The Nephin Beg mountains are perhaps Ireland’s most isolated. To hike around here is to walk in a land fashioned by north Atlantic weather systems and worked by man.
West Mayo, with its wonderful indented coastline, endless islands and inner bogs, is a result of glaciation, constant rain and the winds blown in by the great and fierce ocean.
Stripped of her natural Scots Pines, were it not for the heavy plantations of non-native conifers over the last fifty years and more, this would be a virtually tree-less landscape. Only around the larger lake shores will you find native trees of any note. Even then, they are often smaller than elsewhere, with that characteristic stunted and lopsided growth, as they bend away from the strong prevailing winds. Indeed, the majority of lakes and bog pools can boast no such trees at all on their shorelines.
The conifers, meanwhile, are a dreadful blight on the landscape, a testimony to man’s disregard for his surroundings.
But with the conifers comes some life too.
The Pine Marten is here. The Otter darts between drainage ditches and small fast rivers, with the occasional slower, deeper pool to hang around in. The Red Deer hides away in the huge plantations. You might spot them at dusk, or hear them during the autumn rut. Kestrels can be spotted around the perimeters of the conifers, as they perch looking out across the bog for prey. The smaller and faster-flying Merlin is harder to see, darting at a much lower level than the Kestrel. Look around the crags, cliffs and mountain peaks and you may just come across the majestic Peregrine. In the tree-tops, you can spot the very pretty Crossbill.
But the call of wild west Mayo is ultimately one of silence.
Get yourself out into the vast boglands of this place and sit down for a while, among the heather and grasses. Listen. You won’t hear much.
Where to Answer the Call of Wild West Mayo
Head to one of the less frequented waymarked loop walks, for example at Keenagh.
Or drive from Mulranny towards Ballycroy, but park your car about 1km north of the Claggan Mountain coastal boardwalk, where there are spaces on the right hand side. Just walk inland and follow your nose.
By the way, here is the website of Ballycroy National Park.