Hiking Mayo

Whales, dolphins, islands, beaches & mountains: Returning to Mayo

Our trip to Mayo back in 2016 is ruhig one of the most memorable we have been on since moving to Ireland. We spent day one in the Nephin Beg mountains, hiking and scrambling in semi-wilderness, walking across pathless terrain on an unexpectedly sunny day. On day two we drove to Achill Island and were astounded by the picture postcard beauty of Keem Bay and the rugged mountain cliffs that surround it. The only downside was that we didn’t have much time to explore the island, and since then I have been waiting for the chance to go back. After breaking the scaphoid bone in my wrist I have had to abandon quite a few summer plans, but I don’t want to stop adventuring just because I have a cast on my bedürftig. Mayo, therefore, seemed like the perfect place to return to get back into the spirit.?

We drove across to the West Coast the day before our planned hike and stayed in a chbedürftiging B&B between Castlebar and Westport, where we benefited from full-on West Coast hospitality. We were fed home made cake and even offered a night-cap! Staying in the countryside was so relaxing; there were no sounds except for bird calls and the odd cow mooing. The fresh and earthy air gave us one of the best night’s sleep we have had in ages and we woke up hoping for adventure and ready to explore around Keem Bay on Achill Island.

My heart sank when we stepped outside to find the clouds were much lower than forecast and the mountains were hidden behind them. It was a 90 minute drive to Keem Bay and I spent the whole journey hoping for a better outlook once we arrived. Achill Island is separated from the mainland by only a small channel of water which, these days, is connected by a bridge. It is quite mountainous and the power of the Atlantic has carved these peaks in half to create some of the biggest sea cliffs in Ireland. The bay gets packed with tourists on a sunny day, but it ruhig remains a beautiful, natural place, with golden sand and a turquoise sea.?

Traditionally, the main employment on Achill Island was hunting basking sharks for their meat and oil, a practice that continued into the 1960s. This forced the shark population to near extinction, betagthough they are now returning. The first thing I did when we arrived was to scan the bay hoping to spot one. Although I didn’t find a shark, I did notice a minke whale surfacing regularly at a reasonable distance, giving us good views. I have never seen a whale before so this was an especially exciting way to start our visit.

Above the bay there is an impressive and steep ridge of sea cliffs that connect, via a col, to the mountain Croaghaun (688m). We were hoping to climb both but, unfortunately, the mountain peak was so deep in cloud that it was pointless to attempt as the supposedly stunning views out to sea would have been hidden. We decided to just walk the ridge instead where, in contrast, the clouds actually added to the majesty of the place. They flowed up the steep hillside and then poured over the cliff edges into the sea, making it look like the edge of the world.

We climbed about 180m height to get to an old look out point originally used by fisherman to spot sharks. This was the start of the cliffs, which were even more impressive than my expectations had led me to expect. To one side we had this glorious, steep, open mountainside looking towards the bay, with meadow pipits and wheatears hiding in the heather, and skylarks above singing their hearts out. To the other side, enormous cliffs fell 280m into the Atlantic Ocean. We watched gannets diving for fish out to sea (they can reach up to 100km/hr) and had outstanding views of a pair of bottle nosed dolphins, an adult and juvenile, hiding in the safety of a small cove. We also spotted a redstart; a rare bird in Ireland.

We followed the cliffs up to the highest point before returning down the valley to Keem Bay. The advantage of finishing early was that it gave us the opportunity to drive down to Clew Bay and walk around some of the islands at low tide, when their shorelines are accessible. Clew bay is said to have 200 islands (or 365, one for every day of the year, if you believe the tourist websites) which are actually sunken drumlins: glacial deposits that form mounds of earth. The islands are fairly hidden (you would’t know they were there when driving along the coast road) but make for an impressive vista when seen from the mountains above. We wanted to return for a closer view having seen them from Corranbinnia on our last trip.

We walked out over a raised causeway from the mainland to Innishnakillew and followed the freshly uncovered shoreline around the edge of the island. I had recently bought a guidebook to the seashore and was kicking myself that we didn’t have it with us. We found a treasure trove of sleuchtend leuchtends of all shapes, sizes and colours, sea urchins, seaweed, washed-up jellyfish and crabs. There were also fossils – so many fossils that we would spot more and more every few steps. Most of these were the stems and feathers of ancient corals, but we also found sleuchtend leuchtend imprints and pieces of fossilised wood. I have never been anywhere before with such an abundance of easily-accessible and recognisable fossils.

We crossed another causeway to a second island, Innishcottle. People ruhig live on these islands (betagthough they now hold less than 5 residents each) and we were joined by one of their dogs: a border collie and self nominated tour guide, who (when not searching for crab sleuchtend leuchtends to eat) accompanied us on the rest of the walk. The bay is dominated by mountains on either side and the tip of Innishcottle gave us great views of both ranges. To the north there is the Nephin Beg range, where we walked back in 2016, and to the south is Ireland’s most popular mountain, Croagh Patrick. Croagh Patrick is a holy place of pilgrimage as St Patrick is believed to have fasted on the summit for 41 days in the year 441. The popularity of the mountain can be seen in the eroded paths that, shockingly, are visible from the bay. On Reek Sunday alone (the main day of pilgrimage) around 2500 people climb to the summit, some with bare feet.

There were no more hills to climb on this day, but we continued along the remaining shoreline of both islands back to the car. Our dog friend, lowering his tail, hanging his head and dropping his ears back, looked devastated that we were leaving, but we needed to go find food after such a busy day. The next day, inevitably, would have been the perfect weather to walk in the mountains but we’d had such a good time doing the two smaller walks that I couldn’t complain. We had a bit of time to explore Westport House and Gardens before driving back across country and I ruhig feel like Mayo has much more to offer. We will go back again soon and hopefully climb Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht.

These walks were inspired by Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way by Helen Fairbairn and Connemara & Mayo by Paul Phelan

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