A Walk for the Weekend: the magic of Mweelrea

In the most picturesque corner of Mayo is the best ridge walk in Ireland

 

My favourite mountain in the world is Mweelrea. From its summit, 16 years ago, I watched the last light of the millennium sink into a hushed Atlantic.

Later, I descended through a night so thick with magic that I sensed the stars and the stones sing to each other. Ever since that almost spiritual encounter, I just can’t resist Mweelrea. And so, around St Patrick’s Day, an excellent weather forecast and opportunity coincided, and a friend and I came to traverse this special mountain.

Mweelrea (814m) is set in the most picturesque corner of Mayo, and maybe of Ireland – the Murrisk peninsula. Shapely and sweet sounding, it is framed by beauty on all sides: pristine beaches, island-studded bays and ocean, ancient ice-riven mountains, and the special magic of the Twelve Bens and Connemara. To its east, the deep glacial corridor of Doolough pass evokes mixed feelings: sadness for the anguish of our Famine-era ancestors there and privilege that we, from our happier time, could see beauty there, where they saw none.

Having no second car to facilitate a traverse, we camped above Tullaghban Beach (or Silver Strand), and drove around next morning to the very welcoming Delphi Adventure Resort, from where we did the traverse east to west over the mountain to the tents. The next day – St Patricks’s Day – we traversed back over the mountain, west to east. And that was our favourite direction.

That special day began for us at 1.30am. Sudden “willie-waws” or mountain gusts, audibly tearing down the heathery moonlit mountainside around us, briefly threatened to flatten one tent. A morning summit “cap” of cloud, and a bitter easterly, initially suggested a cold unrewarding day of challenging navigation. An hour of easy going, however, took us up to the lee of the mountain and a short break to admire the islands and beaches of this most beautiful of Mayo’s beautiful shores.

As we suspected it would, morning warming was helping the mountain shrug off its “cap” as we gained its now sunlit summit. There, groups of happy hikers exchanged backgrounds, stories and plans, thrilled to be out on this perfect mountain on this perfect day.

Before us, to the east, stretched the best high-level ridge walk in Ireland (including the Reeks). The route is along the rim of the huge ice-scoured chasm of the East Coum, up and over an unnamed dramatic sky-pointing “finger”, at 803m only 11m lower than Mweelrea. All the while, a hint of a path, and clear conditions, allowed us to relax into a mindfulness of the beauty around us.

The wind died down, the air warmed and the clouds slowed and took on a gentle “fair weather” look as we gained the carpark. A welcome coffee, and regret that we couldn’t stay another day in that winter-coloured, sunlit wonderland, rounded off a great St Patrick’s Day.

Map: OS Discovery sheet 37.
Start: Parking at stand of conifers, 5km south of Kiladoon. Finish: Delphi  Adventure Resort, on the R335.
Suitability: moderate/high fitness needed, knowledge of mountain navigation essential.
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