Walking On Terra Firma! – The Ramblings of a Restricted Hiker - Terra Firma

Apr 24, 2020

Beauty within 2km of home

We are really lucky to live in the beautiful and diverse country of Ireland and luckier still to live in Mayo, the third largest county of the thirty-two on the island of Ireland. Mayo also has the second lowest population density in the country with only 23 people per square kilometre, according to the 2016 census, which means we have plenty of space to stretch our legs.

Mayo extends from Lough Corrib and Killary harbour, (arguably the only Fjord in Ireland, but we’ll revisit that in later posts) in the south to Erris head in the north of the county, with Achill island to the west and bordered in the east by counties Roscommon and Sligo.

Mayo is a maritime county, with the longest coastline of all Irelands counties. It also has an extremely varied landscape, from the flat limestone pavement on the shores of lough Mask, in east Mayo to the spectacular sea cliffs on the north coast. In addition to the miles of coastline, the abundance of lakes and rivers, we also have some of the finest hiking in the country, this includes everything from beach and forest walks to mountain tops. Add to this kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, kitesurfing, surfing and cycle routes and you can see why Mayo is known as Ireland’s adventure capital, an outdoor enthusiasts paradise, with everything from sea to summit catered for, we’re sure you’ll agree.

This jagged coastline has plenty of glorious sandy beaches to choose from and the offshore islands are a delight to visit. Achill is the largest island off the coast of Ireland and conveniently accessible from the mainland by a road bridge. Achill also boasts the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, Croaghaun, at 688 m (2,257 ft) are not only the highest sea cliffs in Ireland but they are also third highest in Europe. They are located at the western end of Achill Island and only accessible by hiking up the mountain, the effort is worth it though as you are rewarded with spectacularly scenic views in this wild remote and peaceful location. We like this hike so much we’ve included it as one of the highlights on our Islands and Highlands tour: https://www.terrafirmaireland.com/islands-highlands

But as our movements are restricted to a two-kilometre radius of our homes, we’ll just have to enjoy some pictures and wait until we can enjoy this magnificent hike once again.

Thursday 16th April 2020

We wanted to share some of our favourite places with you. We will start with some of the places accessible within two kilometres of our home, then continue around the county introducing you to some of the best places to hike, stargaze, bike, eat and many more of our favourite things to do.

As I sit here writing this post, I am looking just beyond the 2km restriction zone to our usual playground, the Nephin Beg mountain range. The range dominates the skyline. North of here, the mighty Nephin mountain at 806m, (2,644ft) is the second highest peak in the province of Connaught. It is a stand-alone mountain, so not always included when talking about the range, but as it is just across the valley and considering the short uncomplicated walk to the summit, rewards the walker with far ranging, stunning views it would be wrong not to.


To the south west of Nephin is the most eastern mountain of the main range, Birreencorragh 698m (2,290ft), has many routes of varying distances and levels of difficulty, that’ll keep you coming back for more. If you continued from South West as the crow flies from the summit of Birreencorragh for 20km you’ll reach the most Westerly peak in the range. Claggan Mountain 383m (1,257ft), which lies just to the north of Mulranny, this is only possible however if you possess the ability of flight.

Alternatively, you can embark on the undulating traverse east west across the most remote mountain range in the country, taking in principal summits such as Mount Eagle 427m (1,401ft), Glennamong 628m, (2,060ft), Corranbinna 714m (2,342ft), which on a clear day includes views that extend as far as the eye can see, picking out landmarks in Sligo and Donegal. If that wasn’t enough to fill the most seasoned mountain hiker with an overwhelming feeling of happiness, then the next part of this traverse will bring you excitement and exhilaration. The knife edged arete known locally as the fiddle, is a narrow, exposed rock ridge, that should be avoided in high winds and given careful attention in all weather, as the crest of the ridge is broken in places, in the right conditions though, it reveals breath-taking glimpses of the land hundreds of metres below. That should keep a smile on your face as you complete the next 15km of the hike, taking in Maol Rua 687m (2,253ft) this name is not included on Ordnance Survey map, passing many corrie lakes and enjoying some of the best coastal views in the country, before reaching Claggan mountain

If you do decide to take on this 37km traverse, with approx. 2,275m (7,464ft) of height gain, you will have enjoyed some of the finest scenery in the country and you’ll have certainly earned bragging rights as Ciaran serves your first cold, creamy pint in Moynish House, Mulranny.

