Aasleagh Falls is a tiny but celebrated waterfall at the head of the Killary, Ireland’s only true fjord, in south County Mayo. The very beautiful Erriff River tumbles down the couple of metres, before babbling over rocks and into the sea just beyond.
Come to Aasleagh around the summer solstice to witness wonderful Salmon and Sea Trout, as they make their way back into the river system from the sea. It’s a magnificent sight.
Beginning at Aasleagh Falls, I walked 20 km of The Western Way to Drummin, a tiny village south of Westport. This is a varied walk, with the first 6 km along the banks of this lovely river, among fertile fields filled with sheep. Sharing the banks with the fly fishermen, the beginning is a far cry from the blanket bog covered stretches that await me later on.
If you’d like to just take on this initial 6km riverside ramble, you can leave a bike at Houston Bridge before you start, recuperate it now and return by the adjacent road (N59).
From Houston Bridge, where we leave the river behind, the walk turns northwards through 4 km of the plantation forest at Tawnyard. I cross the small Owenduff River at a fish counting and measuring station, before emerging on to the small road from where the best views of the brooding Tawnyard Lough are to be enjoyed. While I usually avoid walking on tarmac, I don’t really have a choice here and over the 3 km stretch, I don’t meet a single vehicle on the Sheeffry Pass road.
My attention now turns to tackling the climb to the col between Tawny Rower (510 m) and the Sheeffry Hills proper, which reach 772 m several km to the west. The col itself, at 450 m, is welcome after the trudge up its grassy, boggy southern slope. Under its impressive northern cliffs lies remote Lough Lugacolliwee, an unusually large corrie lake.
I skirt the shore of this fine lake, before turning away to cross over a km of pure, unadulterated bog. Emerging on to a little lane, I then follow the small road to Drummin, jump on my bike and cycle back to Aasleagh, where I had left my car earlier.
The above image of Lough Lugacolliwee is copyright Walter Perello, with thanks.
Aasleagh Falls to Drummin, along The Western Way
Distance 20.4 km; total ascent approx. 600 m; time 6.5 hrs.
Cycle back to car (along minor roads) : 20.2 km; 1.5 hrs.
Read this article about a very different experience on The Western Way.
Discover Western Way maps on Irish Trails.
I did the stretch from Leenane to Lough Lugacolliwee last year over two days. Walked from Leenane to the Sheeffry Pass Road on day one, camped overlooking Tawnyard Lough, then on day two walked up to the corrie lake, then back to Leenane.
Walking on the road section after Tawnyard, as the road winded its way up the side of the cliff, on what felt like the remotest road I’d ever experienced in Ireland, a rather strange thing happened. Three large jeeps stopped, people poured out, and a man asked if they could all take my photo walking. Apparently they were all doing a photography course somewhere in Westport. So, covered in sweat and dirt, I tried to walk naturally while they all took photos, then they disappeared out of the valley as quickly as they arrived.
Anyway, I think this stretch demonstrates how good the Western Way could be. The Erriff river section is stunning. Take the stretch past Leenane off road, wait for the Nephin forests to get a bit wilder (and shut out all vehicles), and maybe add a few designated places for camping, and it could easily be the best long distance trail in the country.
It’s only a shame the first stage from Oughterard has such a long on-road section. Also, there used to be a superb and very remote stretch of it that went between Lackavrea Mountain and Lake Corrib before Maam, through an old broadleaf wood, but this has now been re-routed through conifer forestry.
Indeed, the section along the Erriff River, up over Lough Lugacolliwee and onwards is very nice. The section before that, from Maam Bridge to Leenane is very fine too and it’s a pity that the short section before Leenane village (south of) and the 3 km beyond it (to the north) haven’t been taken off-road. One day, perhaps.