A record of my cycling trips in Britain and abroad


Ireland: Sligo and North Mayo (2)

I’m not going to give a detailed, turn-by-turn breakdown of the route we followed for this trip; it will suffice, I think, to say that we more-or-less followed the official Wild Atlantic Way from Sligo to Belmullet, following the directions so ably narrated in the Cicerone guide to Ireland. No, I shall devote my words instead to describing the scene and my general impressions; the reader who is interested in following my route is welcome to ask for more details. I’ve added the photos from my trip to my online album, they can be found under Sligo and North Mayo .

The area around Sligo was lovely: soft hilly countryside and lots of beaches, with a dramatic plateau-topped hill rising up behind the town. As we travelled further west, the countryside very gradually became wilder, the buildings thinned out and the beaches became more sweeping. We had a lovely afternoon stop at Inishcrone; we initially stopped at a cafe for soup or a sandwich, as our preferences dictated, and wandered down to the beach just behind. We ended up spending a very pleasant time on the beach, paddling up to the point and back in the afternoon sunshine. From there, we headed down to Ballina then up the over side of the river Moy, to a campsite at Belleek just north of Ballina town. We’d found a nice spot, and had just set about pitching our tent, when who should show up in a taxi? The guys we’d met yesterday in Sligo! They’d had some bad luck - their car had broken down, apparently rather badly, as it was on its last legs anyway, they’d decided to sell it there and then. Given that they seemed in remarkably good spirits!

In the morning we had a wander round the small country park at Belleek before setting off; it’s very nice, although we picked up a leaflet from the campsite, which had some very odd descriptions of signs and plants in the park. Once back, we set off, and it wasn’t long before we were looking across the estuary at the beach we’d walked on the day before. It seemed like an awfully long way round to end up less than half a mile away!

We continued to head west, the land becoming wilder as we went, and the farmland giving way to open moor. We saw some ancient ruins at Ceide Fields (that’s something I like about Ireland: the wealth of ancient monuments and their casual acceptance: the ruins at Ceide are over 5000 years old - you don’t find artefacts that old in many other parts of the world); and we had lunch with our legs dangling (metaphorically) over the cliff looking at the massive sea stack of Downpatrick Head. I’m not sure as my photos, or anyone else’s, really do it justice: it’s over 40 m high, rising shear out of the sea, and the sense of scale is lost in a photo.

Other moments to remember are the night we spent camping on a cliff looking out to the Atlantic ocean (stunning), the midges in the morning (horrendous), and the fish and chips (disappointing). I managed a very brief swim in the sea in a cove, only accessible by scrambling down a steep rocky slope (or by sea I suppose), and we had a swim in Lough Talt on our way back into Sligo (by this time we headed away from coast, following closer to part of the route given in the Cicerone guide as a loop out of Achill Island). We almost managed another swim on our final morning, but I only got as far as my waist before deciding that I’d done enough cold swimming for one holiday. (And, more importantly perhaps, I hadn’t had breakfast.) That’s another point that I ought to mention - for our final night, we were aiming for a campsite at Lough Arrow, but we turned up to find it closed. Fortunately, there’s a hostel next door, so we semi-wild-camped in a field on the shore of the lake, but still had a shower. Almost the best of both worlds you could say!

Overall, we had a wonderful time I think; we were very lucky with the weather, and it’s a fantastic part of the world. The scenery is stunning, especially towards the west, and the roads are very quiet. I gather from speaking to people that’s it’s a comparatively under-visited part of Ireland, and wouldn’t be too touristy even in the height of summer; we didn’t find it busy at all, though we were visiting outside the main holiday time.

Definitely one area that’s recommended, and a part of the world I intend to visit again!