Ireland part 4 – County Mayo (Achill Island and Nephin Beg)

by backpackingbongos

The drive from Connemara to Westport took us through the wild and rugged Doolough valley which is dominated by the mountain Mweelrea.  A great big beast of a peak and one which I had planned to climb whilst I was in the area.  However it has a reputation of being really tough and definitely not one to do it mist which there was always plenty of!  Whilst we were there a walker fell to her death down a gully and this sombre news put me off.  If there had been a forecast of settled weather I think this mountain would have been the highlight of my trip.  There is always next time!

We later drove past Croagh Patrick which we had plans to climb after Achill, it was clear and sunny today and we could just make out the white dot of the church on the summit.  After a short excursion to Westport, a town that even a town hater such as myself liked we headed onto Achill Island just as the weather made a turn for the worst.  We had plans to stop at the campsite on the beach in Keel the main village on the Island.  However our hearts sank when we arrived, the campsite was huge and heaving with a funfair next to it.  Not what we wanted!  We immediately turned around and headed for the campsite near Doogort but that looked even worse.  It was back to keel to stay the night and see if we wanted to stay in the morning.

It was actually not as bad as we initially though and we managed to get a quiet pitch near the beach with loads of space.  The actual location was stunning set on a large sandy beach with the Menawn cliffs as a backdrop.  If we looked in that direction we were happy.  If we turned around we could see a rabble of caravans and groups of bored looking youths in tracksuits attempting to look menacing.  Just like a bit of my hometown Nottingham transported to the wilds of Ireland!  We did get treated to this great rainbow over the Menawn cliffs though.

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Croaghaun 688 metres

The summit of Croaghaun has been on my list of must climb mountains for a while now.  It boasts the highest sea cliffs in Ireland which rise to right to its summit at 688 metres.  I set off from the campsite to start my walk at Keem beach situated almost at the furthest tip of the Island.  The coast road heading there is stunning, running unfenced along the top of cliffs.  I just had to get out and take this photo of Keem beach.

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I parked the polluter at the upper car park at Keem beach so as to cut out a small amount of ascent.  A track passes the public toilets leading to a strange looking building, a bit like a deserted hotel.  I left the track here and cut acoss the valley crossing the stream.  At this point I noticed that my lower trousers were covered in ticks, so after picking them off I put on my gaiters even though it was warm and dry.  A short sharp ascent over easy grass led to the col below Moyteoge head with its former coastguard watch house.  This gave views down to Keem beach and the access road leading down to it.

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The following mile or so was absolutely breathtaking with the sea to my left at one point being over 1000 feet below me.  Lines of cliffs led to Achill head in a wave of peaks, a superb mountain ridge falling directly into the sea.  A unique ridge walk with the sea on the left and the ground falling steeply to the right to the Keem valley.

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This section soon came to an end and I dropped a couple of hundred metres to a low grassy shelf just above the sea.  On the descent the cliffs of Croaghaun dominated the view ahead but unfortunately the tops were capped by cloud.  The slopes of the mountain from this angle looked impossibly steep and I was beginning to wonder if it was actually possible to climb from this side.

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Crossing the river it was a slow steady climb up short cropped grass to the point where the cliffs join the grassy flanks of the mountain.  It was then a real leg wobbling ascent up exceptionally steep slopes which provided no hazards except effort!  The photo below shows the view from just over half way up.

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The mist was now teasing me, coming and going giving a feint promise of a mist free summit.  I was relieved to reach a spot of level ground just below the western summit getting a glimpse of the beach far below.

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Mist began racing up from the seaward side of the mountain never crossing over the ridge, a great effect but disappointing that I could not get a view down the cliffs.

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A short climb and I was soon at the summit, where the mist had completely closed in.  A real shame as I had been looking forward to the views from the top.  I had to satisfy myself with a quick sit down on a damp rock before getting the compass out to head in a south esterly direction.  Once out of the mist is was simply a case of picking the easiest descent line through rough ground back to the van.  A simply stunning walk, just a shame that the mist spoilt it a little bit!

