Go Walk: Glenamong, Co Mayo
Is this the loneliest place in the country?
In 1937 Robert Lloyd Praeger described the Nephin Beg range of mountains as “the very loneliest place in the country”
Glenamong, Co Mayo
Map: Ordnance Survey Discovery Sheets 30 and 31
Trekking through the Nephin Mountains wearing midge masks, with a pound of steak and a bag of potatoes in your backpacks, sounds like a nightmarish start to a honeymoon, but for my brother and his new bride this was heaven.
In 1937 Robert Lloyd Praeger had described the Nephin Beg range of mountains as ‘the very loneliest place in the country’ and 60 years later very little had changed. A week’s trekking through a pristine environment seemed to the newly weds like the perfect antidote to the hectic world of London life. And so it proved.
Less than fifteen minutes drive from the village of Newport, the bungalow blighted suburbanisation of rural Ireland is gone and one enters a wilderness. To walk for six days and not see a house, a road or another human being is indeed proof that this is so.
On that famous honeymoon the couple crossed many mountains but one eluded them- Glenamong. Like many of the hills in the range Glenamong has no easy approach. You either trudge through miles of squishy bog or head up and along the shoulders of other hills to reach the summit. The honeymoon couple - now not so young- were determined ‘to put it in the bag’ so to speak. This summer many years later the cool dry conditions produced by a strong North West wind made for ideal walking in this boggy terrain and the elusive flat topped summit was reached.
A good place to start this walk is at the foot of Sliabhraon near the shores of Lough Feeagh. There is space to park on the little boreen just after the last house. The ascent is steepish and the waist high ferns don’t make life easy, but each time you pause for breath and look behind you the views become more spectacular, for you are climbing up into a semicircle of mountains, their summits rounded by millions of years of erosion, their flanks gouged by retreating ice, allowing lakes to form and streams to flow.
There is no need to head to the summit just yet for while you get into your stride you can continue to contour around the mountain, gradually ascending to the top of the ridge. Overgrazing by sheep has done a great deal of harm to the vegetation. However, thanks to an EU directive which came into force about eight years ago ‘off wintering’ came into place, meaning that sheep are taken down for five or six months each year allowing the land to recover to some extent. This should contribute to an increase in declining grouse numbers.
This walk takes you right along the ridge and up the shoulder of Glenamong from where the views extend far and wide. To the south the many islands of Clew Bay begin to appear, to the west Achill Island’s twin peaks soar majestically sky wards while to the north east layer upon layer of mountains roll away in a blue grey haze.
If time and weather permit doing the whole semicircle of mountains would make a great day’s walking. Our journey took us straight down the face of Glenamong and across the valley floor. Unfortunately we didn’t catch sight of the Peregrine Falcons which are nesting up at Lough Doo, the corry lake below Ben Gorm. According to Irene one of the rangers in the area they produced four chicks one year, but don’t seem to have managed so well this year.
During a dry spell this particular route is ‘doable’, despite the many streams running down the mountain heading for the Glenamong River, but in wetter weather perhaps a retreat into the forest and back along the track running beside the river would be a lot more comfortable.
The Ballycroy Visitor Centre organises a couple of treks a year into these mountains and can be contacted on 098 49888. Family walks take place on a more regular basis.