North Mayo and Beyond

5 June 2023

2 May 23 – Westport to An Ceann Ramhar – 82km

We had a reasonably slow get-up, packed the bikes and said goodbye to Westport. Really enjoyed our stay here and it’s definitely somewhere that we will come back to in the future and would recommend as a place to visit.

The first couple of hours we retraced our steps out along the Great Western Greenway towards Achill.

This time though we turned off the bike path at Mallaranny and headed north.  As this is the start of a bank holiday in Ireland I’d thought that this road could have been busy, but as it turned out it was quiet and also very scenic. It felt pretty remote with moorland and bogs all around and in the distance we could see the hills of the Ballycroy National Park to our right.

Really nice riding except that we had a headwind all the way making it pretty tough going. We found a random picnic area in the absolute middle of nowhere for our first lunch and then stopped again in the metropolis that is Bangor Erris for our second stop.

It was still quite early and we debate how much further we wanted to go. Because of the bank holiday weekend we’d not been able to find a campsite which wasn’t fully booked, so we were winging it and keeping our eyes open for a suitable wild-camping spot – there seemed to be plenty of options, but it was still too early as if we set up too early we end up twiddling our thumbs with nothing to do. So, the decision was to push on – this time towards Gweesalia in another Gaeltacht area. Once we turned the corner we had the wind behind us for once and we whizzed along. In no time found ourselves in Gweesalia itself – nothing to see here! So, again we needed to make a decision, do we carry on or try to find a wild camping spot? It was still too early so we carried on towards the bottom of the peninsula, which is only 5km across the water from Achill Island to the south.

We were in the process of setting off back towards Gweesalia and making a concerted effort to find a camping spot when we came across the An Ceann Ramhar view point, so we diverted off to take a look.  There were a couple of benches, a barbecue area and lots of nice flat grassy areas, which all looked ideal for a tent! We sat a while taking in the views across the water to Achill Island while listening to two old guys in their cars chat to each other. It occurred to us that although we thought it was an ideal spot for wild camping, perhaps we should ask these two guys what they thought. Of the two we only got Michael’s name, but he was a local and said it’d be no problem for us to camp there, we wouldn’t see many people etc so we decided to stay.  As it was pretty windy we put our tent up behind the barbecue area and sparked up the burner and had our evening meal.

The only distraction was a daft collie dog which was chasing the skylarks in the adjacent golf course. He did cause us a bit of concern that he might make a nuisance of himself, but he disappeared later and we didn’t see him again. We had plenty of time to just take in the view, especially of the hills on Achill and the ‘halo’ of cloud that kept changing at its summit. All-in-all a very pleasant place to camp and as Michael predicted we had no issues whilst we were there.

3 May 23 – An Caenn Ramhar to Ballina – 89km

During the night the wind dropped and we could easily hear the skylarks singing even a 3am! I also heard something snuffling and squeaking near our tent at one point and assumed that there were some rabbits nearby. When we woke there was almost no wind at all which had brought out the midgies again. But this time we were armed! In Clifden we’d been recommended Smidge repellent as the only thing that works, so we bought a can and a couple of midge head nets. So, Smidged-up and head net on it was time to see if our precautions work, and they did! Brilliant!

Regardless, we were up, breakfasted, packed and on the road by 7:45 and on our way back to Gweesalia. We definitely picked a great spot to camp and there was nothing further up the road that compared. Once at Gweesalia we stopped to check our route when a white van pulled up next to us. It was Michael again to check how we got on camping and to wish us a safe trip which was lovely. For once there was no sun for the first part of the day, but there was that all-annoying headwind! It was real energy-sapping peddling as we headed north then northeast up to the north Mayo coast. First stop, in the middle of nowhere again, Glenamoy Bridge, for a scone and coffee, from the only shop for miles around.

All around us there was moorland, bogs, turf cutting and beautiful hills.

Many might think that there wasn’t much to see and that it’s all rather dull, but to be honest on a bike, we can hear the birds, smell the flowers and even taste the air, so it’s always interesting! The wind was pretty relentless until we reached the coast and turned the corner and headed east.  We stopped at a visitor centre at Ceide for lunch a look at the beautiful, spectacular sea cliffs.

The trip through to our campsite for the night, continued to be really nice and for once the wind was almost at our backs.

