’s going !

Floral highlights of the weekend included the many orchids now in bloom, the strange Ragged Robin, St. Patrick’s Cabbage at 700 m altitude and the stunningly beautiful Common Mallow.

Fauna of the weekend included one Fox, several Hares, fantastically aerobatic Ravens and one solitary Golden Plover. Unfortunately, no Seals were spotted at Erris Head, but you can’t always be lucky.

Erris Head – A guided walk of Erris Head (with another guide, not me) takes place, as part of Féile Erris Beo, on Sunday, June 20th. Contact Erris Tourism, on 097 – 82292.

Ceathrú Thaidgh – I will guide a walk of this cliff-top trail, also as part of Féile Erris Beo, on Thursday, June 17th, beginning at 6 pm. Again, call Erris Tourism, on 097 – 82292.

10HD – A Full Day Out in West Mayo

Just four weeks to go to a lovely Ten Hour Day out in wild west Mayo.

Join us at Newport on Saturday June 26th for a 90-minutes cycle into the hills, then a 6-hour hike up Nephin Beg mountain, then a 90-minute cycle back to Newport. This is NOT a race. This is NOT a competitive event. It’s a day out in fabulous country, with great views over lakes, mountains, bog and out to the coast, with Achill, Blacksod and the Reek in the distance.

If you like your outdoors, take a look at the event poster, by clicking below, to learn more.

10HD poster

10HD – Mayo Outdoors Event

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10HD is an active day out, combining cycling and walking, pencilled in for Saturday, June 26.

Based out of the lovely little village of Newport, west County Mayo, 10HD will have you on a bicycle or your feet for the whole day – more or less 10 hours.

10HD is most definitely not a race.

This is a relaxed event to see some of the wonderful views Mayo has to offer. Get on your bike in Newport and ramble towards the Nephin Beg mountains, which stretch out above the northern shore of Clew Bay. Take in Loughs Furnace and Feeagh. After around 90 minutes, dismount and hike part of The Bangor Trail, surely Ireland’s most isolated waymarked walking trail. Then hill walk up Nephin Beag itself, at 627 m, to get great views out over the vast blanket bogs and scenic coastline of North Mayo, towards Croagh Patrick, Clew Bay, Achill Island, Blacksod Bay, The Mullet peninsula and the Iniskea Islands beyond (extent of views is weather and visibility dependant).

10HD comprises approx. 90 minutes on the bike, followed by 6 hours hiking, followed by another 90 minutes return to Newport via a different route on the bike, with breaks along the way.

The cost of this10 Hour Day active day out is Euro 50 each and the number of places is strictly limited. Packed lunch, bike hire and full guiding throughout are included. We leave Newport at 9 am sharp and will be back at around 7 pm. Newport offers various accommodation alternatives, should you wish to overnight.

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.

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.