The Bangor Trail – Letterkeen loop and Western Way

After Achill we decided to head back to Connemara to stay at the same campsite as it was simply stunning.  That would give the opportunity for a good walk to break up the journey a bit.  We had a choice of Croagh Patrick or to explore a bit of the Nephin Beg range.  My partner was not too keen on a mountain climb and I fancied a bit of wild country so we headed to a minor road and car park that skirts the edge of Nephin Beg.  This mountain range although not particularly high is the largest expanse of wild country in Ireland.  A huge wilderness of bog and mountain without any roads crossing it, unique for Ireland where it can be difficult to get a long way from a public road (ok roads are often very minor and remote in themselves!).  My map showed that a section of the Bangor trail and Western way were linked, surely this would provide a nice easy day out?

We parked the van north of Lough Feeagh, a mile or so after the public road ends and turns into a forest drive.  This area has a real wild feeling to it with very few houses and almost no traffic on the roads.  A short distance down a track we came to the Brogan Carroll bothy, I really did not expect to find any bothies in Ireland.  A bit bare and spartan but Im sure it would be more than welcome after backpacking across the Bangor trail.

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An informative information board warned us of the dangers of entering remote boggy country as we set off over the footbridge.  We had only gone a few hundred metres when we realised that our trousers were covered in ticks from the bracken we had walked through.  So after brushing down it was on with the gaiters, to try and get some protection from them.  The first mile or so was along the river bank with more deep bracken and we had to constantly brush ticks off.  The narrow but well defined trail then soon gains a little height and provides a couple of miles of easy walking with great views of the surrounding hills.

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A high shoulder of land is crossed before descending to the Bawnduff river.  There was a feeling of entering wild remote country now and I would loved to have continued deep into the range.  Maybe one day I will return and backpack these hills.  Instead we took a right and contoured above a forestry plantation climbing through increasingly difficult terrain.  The vegetation got more and more tussocky and the path disappeared, but there were regular waymarkers to keep us on track.  The views opened out even further as height was gained.

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There was then real confusion as the waymarkers stopped corresponding with the route marked on my map.  Conditions under foot were now pretty rough and we thought that maybe it would be best to see where the new trail would take us.  Instead of dropping down to the valley floor as indicated by the map they continued to climb to a small unnamed rocky summit which just topped out at 311 metres.  Its small size however gave panoramic views, with the eye being led across the vast flat Mayo bogs.  You could see how in the distance fields suddenly gave way to a flat brown carpet as far as the eye could see, with just the add plantation or building adding a bit of scale.

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Happy that I had spent a bit of time in ‘wild country’ we followed the markers down to the track along the western way.  It was now a simple easy stroll back to the van.  On the map the route we did almost looks a bit dull and I initial thought that we would be walking through forestry plantations on easy tracks.  In reality it was a cracking walk, a bit rough but with great views and no people for miles.  Even with its access problems Ireland is great.

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12 Comments to “Ireland part 4 – County Mayo (Achill Island and Nephin Beg)”

  1. those coastal cliffs are exceptional. Really dramatic and very enticing

    nice trip report all in all

  2. Cheers – the cliffs were stunning, never seen anything quite like them before. Just a shame low cloud spoilt it a bit at the last moment!

  3. Very enjoyable read on somewhere that I know nothing of.

    Those *!&%$@ ticks get everywhere.

  4. Ticks are probably the only creatures that if I had the powers to remove from this earth I would. Serve no purpose except as parasites. At least with midgies they serve as food for the birds!

  5. The cliffs looked incredible. The whole landscape seems boggy and hard walking. Begging to be backpacked. Great stuff and thanks.