After being so far away from everything over the past couple of days, we found that the bank holiday had definitely kicked off as our campsite was fully booked, but we had no problem finding a suitable pitch and settled in. There was a lot of people and this was by far the largest campsite we have stayed at so far and we didn’t expect to get much sleep. But, it’s a bank holiday and people want to have a bit of fun, so we didn’t begrudge them.

4 June 23 – Ballina to Lough Arrow – 72km

Apart from the road noise, next doors’ barking dog, kids kicking footballs around and some dance music from the neighbouring tent we actually managed a reasonable night’s sleep! We met another long-distance cyclist, Nathan, during breakfast and swapped stories. He is in the process of cycling around the coast of Ireland and had seen many of the same things as us.

We were off and out by 9am and pointed our bikes east towards Lough Arrow. Where? Yup, we’d never heard of it either, but as it was the bank holiday this was the only campsite that had any space available and we’d booked it well in advance. The beauty of this type of decision is that it takes us off in a direction we’d never have taken otherwise. A quick stop for food in Ballina and then we were on our way.

The road out of town was reasonably busy for a Sunday morning, but soon calmed down and the ride was pleasant enough. It then started to go up, and up and up! To be fair we hadn’t really looked at the map before setting out and when we did stop to check we realised that we had to cross the Ox Mountains (Slieve Gamph or St Patrick’s Mountains). The climb was never too steep, but it went on a bit and we were both pretty tired by the top. However, all that effort was rewarded by some amazing mountain views and hardly a car in sight.

The road wound itself through the mountains to Lough Talt which was another surprise-find and again some amazing views with no one else around.

The downhill was pretty special too and we even managed to stop for a coffee and scone on the way (note: cake watch hasn’t been abandoned as such but the cakes in Ireland are really expensive, can be hit and miss on the taste so we’ve found scones to be much better value!).

At the risk of sounding repetitive, the wind was yet again in our faces making things tough once more, but we plodded on and the scenery was still pretty good. Our path took us through Ballymote where there is an impressive 12th century castle, which apparently was the strongest in Connaught, but was captured 17 years after it was built, so not very strong!

The last 20km was through lovely rural country lanes, but we were rather too pooped at this stage to properly enjoy it.

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground since leaving Westport three days ago. Our campsite for this evening was alongside Lough Arrow, in a lovely setting.  And in contrast to last night was adults only and much smaller and quieter. The neighbours in the tent next door lent us their gas burner when we ran out of fuel , saving our dinner, which would have been a disaster as we are perpetually hungry!

5 June 23 – Lough Arrow to Rosses Point – 40km

With a short cycling day planned after three biggies we were up a bit later than normal and there was no rush to be on the road. We had a last look at Lough Arrow..

…said our goodbyes to our lovely neighbours and headed out once more. We would absolutely recommend Lough Arrow and that particular campsite as a place to go.  Mind you, even though it had been quiet and we’d both slept pretty well we were both tired as we started out and were thankful that we had a short day. The cycling continued in the same way as the day before with some lovely rural roads, often with grass growing in the middle of the road.

We made our scone/lunch number 1 stop next to Ballydawly Lough and then got on a busier road into Sligo itself.  We stopped in a petrol station and a very nice guy helped us out by filling our fuel bottle for free (lesson to the English Jag driver who did this earlier on our trip…like he needed the one pound I gave him!). It’s a pain when the minimum fuel delivery is 2 litres and all we need is about a quarter of that. So, we have to loiter in a petrol station waiting for someone filling a petrol car or, in today’s case, a Jerry can and then pounce and see what happens!

We meandered via Lidl into Sligo city centre and by accident came across Sligo Abbey, which was one of the things to do in Sligo. The very nice guy on the entry desk even held the door so we could wheel our bikes into a safe place so that we could, firstly sit and have our second sandwich if the day …

…and then have a good look around. It’s a beautiful place, though fairly small

and within half an hour we’d seen it all and were back on the road, through the city centre (literally nothing to see here!) and out to Rosses Point, where we had a campsite booked. The Abbey really is the only thing to see in the city and we are glad that we came across it.

We’ve actually been here before, but in a car and we didn’t stay, so it was nice to be back and hang around a bit. We negotiated a better pitch for our tent than the one we had booked and settled in. I didn’t think I’d ever be saying this but it has actually been too hot over the past few days, and today in particular was hot and sweaty so when the sun goes in it’s actually a blessing….especially on a campsite with very little shelter!

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