Having left home at 4am I was bleary eyed and ready for a nap by the time I’d landed in Dublin. A relatively short hop across the Irish sea I couldn’t really understand why I’ve not made it there before. I was greeted by sunshine and friends not seen since the start of summer so it was great to catch up as we drove across the country to Westport in County Mayo, and straight for a quick hike up Croagh Patrick.
Westport is a lovely small town on the northern west cost of Ireland and has an amazing buzz of shops and excellent places to eat and of course drink. It’s also popular around the year as people head towards Croagh Patrick to climb the pilgrim’s route to the summit of the 762m high mountain.
Knowing nothing of hill walking in Ireland I was certainly surprised by the number of people ready to head off uphill on what had become a wet and windy afternoon.
Croagh Patrick is considered Ireland’s holy mountain with pilgrims having made the climb for over 5000 years, though more recently it was also the place that St Patrick was said to have fasted for 40 days. Every year on the last Sunday in July ‘the Reek’ takes place, with over 25,000 people climbing the mountain on one day.
Since I’m not a Catholic I can only compare the mountain’s popularity, despite any weather, to that of Snowdon. It is easy to access and provides fantastic views from its summit. Or it does in fine weather. And whatever you think of buildings on mountains, like Snowdon there is one. Here it is a small church which holds mass on the Reek and other important holidays.
Unfortunately its popularity and perhaps its status also means that a significant number of people climb it ill prepared. Almost everyone we passed on Saturday was wearing jeans and trainers and few had water proof jackets despite the looming grey clouds. So its understandable that Mayo Mountain Rescue team are busy throughout the year – and on the Reek in July they coordinate 13 neighbouring teams to help cover the event. That’s more than were involved in covering Tour de France in Yorkshire!
It was 2pm when we left our car at the base of the mountain and headed up the well worn track.
The walk is straightforward and even in poor visibility the path is so well worn that its hard to get lost. Being on the western coastline the wind is strong and Saturday we were nearly blown off our feet at times. In between the clouds we did get some fantastic views over Clew Bay and the 117 islands (or sunken drumlins to be precise).
We reached the summit an hour and a half later. Though not as high as some mountains, Croagh Patrick is certainly steep as you reach the summit plateau and its path is well worn by the thousands of hikers a year.
We dashed across the top to the church for shelter out of the wind, though locked when there is no mass planned, it is a useful wind break.
On the descent the drizzle turned into proper rain so we were glad to make it to the pub quickly to get dry. I did manage to get a quick picture of the shrine which marks the start of the route though.