Friday, 18 September 2015

Achill Island. Ballycroy National Park. Wild Atlantic Way. Ireland.

                                             ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
The next day, after leaving the hostel on Achill Island, (see previous post) we had intended going up Croagh Patrick, but the clouds were right down over the summit and at 764 metres, 2507 feet, most of its bulk had been invisible since we had arrived. At our age we have no inclination to climb mountains in thick clag or rain, preferring to get a view from the summit if possible.
It also looked like late summer rainstorm weather as ominous dark clouds were building inland in the direction of Croagh Patrick. After a swift consensus we decided to stay at the coast on Achill island and climb Minaun, 466 metres, signposted Barr an Mhionnain on the road sign. Although the mist was down over this summit as well it had been clearing now and then briefly so we had some hope of a view. It also had a large mast on a lower summit and a service road leading up to it so it was an easy choice to make. As luck would have it the weather improved enough to give us views over the island although the higher summits remained in cloud.
The top photo is the view from the summit looking over towards Croaghaun, our summit in the last post.
A wider view of Achill island with the beautiful curving beach below.
Transmission mast on lower slope.
Mary, Virgin and Mother, Star of the Sea. Pray for us. Inscription on plinth at the summit. Makes sense, when fishing on these turbulent waters for a living was commonplace and many drowned trying to earn their income at it. In Scotland, only the Outer Isles have similar statues erected for the same purpose and it's not widespread on the mainland over there.
As we had plenty of time after the hill Graeme took us on a tour of the highlights of the district. In essence, as we were already driving around the serrated Western Seaboard of the Republic and exploring, we were also taking in the best bits of the Wild Atlantic Way without actually following it precisely. We knew this as we kept cutting across the blue wave signs denoting the route on the way to the different areas of coastline that Graeme recommended.
This is the Ballycroy National Park, still in Co Mayo, an area of outstanding bog land which contains the Nephin Beg Range, which must be one of the remotest set of mountains in Ireland with long walks in just to reach the base of the hills.
These summits are over 2000 feet high, some with substantial cliffs, and Nephin itself is 2646 feet but they look small and insignificant just because they are far away.
A view of a closer summit just across the bay from the National Park. The panoramas were nice and the building is spacious, modern and free to enter but I found myself wondering what and who it was  built for. A pleasant circular trail of a few kilometers runs across the bog and is enjoyable but it's not really adventurous in any way and the building itself is antiseptic, not really to my tastes. During our time we were the only ones in it. For the money spent I personally think it could be better thought out but that's just me.
The displays were informative and the staff helpful but it was all a bit sterile somehow due to its ultra modern setting.
This stuffed pine marten looked just as bemused as we were. At 8 Euros for a slice of cake in the modern cafe (it was posh and nice looking with different layers) and oil paintings on the wall selling for between 650 and 1,200 Euros it was way, way out of our budget. I know the elite one percent who have all the money think nothing of spending £12,000 pound for an evening out for two people in a restaurant (fact from a recent London documentary on TV) but that's certainly not our attitude. Needless to say our wallets were never in any danger of being persuaded open in here. It's a growing trend everywhere that new businesses are either selling cut price budget goods or luxury items. There's very little in-between anymore.

The Cafe and oil paintings.
A sanitized Irish equivalent of a "black house"presumably? Too open plan and clean to give it an authentic atmosphere as any others I've visited outdoors required serious bending to enter a dark grim hovel that was mainly designed low to keep in the life giving heat in the depths of winter. Windows were not usually included in the plan. Even a more up to date Victorian humble abode, ie a cottage, would not feel like this. Interesting for a visit during a heavy rainstorm but I prefer my nature in the raw.. with dirt and wind and mystery included.
Rainbow in Mayo. Fortunately, the heavy showers didn't last long, you could see them coming from a long way off and avoid them easily, and it soon turned sunny again.
This was more like it. Scrambling on the sea cliffs near Erris Head with a truly majestic feel and a hint of danger.
Our next stop was just to the north of Achill Island, The Mullet Peninsula, which is only connected to the rest of Mayo by the thinnest of land bridges. To all intents and purposes it feels like an island and is another Gaeltacht district. Good zoom in Mayo Map here of the places we visited, including the National park area.
Although the cliffs are much lower on this coast they have a nice geometric feel to them and due to massive winter storms dumping loads of salt water inland, bare stretches of shattered rock cover large areas, turning the coastline into a virtual desert of clean individual slabs ripped off by the waves. Blow holes are a feature here also.
Sea Stacks around Erris Head.
And further adventure would follow...
For those wanting a glimpse of the power of the sea this excellent video gives you a taste of the huge rollers that can occur off the west coast of Ireland. I've seen pro surfers doing this looking slick and in control but body boarding in massive waves looks harder and more brutal somehow. 50% surfing- 50% painful wipe-outs. The Atlantic is consistently the roughest ocean on the planet and every year the storms seem to get bigger and more impressive thanks to climate change.


Tom said...

The summit of minnaun is one of my happiest memories, watching a perfect sunset late on a july evening.

We had arrived on achil a bit disappointed by the noise and general business of the main village, particularly the campsite which was really just like a butlins without the facilities, but escaping up to the top of the hill was perfect.

Did you see all the memorials scattered over the summit just beyond the monument? There must be hundreds of them. I think i read that in times gone by they used to haul coffins up over that hill for some reason, cant remember why exactly but doesn't sound the easiest task.

