I Went Wild…
while walking along Ireland’s rugged West Coast. I suddenly feel like waxing poetic. It could be the verdant fields and steep cliffs of this side of the Emerald Isle. There is something very magical about this country and this part of it, in particular. I began my walking tour in the region of Mayo, situated on Ireland’s western seaboard, renowned for its remote, wild and spectacular landscapes. Being a bit of an outdoor enthusiast, I thought I would start here. It has the perfect setting for those of us who love being in the great outdoors and nature lovers. There is a vast array of outdoor activities and experiences and on this journey, I wanted to experience Ireland from the outside in. Adventure was on tap for me this go round.
Rather than tackling the cliffs straight away…
I opted to stroll around the town of Westport before Diving in the countryside. The small Georgian town can trace its history back 5,000 years. Its colourful past includes links to an infamous Pirate Queen called Grace O’Malley who used the town as one of her strongholds where she ruled the seas far and wide. The town has all the charm you can imagine; an old clock tower, quaint bridges that span the Carrowbeg River, flanked by tree-lined streets that look straight out of a fairytale. Most of Ireland reminds me of a magical land filled with imaginary beings on the other side of the brow of every hill. Westport just so happened o be my first stop. After strolling through the town, I realized that it was also the starting point for the Great Western Greenway, a cycling and walking trail. I was less ambitious than most, having just arrived from the States, and ventured out a few miles and returned to town rather than taking the journey to Achill Island. I figured I would rest up overnight and then take a drive out to the island and take in the views of some of Europe’s highest cliffs as I tried my hand at some stand up paddle boarding. I figured the juxtaposition of me being a dot on the water against the backdrop of such magnificent natural wonders would be nothing short of spectacular and indeed I was correct.
Choices and vantage points abound on this lovely island in the Atlantic. The very next morning, I decided to go on a guided cultural adventure with the Bourke family through this ‘Area of Special Scenic Importance’ as designated by the EU. We took a stroll through a valley and native woodland and got to enjoy panoramic views of Mweelra Mountain, Wild Atlantic Way islands and views of the entrance to Ireland’s only fjord at Killary Harbour. The walk took a little longer than the family usually takes because it had just been lambing season and I could not pass up the opportunity to feed the baby lambs their milk, right from a bottle. They tugged and slurped as I held the sticky milk bottle and there was nowhere else on the planet I would have rather been. The most adorable creatures eating out of my hands as we stop atop an undulating hill with historic potato mounds beneath our feet. There was a lot to this scene, both seen and unseen. As the lambs drained the bottles and I regained my footing to carry on my w alk,
I got a bit of a history lesson on the famine in Ireland. As Mr. Bourke recounted his family’s generations on the land, I could retrace his every step. There were school days, where –as a child, he would cross an expanse of land (some of it was under water at times, depending on the tide) to get over a hill to get to school. There were memories pouring out of him about his grandparents and survival on the land and of these potato beds. Then there was the Fairy Tree, found standing by itself in the center of a field. I had to stop and take it all in. This was the absolute definition of a Fairy tree. These are trees whose presence are supposed to be the sacred ground of the “wee folk” of Ireland. Folklore abounds in Ireland and I am here for every last word of it. Steeped in history, my every step was a walk through the pages of a book that could not merely be read. This has to be experienced. Wending my way long the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a very well demarcated region along the west coast of the country, I learned about this land in the most authentic and memorable way. On my next stop, I walked on to the Glen Keen Farm where the family-run land yielded an ven closer look at this amazing history, after gorgeous homemade scones and jams. The sustenance was just wat was needed before I embarked upon a turf cutting demonstration and sheep dog herding. If you’ve never cut turf, you have yet to truly unearth some of Ireland’s most earthy history.
This had to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. Bogs hold so much of this country’s ancestral history that cutting bog is an adventure in itself. Sure, it’s hard work, but so well worth it. The cut bog is stacked in the fields to dry and is then turned into fuel for the furnaces still used in many homes in these rural parts of the country. Many artifacts have been found buried within the bogs of Ireland. There’s bog butter, bog bodies, pottery and other treasures. The bog butter was fascinating to me. These bogs are natural preservation grounds and I can definitely dig that.
Seeing Ireland this way…
from a walking perspective was extremely grounding. Getting around the Wild Atlantic Way by car, foot, and bike is easy and added so much to my vacation. The Great Western Greenway from Achill island to Mulranny is so accessible and an easy ride, although the route may sound daunting. This cycling/walking route has been developed on an old railway line. The ride was not tiring at all and I finished the day with a walk along the Claggan Mountain boardwalk and coastal trail at Ballycroy National Park – one of Ireland’s six national parks.This one is comprised of Atlantic blanket bog surrounded by mountainous terrain – it’s a truly unspoilt wilderness overlooked by the Nephin Beg mountain. The hiking and biking did not take my breath away in the same way these vistas did. Dressed appropriately for all four seasons, I never wanted to be inside out of fear I may miss even one of these spectacular views. With only a short time left on this beautiful coast, I kickstarted my day with some more Wild Atlantic Way fre air at Erris Head and took a 5km guided looped walk of this stunning headland. More unbeatable views and memories.With one last stop in the rugged outdoors I decided to explore the Ceide Fields, an extensive Stone Age monument dating back over 5,000 years.
It was time to reenter the 21st century and the modern niceties of Ireland. I overnighted in Ballina and stayed at the au courant Ice House. This stay was just the one I needed to ease my way back into reality of the modern day. The Wild Atlantic Way is such a refreshing way to see Ireland that I plan to make it an annual trip. I think you should plan to see the Emerald Isle any way you can, but a brisk walk down this coast is highly recommended.
Should you fly in to Dublin, follow in my footsteps:
Stop at the Horseshoe Bar, Mullingar Park Hotel for casual lunch en route to Westport.
Dinner in Westport
Hike the Lost Valley
Glen Keen Farm
Great Western Greenway
Ballycroy National Park
Overnight in The Broadhaven Bay Hotel in Belmullet.
Explore Downpatrick head.
Stop for light refreshments at Strokestown House café.
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