  6. Those coastal cliffs look impressive and a Bothy in Ireland – did not think that was possible.
    Living in Cork city in the extreme south of the country I always gravitated towards the Dingle,Iveagh and Beara Penisulas.
    The gross development here has forced me to now do only higher level backpacking here such as the Beara High route and I always went on a Scottish Bivy/Bothy trip over a longer distance overland journey to the west and north of Ireland.
    But truthfully did you use a narrow angle lens to somehow cut out all those pink and yellow houses with the white picket fences?
    Ps trekking in the Beara last week I was charged 4 euro for the privilege to walk into the high hills.
    It will take alot to convince me about the superiority of any Irish hills over Knoydart , Wester Ross and the Cairngorms and that is not only due to the wilder illusion you get in those hills.

    • What! you had to pay to access some hills, is that strictly legal? Now that is a completely alien concept to someone who is living outside of Ireland.

      One thing that I could not get my head around whilst in Ireland was all the ugly new buildings dotted around what would have been pristine countryside. A nice loch would nearly always have a mock ‘Dallas’ style ugly building next to it, usually with a picket fence. Some people have definately had taste transplants………….

      The cliffs on Achill were stunning, shame that the resort towns were a bit of a dump. However the wilds of Mayo and the Nephim range were something else.

  7. There is no defined access laws in Ireland – so some hill farmers who are not content with EU subsidies charge access charges to enter their property which borders are is part of typically very scenic parts of the country.
    To get access to commonage you have to get through these private lands.
    I have no problem with a landowner charging a small fee to park a car near a farm in a busy walking area ( this happens near Hags Glen Carrauntoohil but on the Beara Penisula there are 2 areas (Glanninchiquin and “The Pocket” in Lauragh) where they charge per person to access the “scenic amenities”.
    It is my belief that a Dutch Hostel owners business is affected by a boycott of the area by certain elements of the backpack/walking community in Cork but I cannot confirm this as I am not a member of any of the clubs.
    Such a shame – the Beara High route was mentioned in hiking books of 20 year + vintage as being one of the classic backpacking routes of the British isles and could still be if they took down fences which reach right up to parts of the Cork Kerry border at near 600 meters, located a bothy in lonely Clogher valley and created defined access laws for everyone.

    But as you said the one advantage of these problems is quiet hills – in my recent trip to the Beara I saw only one friendly farmer cutting turf on the top of Priests Leap until I got to Hungry Hill ( a elderly British couple decending)
    Check out some recent images on Geograph UK if you wish just use the search engine and type in my name..

    • Its seems so archaic that there is no access laws in Ireland, it is something that would definately stop me going again for a walking holiday. Especially when you are invited with open arms in Scotland. Places such as connemara should be famous for its hillwalking, its such a shame that walkers are not welcome. What do we pay all that money to farmers for through those subsidies? I thought they are meant to be custodians of the land. Spotted the picture of the Clogher valley in your Geograph pictures, looks pretty wild to me.

  8. To be honest I can get over the access problems – sometimes I put on a German or French accent and it takes a while before the locals realise the joke – I have never seen any violence or threat of violence from these characters although I am sure there has been some exceptions (unlike Corsica where I have seen a real fight with real blood).
    Those guys and girls who are looking for money are generally rogues rather then ruffians – when I get caught for money – I just give them a 10minute lecture about how they are destroying the income ability of their neighbours – but it always comes to nothing – they have heard that story many times I am sure.
    So I pay up but only once and never come that way again unless I am coming in the opposite direction and state I had to get down here for safety reasons blah blah blah.
    But regards the Beara high route, if you know about the problems on those two areas I mentioned you can avoid these areas if you do not wish to give those characters satisfaction and have a great trek – still one of the top treks in the British Isles in my opinion and terminate your journey stylishly at Dursey island (cable car crossing).
    The marked low land Beara way route on the north coast is still for the most part undeveloped and full of archaeological wonders and is a useful bad weather alternative, for believe me you do not want to be in Cloger valley in bad weather.
    That place deserves a Bothy.

  9. When the country collapses and begins to rewild – I may even offer bungalow tours to the far west on the lines of the Chernobyl adventures today.

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