Have you ever been over to clare island which you would have seen as a huge 1500ft cliff with lighthouse the south? If not i would highly recommend it, only about 100 people live there and its everything i had hoped achil would be in terms of scenery and peace and quiet. There are almost no cars and a walk along the cliffs is spectacular. And pints were only 3.50 euro which is the cheapest I've ever found in the republic! Bizarrely when we turned up at the ferry there were two portacabins, one each from rival ferry companies, with girls standing in the door of touting for passengers, even though there could only have been about 50 passengers all day.

Ive never been to ballycroy national park but i have been to the connemara one. From your photos the visitor centre was very similar and i do have a memory the cafe was a bit expensive......however the place was absolutely packed that day and the superb circular walk up over a small 1000ftish mountain with great views over to the twelve bens saved it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Tom,
It's a nice summit and yes we did notice all the mini structures and cairns scattered around. We were on Achill at the end of the season after a wet summer so it had a quiet feel and the hostel was isolated and well away from the main tourist area though having it's own bar there was a small contained community of locals and guests. Well worth a stay though slightly expensive for more than a few days on our limited budget.
Never been to Clare Island yet but its one I'm interested in visiting,likewise Tory.
They had the same competing two ferry set up on Aran Island in Donegal so it must be an Irish thing as we mainly have just CAL MAC, though maybe not for much longer the way things are going, selling off every worthwhile asset in the UK to the highest bidder.

Carol said...

Didn't look much like a 'Black House' to me either but I suppose I saw plenty of real ones in the Hebs when I lived up there.

Those surfers must know when to hold their breath and they must be able to hold it for a while!

blueskyscotland said...

Evening Carol,
Not really sure what it was supposed to be as it only had two sides to the house. It was an interesting place with good information about the National Park and the wildlife but it did remind me a little of The House of Bruar near Pitlochry and that's another place I've never opened my wallet in :o) I do like the Ballinluig Motor Grill though which has a great range of food and is good value, also on the A9.
Basically, I've never got over the shock when restaurants and pubs swapped from burger and chips: sausage rolls, beans and chips: or steak pie, beans and chips to more exotic fare and higher prices. I really liked the Topaz garage range of hot and cold snacks in Castlebar, Mayo. Tasty and cheap but great quality and it did have vegetarian options.
I've been eating steak pie, beans and chips for 50 plus years and I still look forward to it every time. Can't same the same for Stilton and broccoli pies, pumpkin and avocado dips, Diced mice and mince pancakes, Butterbean and spinach soup or other fancy concoctions.

Carol said...

That's exactly what I'm getting at on my recommendations page when I comment about 'The Waterfront' cafe in Broadford. Richard and I went around all the other, posher cafes in Broadford and they did absolutely nothing we wanted to eat as it was all paninis and suchlike and, as you say, expensive. Then we saw that The Waterfront on the Elgol junction, basically a fish and chip shop, also had a cafe and we looked in - they were EXACTLY what we wanted. If I'm having a meal in a caff, I want something like egg and chips, eggs on toast, pies, hot breakfast rolls etc. - proper 'walkers grub'. The Waterfront's cakes are huge slabs of homemade cake, absolutely delicious and only about a quid. I wish more cafes would go back to basics like that.

Carol said...

Just googled that Ballinluig Motor Grill as that's my second recommendation for it - it looks great - just the thing when we're heading north. I generally use the A9 and just turn across the country where I have to rather than drive up the A85/82...

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
The motor grill is worth checking out. It has waitress service to your individual booth and the Omelettes are good as well.
That's one of my pet hates actually. I never eat in fancy restaurants because I don't see any point when I rarely make a meal I don't enjoy eating.( if I experiment with new stuff occasionally that's when it can go wrong as I might not like the extra ingredients) It's all basic stuff, cooked in under 20 minutes.
As you know, We go down the Lakes a lot and I've never had a bad fish and chip shop there, yet up in the Highland's I've lost count of the bad ones that serve up stuff we have half eaten then tossed away despite being starving after a long hill day.
Usually, it's in a smaller place where it's the only one but not always.
How hard can it be to cook fish and chips properly? I've been doing home made versions all my life, both old style in a chip pan and oven chips and never made a plateful I haven't scoffed. I've never had a cookery lesson in my life yet I can manage it.
Yet outside, even in Glasgow, there are chip shops I'd rather starve than go into, same with up north, even in tourist hot spots.
Luckily, in my local chip shop, it's all young girls,some barely out of school, yet the chip suppers they produce are always excellent.
I very rarely complain, online or otherwise, about anything bought outside but that's my pet hate. How can some people in a professional set up selling to paying customers cook basic stuff like burger and chips, Fish and chips, Steak pie and chips and get it so ******** wrong?
The level of inconsistency in chip shop Scotland is appalling yet I've known places, i.e. towns, I've avoided for decades cos the local chippie was crap for decades as well. And I mean really bad... as I'm not a fussy eater. :o)

blueskyscotland said...

Just read the trip adviser reports for Ballinluig Motor Grill. Most reports favourable but one person gave it one star for not being open at 7:00 am! Open 8:00am to 8:30pm.
Looking at the other normal complaints it seems to be a victim of its own success at times during the summer months with staff rushed off their feet and customers not getting the table they wanted.
Our group have mainly used it during the winter months going to huts and its always been half empty and excellent but when a place gets too many good reviews the herd mentality kicks in. Same happens with certain chip shops I could mention that have won prestigious awards and get loads of attention then reviews drop because its always crowded and the staff are rushed off their feet trying to cope.

Carol said...

I'll agree with you about some of the Scottish fish and chip shops - I've been quite disappointed recently by some of them, especially in places like Fort William. There used to be a great one there but a couple of years ago I had macaroni pie and chips and it was dire!

Unfortunately, by the time we reach Ballinluig, it will always be late afternoon or similar so the motor grill will probably be totally mowed out by the sound of it.