Personally, I think you’d be better enjoying this over a series of horseshoe and looped walks, you can still have the bragging rights and the pint, but you’ll be able to take time to absorb the walks, plus you’ll have to spend more than a day or two in this fantastic part of the country 😊

However, these walks are just a memory at the moment and a reminder of what is waiting in the not too distant future. Until then, we’ll continue with our daily stroll, within the 2km restricted zone.

We live just outside the picturesque town of Newport, nestled on the shores of Clew Bay and at the foothills of the Nephin range, this place called us, and we couldn’t resist its charm.

As we walk outside our front door, we step straight on to the World Class Great Western Greenway, a 42km traffic free cycling and walking trail which follows the route of the renowned Westport to Achill railway which closed in 1937.

The Greenway passes by some of the West of Ireland’s most dramatic views including the mountains we have spoken about and the many islands of Clew Bay as it winds along the Atlantic coast between Westport town and Achill Island, passing through Newport and Mulranny along the way.

If we turn east on the Greenway we head towards Newport town, after 1.3km we arrive in Newport at the crossroads by the harbour wall. It’s time to take in the views of Newport’s built heritage. In contrast to the imposing Nephin mountains, we now look left towards the impressive railway viaduct, which spans the Black Oak river.

This fine seven arch bridge is admired by all for the craftsmanship of its beautiful red sandstone. Locals and visitors love to stroll across the viaduct and admire the beautiful stonework, as well as the stunning views, down the river and St. Patrick’s Church up on the hill, dominating the skyline, and keeping a watchful eye over the town. This Catholic Church completed in 1918 and built of the same local red sandstone as the viaduct, is a fine example of a style known as Celtic Romanesque, it is also home to one of Ireland’s greatest stained glass treasures, “The Last Judgment” by Harry Clarke. http://www.harryclarke.net/newport_mayo

Continuing over the viaduct, we meet the Fahy road, you may be forgiven for not noticing the newly refurbished handball alley. Irish Handball (liathróid láimhe) is one of the four games organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and there is a great tradition of handball in Newport. Peadar McGee, a Newport native, dominated the sport for 20 years, retiring from the sport at the age of 40 after winning 17 all-Ireland medals – 10 mens’ singles medals and 7 doubles.

The newly refurbished facilities provide an opportunity for the young people of Newport to follow their role models and hone their skills in this highly skilful, fast paced, hugely entertaining sport.

Turning right we head to Medlicott street, named after the family who leased land to Captain Pratt who founded Newport town in the early 1700s.

Next to the post office is the Grainne Uaile Pub. The owners of this award-winning pub, Harry and Liz always have a warm welcome and a cold pint of Guinness when you call in. If you’re feeling hungry, the food is all freshly cooked, locally sourced produce; seafood from Clew Bay, lamb, beef and vegetables sourced within a couple of miles of the kitchen. I can highly recommend the Seafood Chowder, an excellent accompaniment to a cool creamy pint of Guinness.

The pub itself is named after one of Irelands most famous women, the 16th Century pirate Queen ‘Grainne Uaile’, Grace O’Malley in English, came from Clare island, just across Clew Bay, but she has a huge connection to various places throughout the locality, we’ll be discussing some of the stories attached to these places, as we continue these posts.

Continuing our walk, we turn right at the junction and head back across the Black Oak river via the road bridge this time, we are still well within our 2km restricted zone. As soon as we cross the bridge, we turn left, keeping the river on our left and the wall of the historic Newport House, on the right, pass the old convent and a few boats in dry dock along the harbour wall, it’s a really pleasant walk along the river. When we reach the right hand bend on the road, where the river starts to open up we get fantastic views west towards Clew Bay and north towards the Nephin range.

