A Weekend in Westport
Westport is a charming town in County Mayo on Ireland's west coast. Located about 1hr 30 mins from Galway, this remote area of Ireland retains it's rugged beauty. There's plenty to see and do around Westport including the Great Western Greenway, Achill Island, Clare Island, Clew Bay with it's 365 Islands, Westport House and Croagh Patrick.
We decided to do a weekend in westport this April and throughly enjoyed a wonderful few days absorbing the landscape. Westport is a lovely small town, but there are plenty of lovely towns and villages in Ireland. What makes this area unique is the landscape, and I'd recommend spending some time in the fresh air here to absorb it all.
Achill Island & "Achill Henge"
On the first day we headed out to Achill Island, and out first point of call was "Achill Henge". Built in 2011 by developer Joe McNamara, it was supposed to symbolise the Celtic Tiger (the large boom in the Irish Ecomony that precede the recent recession). It was built without planning permission on a hill top above Keel on Achill Island. Some people like it's symbolism, some think it's just hideous. I'll leave you make your own judgements.
It does however seem to do it's job in representing the celtic tiger. It sprung up without any planning by a developer who is now bankrupt, left half-built on a remote site and now with no one quite knowing what to do with it. Just like so many of the "Ghost Estates" in Ireland's countryside.
There have been legal movements by the local council to have it removed, though as yet no action has been taken. It does seem though now the years are starting to pass that it may become a permanent feature of Achill Island's Landscape.
Achill Island has many other boasts including europe's highest sea cliffs. It is a rugged island of hills & bogs, giant views & small villages. A perfect place for those wanting to experience the big scenery & ruggedness of the islands of Ireland's Atlantic coast.
The Great Western Greenway
An old disused trainline from Westport to Achill Island has been converted into the Great Western Greenway - a 42km cycle path leading through some of Irelands most ruggedly beautiful countryside. Coastline, mountains, bogs, rivers & villages all pass you by on this very well planned cycle path. I was impressed with how well this trail has been done. There's a few small stretches on road, otherwise the vast majority is off road and in some parts you really feel away from everything. Being an old railway line it's gentle gradients make it a very enjoyable leisurely cycle, and with villages, cafes & pubs on route there's no shortage of re-fueling spots along the way.
We hired bikes from Clew Bay Bike Hire, but there's also the option of booking a cycle tour and have a guide show you the best spots (€30-40 pp for 4-7 hrs | www.westportcycletours.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | +353 (0)87 9199152).
If you don't have a guide, be sure to check the wind forecast. The cycle path runs East (Westport) to West (Achill Island). Ireland's prevailing winds are westerly, so in that case the bike hire people can give you & your bike a lift to Achill Island & you cycle one way with a tail wind the whole time!
The first village you'll pass on leaving Achill Island is Mulranny. A small village with stunning views across clew bay, there's a good cafe there too for a quick refuel. Lookout for the Mulranny Goats too, wild goats that inhabit this area and are often seen on this stretch of the greenway.
We stopped about 5 kms after Mulranny at the famous Nevin's Inn for lunch and can definitely recommend their meals - delicious!
Along the route you'll pass Newport, a small riverside town. There are several pubs to choose from here & if you fancy a bite to eat Grainne Uaile is a good choice for food. Also here is Newport House, a historic county house now open for dinner and for overnight stays. Steeped in history, it's a very interesting building.
There are many bike rental places along the route, so if you fancy just a short stretch then my favourite was the Mullanny to Newport part. 18kms with stunning and changing views, and great lunch stops, too.
Westport itself is a busy town that's popular with tourists. Wandering the small town & surrounding area is a pleasure, with plenty of interesting places to discover. Between the town centre and waterfront is Westport House, a grand country estate set in large gardens. They have an activity centre & cafe, and the lakes make a grand setting for the house itself. Please note there is an entrance fee to get up to the house though you can see some of the gardens and lakes for free.
This area is home to Grace O'Malley, also known as Granuaile, the Pirate Queen. In the 16th Century she was chieftan of the O'Malley clan and has become a very significant figure in Irish Culture and history. Her clan ruled this area of Ireland, and were feared seafarers. She was powerful enough to meet and negotiate with Queen Elizabeth directly, using latin as their only common language. Nowerdays there's both truth and folklore attached to Granuile, and for those interested in the history of Ireland then this area has lots of facinating places to see.
Ireland Holiest Mountain sits on the south side of clew bay, and after a few hours exploring Westport Town on the Sunday we headed here to climb the mountain. A distictive cone shape, the 765m high Croagh Patrick is where St Patrick himself is said to have spent 40 days of fasting and penance.
