We have said hello with a handshake, and good-bye with a hug. That’s Mayo for us, all over. Meetings with friends and making new ones, while riding the gentle hills of this county protruding out of the mainland and reaching towards west.
Leaving behind the slightly meaner mountains of Donegal last week and with a quick stop in Sligo, we entered the territory of Pirate Queen Gráinne O’Malley or Gráinne Ní Mháille in Gaelic, rode the bog lined roads, learned our first words in Irish, sea kayaked in Clew Bay, danced the night away in Westport, toured the island of Achill at a record speed and cured our eyes at St. Dervla’s Well close to Belmullet in Erris.
Every week and every day has been packed with scenery, history, tales, beaches, sea views and bog to an extent that I’ve faced the inevitable: it is impossible to squeeze all of this into a blog post or two. And with the schedule we have, even when we don’t try to get the kilometre count to hundred every day and instead enjoy and experience the Wild Atlantic Way, it is unfeasible to keep those blog posts coming at a rate to cover it all.
Hence my solution is this – Mayo in pictures for now, and tales and stories to follow once the scribbles in my notebook and short entries on my mobile phone are collected together to form a bigger picture of what really went on in this county of friendly people and manageable hills. Or just maybe, when it comes to the hills, our legs have got a tad bit stronger to carry us uphill with lessened effort!?
The views greeting us in the mornings, evenings, and anytime in between have considerably hindered our otherwise speedy progress. Three cameras, two mobile phones, a video camera and GoPro have been hard at use in documenting it all.
Although reading roadside signs have at times been slightly challenging, we’ve picked up few important and useful words along the way. Sláinte, is one I’d recommend to remember if you ever plan to spend any extent of time in Ireland. Cheers it is!
It’s been a journey of firsts, including a visit to a lighthouse in Blacksod, in Erris. Vincent Sweeney, Attendant Lighthouse Keeper in 3rd generation was generous to show us around and tell the tales and show the damage the winter storms have done in this lighthouse, which was first mentioned in 1841, in a letter from Lieutenant Nugent of the Coastguard stationed in Belmullet.
And when it comes to wildlife, despite not so many first encounters, memory cards in all aforementioned electrical equipment have filled with scenic images of sheep and cows with few donkeys and goats thrown in.
Talking about firsts, ever heard of curragh racing? Me neither. But when we arrived at the annual Cruinniú na mBád, or “Meeting of the Boats” in Tullaghan, we were put in one and did our best to give the local ladies a good race. I’d like to think we made them sweat for a while, but in the end found ourselves stuck in mud trying to get back to the shore.
While sunbathing on the beach has really not been an option in our tight schedule, though weather might have something to do with it too, even capturing one, especially as beautiful as the Keem beach on the Achill island is has been a pleasure.
The story of Gráinne Ní Mháille, 16th century power woman and pirate queen is intriguing to say the least and her strongholds greeted us both on the Achill Island and mainland in Mayo.
We’ve been fed well. At times, roadside, emptying our pockets and bags to find the remaining fruit, chocolate and nuts, and at others as guests of lovely establishments like in Newport’s award-winning pub restaurant Gráinne Uaile. We arrived to Newport just in time when our energy levels had dropped dangerously. When the mood turns sour and conversation stops, we should’ve stopped to eat, already.
Maybe the most pleasant section of this journey has been the one we did not share with cars, trucks and buses speeding past, but with other cyclists and pedestrians along the Great Western Greenway from Achill to Westport. This 40-kilometer scenic route follows the path of an old railway line, and is the place to bring family along for a bicycling adventure.
There was no stopping us, wind included, when Ali from Saoirse Na Mara, or “Freedom of the Seas” promised to take us for a sea kayaking trip to meet the local seal colonies and enjoy the views of Clew Bay in Westport.
And how on earth we ended up shopping for biking necessities at The Whyte House in Westport I don’t know, but I’d recommend a quick stop – with plenty of time for all the ladies passing by the town. It’s not so much about the shopping, but the whole experience of escaping the everyday with excellent staff helping you to find perfectly fitting garments you never knew you needed. Stocking high quality labels, if you hit the shop at the right time you can find excellent bargains too.
Think what we are doing is hard? Think again. While we were in Westport, one of Ireland’s most popular adventure races Gaelforce West was on and these gentlemen my friend Carl (right) included had been running, kayaking, cycling, running again (this time up a mountain) and then cycling again before we even got our of beds on Saturday. After, they still had energy to show us some of the watering establishments of Westport and re-introduce surfing to our program on Sunday. That is some stamina. After all, what we are doing is totally manageable, for anyone, but I’m not sure I would’ve made it through the whole length of that race course…
I’m curious to see what lies ahead when we move on to Galway and Clare. I have a feeling that for now, we might have left the toughest hills behind until we face them again in Kerry. That said, go n-éiri an bóthar leat, may the road rise with you. I don’t think there could be a more beautiful way to wish safe journey onwards.
Mayo higlights and information:
To get a good night’s sleep:
- Stella Maris Country House Hotel – charming four-star country hotel close to Ballycastle, with views over to Downpatrick Head and spacious conservatory to enjoy those views from.
- Bayview Belmullet – cozy B&B walking distance from the town centre.
- Achill Water’s Edge B&B – beautiful four star B&B close to Doogort on the Achill Island. Stunning views, peaceful location and knowledgeable host with wealth of information about the local area and its history. Maybe the most modern breakfast menu yet with some smoothies and omelettes thrown in!?
- Cilcoman Lodge – purpose-built B&B located close to Westport harbour
For fun activities:
- Saoirse Na Mara, Freedom of the Seas – seakayaking for all levels in and around Westport.
- Westport House – vast family focused activity centre with activities and history for all ages.
- The Adventure Islands – large adventure base with a range of things to do in and around Westport
- The Whyte House – because shopping is an activity, right!?
- Grainne Uaile – family owned pub with beautiful food, located along the Greenway in Newcastle
- Scoila Acla, traditional Irish music and cultural summer school in Achill – runs week-long school every summer for all ages.