I love winter.

OK, I prefer a dry, crisp, fresh winter to a sodden, rainy, mucky winter. But since we have far more of the latter than the former, I make do with it.

Today, I went on a 7-hour cycle and hike along The Western Way, through Ireland’s largest tract of land with no through road. It rained good and proper for the entire duration, with not a single minute’s reprieve. But not just any old rain, oh no. Blown by strong winds, this was the “wonderful” almost horizontal Irish variety. On the journey out, this was fine, as it blew into my back. But on the journey back, another story …

Western Way Mayo

The Western Way, Mayo, in winter

In this area, The Western Way is a forest track through Coillte land, with one section of around 2,100 m of boardwalk in the wettest part – a seriously slippy boardwalk in this weather. [Note to those responsible : You might have considered studding it] In all, it’s about 26 km of entirely off-road hiking and cycling, although I couldn’t manage that in these short winter days.

With the rain coming down, I cycled more in water than on terra firma, as the rain run-off likes to utilise the track bed as the path of least resistance in its relentless search for a river course. Between my outward journey and the return, all rivers and streams had impressively increased the volume of water they were carrying. On the drive home afterwards, there was flooding aplenty in the fields and bogs along the road. A lot of water fell in north Mayo today.

Western Way, Mayo, Ireland

Boardwalk on The Western Way

The wildlife count was poor today, as is to be expected in heavy rain. No deer and no raptors. Just four hares and one pheasant of note. Mind you, deep into the plantation forest, very large deer tracks are all around. I saw fox, otter and pine marten droppings, as well as those of the deer.

If you want a place to gather your thoughts and be utterly immersed in and subjected to the West of Ireland outdoors, this is a good place. Coillte likes to call it Ireland’s ‘big sky country’. With the conifers all around, I’m not so sure about that description, but you know what they’re trying to say. If it’s views you’re after, better choose elsewhere.

I made a video of this day which you can watch here.

You can view the entire Western Way on Irish Trails, both the Mayo section and that in Galway.

Western Way Gear Review

Despite 7 hours of continuous rain, my Meindl Vakuum GTX feet were bone dry, as always. My Helly Hansen Helly Tech head and torso ditto. I was particularly impressed that not a drop of water went down my back or even onto my neck. My North Face trousers could not withstand the rain, but, in fairness, that was mainly because I was cycling most of the time, so pumping thighs and a wet saddle didn’t help. My LifeVenture TiV vacuum flask disappointed. Billed as keeping water hot above 60 C for up to 12 hours, it didn’t deliver for even 6.