It was purely by accident that I found myself walking the Blanemore Archaeological Trail, near Moygownagh, at the weekend.
As you’ll know by now, I’m not very interested in walking Coillte forest tracks, dodging the timber trucks and being surrounded by walls of non-native conifer plantations as far as the eye can see (which, inevitably, isn’t very far).
OK, they do have perhaps two attractions. The chance to see Red Deer and droppings from Otter and Pine Marten is one. Spotting Crossbill is the other. I saw none of the former, but two of the latter.
I was actually out to see if a ford on an unimportant river / stream was crossable on foot and to do a loop hike through depleted bog. However, the ford, which was undoubtedly once public, has since been “land grabbed”, with a gate installed across the track before it could even be spotted in the distance. This is a recurring problem in rural Mayo, where what are clearly marked as public roads on OSI maps have become gated and inaccessible.
So I had to change my direction. Unbeknown to me, after an initial 3km ramble, I stumbled onto Blanemore Archaeological Trail. And what an incredibly frustrating experience it was.
The Trail boasts essentially four very interesting Stone and Bronze Age monuments, which are well worth the detour. However, the disregard for pre-bog stone wall systems, a standing stone and two court tombs by Coillte and its predecessors is staggering, if unsurprising.
Each is not just surrounded by Lodgepole Pine and Sitka Spruce, but there are trees planted literally within and on top of the sites. Their destruction has been guaranteed for the last 60 years and is well underway.
Luckily, on the day I visited, somebody ripped up and discarded multiple non-natives from within the stone row.
One of the court tombs has been heavily damaged by tree planting and extraction, while the other is only a matter of time. Back in the day, when planting was taking place, a contractor even removed the capstone with his machine!
These sites should be saved immediately by the careful, non-mechanic extraction of all trees within, say, a 10m radius of each monument.
The trail, meanwhile, features a nice bog lake, Loch na Faoileáin (‘Lake of the Seagulls’, Lough Naweela). Unfortunately, no riparian zone has been respected, with conifers planted right up to its shoreline and several fallen examples lying in the water.
Mind you, it was holding around 25 ducks, made up of Mallards and Wigeon, which were nice to see.
By the lake, as is the case in one or two other spots, the local community has placed a nice picnic table, which is to be commended. Explanatory information boards are also dotted along the trail.
The local community has also produced a series of very good explanatory videos about the archaeological sites on this trail, which can be viewed on moygownagh.ie here (scroll down to find videos).
Moygownagh Archaeological Trail
The loop proper is 5km, but I walked 11km at a relaxed pace with plenty of stops, taking 4.5 hours.
A nice walk, yes, but certainly not a great one. There can be little doubt that, to find a great lowland walk in Mayo, you must get to the coastline. Honourable mentions, nevertheless, to the riverside walk from Aasleagh Falls to Houston Bridge and to the woodland trails between Cong and Clonbur.