Go walk: Ben Gorm, Co. Mayo
A stormy day out in Mayo’s hills
Recently, my car failed its NCT again. In a way I would have been mildly disappointed had I passed for this would have spoiled my unblemished record of never succeeding first go. Once, I did arrive for the test with expensively acquired assurances that my auto was in top shape. Alas, I fell foul of a worn pedal rubber. So, this time, I just called back to plaintively ask what should be done. Subsequent to the retest my car was guaranteed fully roadworthy, which provided the excuse to head west on a promising spring morning.
At Aasleagh Falls, however, (see panel) soot black clouds scurried the heavens and rain slanted down unrelentingly. By compensation, the cascades – made famous in The Field – were a magnificently, angry torrent.
Heading north and up the mountain on a tough, unsympathetic trail between two fences, it seemed that the entire hillside was flowing down against me. Eventually, I slithered onto the Letterass spur and swung left to ascend the ridge overlooking Lugaharry Lough. On the Bengorm plateau, mist enveloped me and an aggressive black wind came buffeting from the west.
Navigation was urgently required, so I pulled out map and compass and struggled to fix a bearing on Ben Gorm’s summit. Estimating that it lay west of northwest, I proceeded across the plateau and then by following the gently rising ground managed to locate the summit cairn, (700m), which today came without the usual reward of unforgettable views over Mweelrea’s flowing ridges and sinuous Killary Harbour.
Now it was decision time. My intention had been to continue on a long circuit north over Ben Creggan, but remembering then that there are old mountain climbers and bold mountain climbers, but much fewer old, bold mountain climbers, I turned my back to the gale and headed east instead.
Using the great north-facing cliffs as a handrail, I managed to locate Ben Gorm’s magnificent central ridge that sweeps five kilometres down to Lough Tawnyard. My descent here was over firmer rocky terrain, on a narrow ridge that had an airy feel, but even in the strong wind didn’t seem exposed.
Eventually the slope eased and the mist evaporated as I reached the low point before the ridge began rising again towards point 356m. Here, I swung south and descended into the valley of the Lugayeran River, before crossing the extremity of the Letterass spur, which I had encountered earlier.
Picking up a fence leading southeast, I tagged it down tussocky terrain to join a gravel path directly north of Aasleagh Falls. As I strolled back to my conveyance, dripping from head to toe, my day out in the Mayo hills seemed to have been just as worthwhile as an outing on the sunniest of days.
Then, in a light-bulb moment, I concluded that a love of rambling Irish mountains is like a relationship with a lifelong partner – the secret is learning to enjoy them even in their foulest moods.
Startpoint: From Connemara village of Leenaun, follow the N59 for Westport. Take the first left over a bridge and park at Aasleagh Falls carpark.
Difficulty: Route suitable only for well-equipped hillwalkers. Navigation skills required in misty weather.
Time: Four hours.