After a transfer on Day 1 from the Dublin area to county Galway, we will start our trek near Oughterard along beautiful Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the country, and continue through a forestry plantation on raised planks. When we reach the road, our van will be waiting to transfer us to the unique Peacockes Hotel, a recently renovated lodge in the middle of the Connemara district with stunning views from its tower.
On Day 2 we will be transferred back towards Maam to start our hike on a country lane no wider than a path. It will lead us west into the Maumturk Mountains with views across Connemara. We hike along this pilgrimage trail over the “pass of the birds” past a hidden church and holy well where St. Patrick is said to have stood to bless the Connemara. After this morning’s hike we will transfer to Connemara National Park to hike up Diamond Hill and its sweeping views of the Connemara coastline with tiny fishing villages, gothic turrets of a neighboring Abbey, as well as lakes and mountain tops of the area. Our home for the next two nights is the quaint, family owned Leenane Hotel on Killary Harbour – the only fjord in Ireland.
We will shuttle back to the Western Way where our hike on Day 3 will take us along farmland, through an experimental forest, and across pastures to return back to Killary Harbour and end back at our hotel.
Day 4’s hike starts at the renowned Aasleagh Falls, a popular photo stop. We will soon be alone with the sheep as we wander across pastures along the Erriff River. The flat portion of the hike ends when we proceed over a ridge to hike along the little seen Tawnyard Lough, then continue up over Sheefry Pass, and back down to another fork of the Erriff River. Our last climb of the day takes us over a remote pass and along Lough Lugacolliwee and back down to Drummin, where we will be shuttled to the picturesque town of Westport. We have an entire day to explore Westport, on Day 5, which boasts a castle, an abbey, a pirate fortress, and an 80 km paved Greenway bike trail. I highly recommend visiting Westport bike hire where Mary will set you up with a steed for the day to explore the area and the Greenway. Tonight’s dinner is on your own as the town has options in nearly every cuisine you can think of.
After our layover day, we will continue north on Day 6 towards the uninhabited and unspoiled wilderness of Ballycroy National Park and the Bangor trail, a 40km trail through the bogs of the Wild Nephin Beg mountains. Our trek today takes us on a loop that links some of the Bangor trail with the Western Way, and gives a good taste of the Wild Nephin Beg without getting our boots too muddy! As we are in such a remote area, we will need a bit of a transfer to reach a town big enough to offer us a bed, a dinner, and a pint of Guinness, which we will find in Bangor Erris.
Day 7 will take us on our last and most northernly section of the Western Way. We will trek through the Sheskin Forest – an area so remote, you pass only one house in 30km. It is a combination of conifer forest and bogland and is called Ireland’s Big Sky Country. Luckily our Timberline van is able to navigate some of the road, reducing our section to just 15km today. We finish by driving into Ballycastle and taking some time to explore the Ceide Fields – an archeological site of inhabitants from 5000 years ago. From here we transfer to an area of great scenic beauty and tranquility in the town of Bellmullet. The Broadhaven Bay hotel overlooks the Irish sea and offers the surprising amenities of a pool, spa and laundry service.
Day 8 is devoted to the Atlantic Ocean as we take two very different walks along its shores. The Cross Loop walk takes us along the sandy shore, over sand dunes, and along country roads that circumnavigate a lake, with lovely views of several islands of lore out to the west, in an unspoiled part of the Wild Atlantic Way. The Erris Head Loop provides spectacular scenery while taking you on grassy paths, earth banks and open ground as it follows an old earth bank around the steep cliffs of Mayo’s rugged and beautiful Erris Head. At the Head’s northernmost tip a railed viewing point gives views of Illandavuck Island, Pigeon Rock and dramatic sea arches.
After one more night at the lovely Broadhaven Bay hotel, we set out for our last morning hike, the Portacloy Cliff walk, that takes place on Benwee Head, and offers some of the most dramatic coastal scenery on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Head is higher than the cliffs of Moher and commands spectacular views of majestic cliffs, rugged headlands, rocky coves and jagged stacks. With good weather we will be able to see Stags of Broadhaven, Mullet Peninsula, Achill Island and The Hills of Donegal and further west to the coast of Kid Island. After this striking end to our Western Ireland Hiking Odyssey, we will have plenty to reminisce about during our long drive back to Dublin.