A Walk for the Weekend: Northwest Mayo’s unique views

A land of sea, sky, mountains, lakes, rivers and bogs

The cropped grass cliff-top provided a series of safe vantage points from which to peer down into inlets of churning grey and white ocean.

The cropped grass cliff-top provided a series of safe vantage points from which to peer down into inlets of churning grey and white ocean.

 

There is nowhere like northwest Mayo: a wide land of sea, sky, mountains, lakes, rivers, bogs, islands, cliffs and headlands. It is a coastal landscape scoured and sculpted by glaciers for millennia, and now assailed by the pent-up fury of an ocean released from its ice-grip some 12,000 years ago.

It’s not picture-postcard pretty: no doubt it’s been a hard land for many who have made it home and sought to raise their families there. But for those, like us, who come to walk and “feel” its beautiful landscape, it’s a truly stunning place.

Our day on Benwee Head, the actual “corner” of northwest Mayo, was to be a relaxing interlude after remote Slieve Car in the Nephinbegs the day before, and Nephin Mountain on our way home. That our visit to Slieve Car coincided with a bitter blast of November Arctic air that put ice-shards into any exposed water bottles, made the prospect of a low-level pleasant walk on An Bhinn Bhuí very attractive.

We started from the south-pointing promontory called Barr na Rinne, 1km south of Cill Ghallagain, and were immediately impressed by the quality of the path, the confident markings and the vistas. This is a well-prepared path called Lub An Bhinn Bhuí, of which we were doing the dramatic coastal section.

Initially the path runs west with lovely views south over Broadhaven Bay to the Mullet Peninsula, and down to those two great Atlantic sentinels, Slievemore and Croughaun on Achill. Lazy grey shower curtains hung out over the sea, and a watery sun sometimes turned a pewter sea to silver and gold.

The easy ground conditions and clear path encouraged us to spread out, relax and enjoy. After less than a kilometre, the path climbed to the north and, from the high ground gained, we saw what would make this a great day: high shattered cliff ramparts and promontories ran away northwards for about two kilometres to Oilean Mionnan, and the cropped grass cliff-top provided a series of safe vantage points from which to peer down into inlets of churning grey and white ocean.

These gave us opportunities to stop and reflect on the elemental nature of the place, try to decipher its contorted geology, and watch seagulls and sea-froth dance around us in the west wind.

After the island, the path turned east-northeast and curled and curved around a series of spectacularly cliffed indents and promontories until the enigmatic – nearly 100m high – seamounts called the Stags of Broadhaven grabbed our attention.

The wind was now behind us as we wandered and stopped and lunched and listened to the sea above the last of the wide and narrow bays before Portacloy, and took the easy path and footbridge into this remote little fishing village and to our pre-positioned car. It was a privilege to have walked and experienced that coast; the best and most relaxing day of our weekend.

Maps: OS Discovery Series sheets 22, 23
Start: Barr na Rinne, near Cill Ghallagain
Finish: Port an Cloidh (Portacloy)
Time/effort: about 11km, 400m of climbing, 3 hours
Suitability: low to moderate fitness, head for heights (clearly marked route, option to loop inland back to start)
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