May the Road Rise with You – Riding Bicycles in Mayo, Ireland

by Satu Vänskä-Westgarth on August 18, 2014 · 32 comments

Sunset in Achill, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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!?

Downpatrick Head, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

Portacloy in Mayo, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Gaeltacht area in Mayo, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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!

Blacksod Lighthouse, Erris, Mayo I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Sheep in Erris, Mayo, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Curragh Racing in Erris, Mayo, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Keem Beach in Achill, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Caislean Ghrainne, Achill, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Guinness is good for you, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

The Grainne Uaile, Newport, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Greenway in Mayo, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Seakayaking in Westport, Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

The Whyte House in Westport I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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.

Carnoosky Beach in Ireland I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

Gail Force Racers in Westport I @SatuVW I Destination Unknown

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:

Erris Beo – First stop for information, activities and accommodation in the Erris region in Mayo. Chosen as the Best Place to Go Wild in Ireland by the Irish Times!

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.

Follow our journey also on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Ride Wild 2014 is supported by Ireland Tourism, North West Adventure Tours, Skimbaco Lifestyle and Birk Sport, see all the partners here

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

John and Anne Church August 18, 2014 at 7:07 PM

Hi girls, I think you know my son (Jonathan Church) he now lives in Norway with his wife Suzanna and son Zachary. We live in Carrigart, Donegal for 3 months of the year and cycle round donegal, but you have inspired us to try and follow in your footsteps???? Love reading your blog. Good luck.
John and Anne

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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 19, 2014 at 9:56 AM

Hi John & Anne! Yes – know Johnno well!! Didn’t realise you lived in Donegal part of the year, it is beautiful area! And yes, you should definitely venture towards south along the Wild Atlantic Way :)
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Hannah August 20, 2014 at 1:12 AM

Mayo is lovely isn’t it? I lived with two avid cyclists in Galway and I thought they were nuts for their 100k rides up the coastlines in the typical rainy Irish weather, but views and scenery like this probably made it worth it.
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:32 PM

The views definitely do make it worth it, and the days without wind and rain feel all the better when you have got soaked the previous day! :) Loved Mayo, but that said, I have loved the other counties as well…..
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Lisa Goodmurphy August 20, 2014 at 2:23 AM

Such an incredible journey, Satu – and your photos are lovely! It’s nice to see that Ireland has treated you to at least a bit of blue skies and clear weather. It’s been years since I have been in Ireland but I remember taking a lot of photos of sheep while we drove around the country. Looking forward to reading more about your experience of the Wild Atlantic Way!
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:34 PM

You can’t believe how many sheep photos I have on my camera. And video camera!! The weather hasn’t been too bad, we’ve of course got bit of rain and wind, but sun also usually at the right times for photos :)
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Cory Lee August 20, 2014 at 1:10 PM

Ireland is somewhere that I’ve always wanted to go and your pictures are making that urge even stronger. Wow, it looks beautiful!! Glad you had a great time :)
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:49 PM

I really recommend a trip to Ireland, there’s so much to see and do! And yes, I’m still having a great time… :)
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Ryan O'Rourke August 20, 2014 at 2:22 PM

You really captured the spirit of Ireland here, Satu! Love all of your pictures and hearing about your adventure. Ireland always seems to reveal itself in moments far removed from city life. It looks like biking might just be one of the best ways to experience the country! Thanks for sharing :)
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Thanks Ryan, biking has definitely proved to be a great way to see the country. I’m thinking about hiking next though…. :)
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Christa Thompson August 20, 2014 at 8:46 PM

This brings back so many fond memories! I’m so glad you made it the the Tower on Achill! What an awesome post! I hope you enjoyed the legend of Grace O’Malley as much as we did xo
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:50 PM

I love the legend of Grace O’Malley, and want to find out more! And thanks, it’s been an incredible journey :)
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Jenna August 20, 2014 at 9:38 PM

Wow, what an amazing adventure! We were in Ireland last year, but didn’t have enough time to make it out of Dublin–this post really makes me want to go back and explore the countryside! Both biking and kayaking would be so much fun!
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Dublin is great, but I really recommend exploring the areas outside of the city too, especially here along the west coast of course! 😉
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SJ @ Chasing the Donkey August 20, 2014 at 10:47 PM

I am still busting to get to Ireland, you make it sound like a slice of heaven.
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Ha ha, I don’t know about heaven now, but love it here nevertheless!
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Sue Reddel August 20, 2014 at 11:05 PM

Looks like an amazing trip! I loved Ireland when we visited during TBEX in 2013. It’s a beautiful country filled filled with beautiful people. Your pictures truly captured the beauty or Ireland. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

I was at TBEX too! And thanks, I’m sure rest of the trip is going to be just as great as the beginning was… :)
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Mary Calculated Traveller August 21, 2014 at 2:34 AM

Your photos are gorgeous and it looks like you were having an amazing time in Ireland!
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

Thanks Mary, yes, amazing time indeed!
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Nancie Lee August 21, 2014 at 4:38 AM

Wonderful post! I love your photos and it sounds like a fabulous journey. I love the kayaking photo! Thanks for sharing.
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

Thanks Nancie, wait until you see the video footage of the kayaking! :)
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Sanket D. August 21, 2014 at 9:11 AM

A couple of months ago I was driving through the West Atlantic Route right from south-west Cork up to Donegal. I must say some of the sights off that western coast are too beautiful even for the best camera to capture (or perhaps, I’m just a terrible photographer). While I was paused at a spot on the Dingle Peninsula, from whence you could see the distant Blaskett Islands, a lady selling vegan brownies told me how the best way to see Ireland is on a bicycle, and I couldn’t agree more with her. Given the narrow roads, we found it a little difficult to halt as often as we’d have liked! My favorite place in the north west was perhaps the little surfing town of Bundoran – really jolly town and some great craic! I really do hope I get to go back someday because Lord knows I’d have wanted longer than 15 days :(
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:56 PM

I really hope you make it back here too, fifteen days is not enough, and five weeks is not enough either!! I do agree though, it’s hard to capture many of these beautiful places, as it’s not only the scenery, but everything else around too that really make the place.
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Sandra @ Tripper August 21, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Wonderful post and amazing tips too. Thank you for sharing!

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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:57 PM

Thanks Sandra, really appreciate it!
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Jess August 21, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Looks like the trip has been a great success! I can’t believe I STILL haven’t been to Ireland when I am so close… Good luck with the rest of your journey- can’t wait to see the pics!
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth August 24, 2014 at 2:57 PM

No Ireland yet!? You need to add it to your itinerary 😉 The trip has worked amazingly, and I’m slightly surprised my legs are still working…..
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Avianti September 24, 2014 at 11:55 PM

I have STILL not been to MAYO! Maybe next Ireland trip! It looks lovely!

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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth September 28, 2014 at 8:47 PM

I highly recommend, I have to go back!! :)
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Joseph @ Green Global Travel February 11, 2015 at 3:01 PM

The UK is such a great place to be outdoors. These photos make me want to take off and grab a bicycle myself!
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Satu Vänskä-Westgarth February 17, 2015 at 10:53 PM

Thanks Joseph! This is not in the UK though but not far either! Ireland was an amazing spot for this kind of biking adventure! :)
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