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Keith Corcoran takes us on a walking trip to Mayo

North Mayo boasts Ireland’s newest National Park and hundreds of kilometres of trails, through expansive mountain ranges and unspoilt peatland habitats. There are also plenty of B&B’s in this part of Mayo, to experience firsthand, the warm and natural hospitality of the local people. The capital of North Mayo is Ballina, a picturesque and historic town, situated on the mouth of the fast flowing River Moy.

My journey by car, from Achill Island to Ballina took me through Ireland’s newest National Park. Ballycroy National Park was established in 1998 and is a vast uninhabited wilderness with one of the last intact blanket bog systems in Ireland and Western Europe. The visitor centre is free and a must see. It includes interactive exhibitions, tearooms and a leisurely nature trail through nearby peatland. It is also a good start off point to trek the local Nephin Beg mountain range. The terrain is challenging and only suitable for experienced hill-walkers with suitable clothing and equipment. If you are looking for some adventure walking then the 27km long Bangor Trail may well be for you. It is part of The Western Way and follows an historic 16th century trail across unspoilt wilderness. You can start your trek, in either Newport to Bangor.

Night had fallen as I reached the lights of Ballina where I had booked a room at the Suncroft B&B. My hosts, Breda and David welcomed me at the door and after showing me my comfortable room for the night, invited me to join them for tea downstairs. Breda boiled the kettle and soon I was relaxing in their sitting room, enjoying fruit scones, cake and great chat!

Embrace Walking in Ireland

The next morning my hosts and, Josephine Corrigan, from nearby Greenhill B&B shared their local knowledge of walks around Ballina for me to enjoy. They also pointed out that Ballina is an excellent base for walking enthusiasts to explore walks around the Ceide Fields and Crossmolina, not to mention 3 wonderful local beaches.

Ceide Fields Visitor Centre

Breda explained that many B&Bs offer packed lunches, information leaflets, drying facilities and discount vouchers for local restaurants for up to 15%. Josephine then summed up the advantage of booking a walking break in Ballina, “you can literally take off walking from your B&B doorstep, along the Moy River, down to the Quay, or over to Belleek Castle. Visit B&B Ireland Activity Breaks for more information on your perfect holiday in Ireland.

David then kindly volunteered to show me around Belleek Castle and its grounds. This ancestral home of the Earl of Arran is situated on 1,000 acres of woodland and forestry with some very fine, easy walking trails. The caste interior was lavishly restored by former owner Marshall Doran. Walking in the front door was like stepping onto the set of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and at any moment I expected to see Captain Jack Sparrow slide into view, pursued by some suitably fashioned, cutthroat foes. A cosy fire blazed in the foyer fireplace while a huge candlelit chandelier hung overhead. A superb collection of artefacts are displayed throughout the building including weapons, wall tapestries and an Armada bar lavishly recreated as a Captain’s Ward Room on a Spanish Armada galleon.

One of the staff then led us down a dimly lit stairwell and unlocked a cellar room. The trip of a light-switch revealed a treasure trove of medieval weaponry, from armoured knights to medieval swords, and a collection of fossilised dinosaur bones for extra effect. If you have kids, take them for a tour of Belleek Castle. If you are a child at heart, then this is also for you!

We then set off for a leisurely 3km stroll along the banks of the Moy River and through the wooded grounds. The air was fresh and the bright afternoon soon flitted through the trees as walkers and joggers glided past.

It was nice to be staying at a B&B within 5 minutes walking distance of Ballina town centre, where I decided to go for a late afternoon stroll. The town is full of buildings of notable architecture, including St. Muredach’s Cathedral and many fine Georgian and Victorian townhouses. I completed my stroll by the newly erected Salmon Weir Bridge, which aptly resembles a fishing rod. As I gazed out at the fast flowing river Moy which pulses through Ballina town, I thought back fondly on what was a memorable tour round Mayo.

Post written by Keith Corcoran

A warm walkers welcome B&B now awaits you!

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