Sunshine cycling around Lough Furnace

We’d intended to pick up the bikes in Newport for our day’s cycling, but we’d left it too late to book them. In autumn the bike shop in Newport isn’t open all day, just first thing in the morning or for repairs at request during the day. This meant having to get them in Westport and cycle back along the Greenway (and back).

I wasn’t really put off by the additional distance (22km for the round trip), but I’m not one for doing something more than once so having done the full Greenway two days before I wasn’t that thrilled by the idea of doing part of it again. There’s so many other things to do! Its finally sunny outside we could go hiking!

I was in the minority, so we headed out cycling, and to be fair it was a great day to be out on bikes again.

So here’s some views of the Greenway from Westport to Newport which I didn’t take a few days earlier due to dusk setting in and the race back to Westport being a priority. I even managed to get a clear summit picture of Croagh Patrick!

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Once on the other side of Newport we took a small country lane to cycle around Lough Furnace. The route is ideal for cycling as there is very little traffic and beautiful views over the lake and over the Nephin Mountains in the distance, and back to Croagh Patrick.

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Once back on the Greenway we cycled into Newport for food and a coffee before heading back to Westport. We guestimated that the whole route is about 30-35km.

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Wet and Windy in the Nephins

After a long lie in and a stereotypical Irish morning of sitting around talking and drinking copious amounts of tea we finally headed out into the grey skies.

We’d been talking and drinking tea for so long that it only left us the afternoon for a walk, so we drove up to Newport and headed into the Nephin Mountains for a walk around the Letterkeen Loop.

As it was, the weather turned into a howling gale and sideways rain so a walk over the peaks wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway.

The Letterkeen loop is 12km and starts at the car park near the Altaconey River. Its not a long walk but a great loop to do in an afternoon or for a day out with children. Its also perfect for getting out into the wild areas of the Nephins without having to walk too far.

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We headed anticlockwise starting on the well made track of the Western Way, which winds through the woodland next to the river.

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After about 3km there is a path junction to the left which heads up round the side of the fell and heads northeast towards the Bangor Way.

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It was at this point the wind and rain became heavy so we were grateful for the nearby shelter on the hill, where we quickly headed for a lunch stop.

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Heading back along the Bangor trail the track is less defined and in the rain it had become a bog trot. It reminded me of walking in the Pennines back home!

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Cycling Westport’s Greenway

I’m not much of a cyclist (if you hadn’t noticed). But I do like a challenge and completing routes of any description and I love saying yes to opportunities thrown at me. So when friends I met in Corsica suggested meeting up and cycling The Great Western Greenway in Ireland, I wasn’t going to refuse.

This was my first trip to Ireland and my first trip somewhere which had been built around the idea of cycling and not hiking.

The Great Western Greenway runs around Clew Bay in County Mayo, from Achill Island in the west around the north of the bay to Westport. It spans 42km in length but is broken down into 3 shorter chunks making it possible for families to use too. Or blokes on a pub crawl cycling trip too as we found later. As it was originally a railway line which closed in 1937 this makes it perfect as a cycle route as not too many hills.

We hired bike from Clew Bay bike hire as they do a bus service to drop you at Achill so you can cycle back. They also have a cabin at Mulranny and a shop in Newport if you need repairs or give up and need a lift back.

Despite the horrendous wind and rain we’d booked the bikes so we headed out. Its an hours drive to Achill along the coast road and we were all thinking how we’d made a mistake having got up very early Sunday morning to spend the day cycling in the rain. The Scottish couple also on the bus who were new to cycling and thought it would be a nice route to do must have thought about changing their mind too.

We left Achill after a coffee at 11.20am. The first bit of the Greenway is along the road for 1km before you reach the off road track to follow to Mulranny 13km later.

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I can imagine how on a gorgeous sunny day the views of the Atlantic sea and the bay would be fantastic. However Sunday was a day of rain and 30+mph winds. Useful initially as we headed from Achill as we didn’t have to pedal hard, but as we turned around the headland the wind was at our side and meant leaning into the wind in order to stay upright. Challenging! (It is at this point I apologise for the photos as I didn’t stop to take them!)

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We reached Mulranny an hour later and after swapping one bike and having my handlebars realigned at the shops bike station, it was raining hard so we dived in the Mulranny Hotel for a coffee and a cake, which I can certainly recommend!

Almost an hour later we emerged and continued on to Newport. Though 18km this section is easy going too, and some great views despite the weather. On a clear day the bay must look fantastic from the Greenway.

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Sections of the route closer to Newport are still being improved so while the route is very much off road already it is set to be even better in the future. Just as you reach Newport the Greenway route hops onto the road to cycle into town.

We reached Newport in an hour and 5 mins and treated ourselves to a long lunch in the Grainne Uaile pub in the centre of Newport. I loved find out the story of Grainne Uaile otherwise known as Grace O’Malley, a headstrong female pirate queen who ruled Mayo’s islands.

By the time we’d eaten and chatted it was 4.20pm and going dark so we headed to Westport as quick as cycling into a headwind would allow. The Greenway along this section is 11km and includes some cycling on the road as well as next to the road on the trail. This is also the hilliest section with a long drag of a hill to get up and down to reach Westport. Not what you want at the end of the day!

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The route is then on the road, passed a medical factory to reach the main road. From here we crossed the road and turned right to pick up an off road path to take us round the back of Westport centre and back to the cycle shop, an hour after leaving Newport.

3 hours 5 minutes cycling time – not bad to say we don’t cycle regularly!

Autumn hiking on Croagh Patrick

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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