On our right there is some woodland, and the entrance to the Princess Grace park, this park was named in memory of another famous woman who had connections to the area, the 1950’s movie star, the late Grace Kelly. Her grandfather, John Peter Kelly, was a bricklayer born in 1857 in Drimurla, Newport. He left Ireland in 1887 for Philadelphia where he founded one of that city’s leading construction companies and made his family’s fortune. Princess Grace had strong connection to her Irish roots making three trips to Mayo and even planning to build a holiday home on the ancestral home she bought, however this never came to fruition as Grace died tragically in a car accident in 1982.

The park is a planted with oak, birch and other native trees and is a haven for birdlife, a walk around the park of an evening at this time of year, you are treated to a concert of birdsong.

Once our loop of the park is completed, we exit out of the park and turn right and continue along the Quay road, once we meet the main road, head West, back on to the Greenway and the 1km stroll home.

On our next outing we’ll turn left and we can see what gems lie to the West within our 2km zone 😊

Friday 17th April 2020

Well it’s another beautiful sunny day here in Mayo, the weather has been glorious for the past couple of weeks now, so we have become quite inventive to stay within the 2km zone, heading off on our own micro-adventures, seeking out streams and fields, feeling like pioneers on a quest to discover a whole new world. We’ve also pitched the tent in the garden and are being awoken by the dawn chorus, which is a real treat.

Today, we are going to take another short walk, that begins from our front door, joining the Greenway and heading West. Here in Mayo, we are lucky to be surrounded with an abundance of built and natural heritage. The Greenway itself has many features that catalogue the history of the area, reminding us of the golden age of rail travel, before the coming of cars and upgraded road systems, which resulted in the passenger service coming to an end in 1934. The tracks were taken away by the Irish Transport System in 1938, then sold to Germany, who were hungry for steel, during the second world war. What we are left with are the old railway bridges, platforms and stations, which are magnificent examples of late nineteenth-century civil engineering heritage.

An example of one of these bridges is 150 metres West, from the door of our house, Acres bridge demonstrates the quality of workmanship, the cut stone and elegant sweeping of the arch make a pleasing visual statement as you walk or cycle West along this section of the Greenway

This single-arch humpback road bridge was built in 1893/94 and opened in 1894 to take traffic over the railway line, from the main Achill road (N59) to Ros Mór, one of the many peninsulas along this jagged Atlantic coastline. We’ll take a detour from the Greenway, up and over the bridge for a worthy extension of this walk. Just before the bridge, there is a gap in the wall, leading to the N59 and after 20 metres, turn left and you’ll find yourself on top of the bridge with a view down the Greenway and the Nephin Beg mountain range to the North. Follow this narrow country lane, bóithrín (Boreen) in Irish. You’ll get your first glimpses of Croagh Patrick, the Holy Mountain known locally as the Reek, it is reported St.Patrick spent 40 days on the mountain in the 5th century, but many more would have preceded him, with evidence of activity on The Reek, dating back thousands of years.

Continue for about 600m passing a few houses and Mulroy motors, until you see another bóithrín on the left, take this and follow it up the hill, on the way up the hill look to your right and you’ll get a glimpse of Clew bay and some of its islands that stretch from Croagh Patrick in the south, across to these northern shores, legend has it that there are 365 islands in the bay. When you reach the top of the hill there is a magnificent vista, Croagh Patrick, at 764m (2506ft) dominating the southern shoreline, to the west is Clare island, the birthplace of Grainne Uaile and largest of all the islands in the bay, standing like a guardian at the entrance to Clew Bay.

Continue along the bóithrín for about a kilometre, crossing a small stone bridge over a stream, before reaching the shoreline.

You can take a walk along the pebbled shore to Ros Mór point, when the tide allows. A perfect place to have a picnic, in the good weather. However, as this would be a distance of 3.5km and as we have mentioned, we are restricted to 2km, today. we must turn on our heels and retrace our steps back to the Greenway, were we’ll resume our walk keeping within our 2km restrictions, until then though, here’s a few local celebrities……………………

Until next time, take care and enjoy your own micro-adventures :-)