It's a very popular desitnation for tourist and pilgrims alike. You will find many religious pilgrims here climbing to the top and including some climbing in bare feet.
Do not be fooled by the large number of people climbing Croagh Patrick; it is a challenging hike to the summit. I was supprised on my first visit how hard parts of it are. It take 1:30 to 2 hours on the way up, and maybe 1:30 hours on the way down. The upper section is made of a large scree slope of loose rocks that move and slide as you walk. Be prepared with spare layers for the cooler temperatures at the top, good footwear, water and some snacks.
The views though are worth all the effort in climbing, it's just spectacular. Check the forecast closely though for a clear day, and then you'll be able to see from Clare Island out in the Atlantic to Achill Island to the north, all the drumlins of Clewbay and into Westport too. The full 360 panorama of South Mayo is one of Ireland's best vistas. If you fancy travelling on to Clare Island itself, it is well worth the trip. Clare Island Adventures offer plenty of exciting activities which will make for an entertaining group day out, and there is a nice hostel on Clare Island which is also worth a visit. Get there with Clare Island Ferries
Clew Bay itself is one of the most beautiful bays on the whole west coast of Ireland. Dominant mountains surround the bay on both sides, which is full of small islands called Drumlins. These were created as Glaciers from the last ice age 10,000 years ago melted and retreated, leaving small sand and shale islands. They say there's 365 of them, on for every day of the year, though many are no more than a part submerged sand bank. That said though if you've every wanted to own your own Island then this could be a good place to look, John Lennon even owned one in the 1970's.
There are plenty of charter boat companies offering tours of clew bay, and for the more enthusiastic then sea kayaking is another option too.
For me though just the views from the coastline across the bay are spectacular. Ideally if you can get a bit of height, then you'll truly get to enjoy the big scenery clew bay has to offer.
A Private Tour of Westport
If you'd like a private tour itinerary including Westport and the surrounding areas please just get in touch, we'd be very happy to help.
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Other Attractions in the Westport Area
I was mainly on foot or cycling during this particular trip but, courtesy of Padraic and Valerie Foy at Clew Bay Horseriding and the Drummindoo Stud, there are plenty of great opportunities to experience these beautiful surroundings while enjoying an fun afternoon's horseriding. Clew Bay Horseriding caters for all levels of rider, whether complete novice or experienced veteran. If, like me, you fall into the first category, qualified and experienced instructors will help you get the most out of the experience.
To find out more visit www.drummindoo.com
Places to Stay in the Westport Area
I didn't have time to do it on this trip, but I would have loved to add a detour to Ballina, just north of Westport. Ballina is a picturesque little town situated in the Moy valley, where the River Moy meets Killala Bay. Friends of mine mentioned it, recommending the impressive Mount Falcon Estate.
Set on a picturesque 100-acre demesne, Mount Falcon comprises the Mount Falcon Country House Hotel, Fisheries, Spa, Lodges, & Leisure centre. In 2009-10 it was named the AA hotel of the year and it retains every bit of luxury and refinement guests then enjoyed. The kitchen, too, is an award-winning attraction in its own right, earning two AA rosettes. The luxury Lakeside and Woodland Lodges are perfect for longer stays or special occasions for family and friends.
Abbey Court boasts a conveniently central location in Deerpark East, near the road to Newport/Achill, as is well situated for those seeking to explore the west coast of Mayo with Ireland's holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, Connemara, as well as Achill Island, all within easy reach. All guest rooms benefit from orthopaedic beds and an assortment of little luxuries to make your stay more comfortable. As well as double rooms, there is a family room with a king-size bed and a single. All rooms are ensuite, with central heating and colour TV.
Situated in the heart of Westport, The Mill Times Hotel is ideal if you are looking to explore the town itself. The decor of the hotel is visually very impressive and very much in keeping with the feel of traditional Irish hotels. As well as the usual suite of single, double and twin rooms, Mill Times offers facilities suitable for families and their website offers plenty of suggestions for how to keep the kids entertained in Westport.
Perfect for grown-up family parties and groups of friends, Clare Island Lighthouse assures visitors not only a luxury stay, including a six-course evening meal, but also a unique experience described by The Independent Newspaper as "
that edge-of-the-world feeling".
Here, atop the rugged cliffs of Ireland's weather-worn west coast, you are face-to-face with the elements and within what feels like touching distance of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Doubles, including a six-course evening meal and breakfast, start at €350 per night