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Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail’s natural and manmade heritage

Outdoor Living

2106 balla-to-ballintubber 1000Walking
Martin Dillane

Part 1
The Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail

Balla to Ballintubber
Trail surface: Forest tracks, farmland, country roads and boreens.
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 16 kilometres
Duration: 4-6 hours walking
Start: Balla Community Centre
OS Map: Number 31

After completing the Western Way back in early March, I was delighted to be asked to act as a guide for the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail (CPHT) Festival. This festival is ran for three days every year over the St Patrick’s Day public holiday weekend in March. The proceeds are donated annually to a most worthy cause, this year being the Mayo Roscommon Hospice. So at 8am on a beautiful crisp spring morning, 70 or so walkers gathered, resplendent in bright yellow and orange hi-vis vests ready for the 16km trek to Ballintubber Abbey. As we waited patiently for the start, I wondered what must the farmers passing on their way to the mart, be thinking with this vision of bright colour emanating from the crowd.  The CPHT is the second of Mayo’s two way-marked ways, the Western Way being the other. Therefore the way marking will always feature a yellow walking man symbol. Way marked ways must also meet a set of strict guidelines issued by the National trails office (NTO) and this includes regular inspections by this body and corrective maintenance being carried out. The CPHT runs east/west, from Balla to Murrisk over three stages, and in today’s stage the trail acts as a conduit stitching together many of the famous heritage sites that exist between Balla and Ballintubber.
Place of the Oak Wood
Balla was formerly known as ‘Ros Dairbheach’ or Place of the Oak Wood, and it is fitting that our walks begins passing through old oak woodland. Balla round tower and medieval altar are also to be seen here and were founded back in the early 7th century by St Cronan. This site also contains the famous Balla holy well or Tobar Mhuire and encouragingly this landmark site is currently being sympathetically restored by a team of experts. Up to 1879 this well was the major pilgrimage centre in Mayo.
On an organised trek like today’s, walkers divide into 3 main groups. The hares, the tortoises and somewhere in between. I was that somewhere in between, availing of a steady pace to take in all the beautiful surroundings. The hares have disappeared into the distance and I suspect the tortoises have availed of the generous offers of lifts offered by the many stewards on duty. There are many areas of beauty on this section of the CPHT but my favourite would have to be the woods at Knockraha.
There is something magical about the daylight that permeates a trail through the undergrowth. Day was done at Ballintubber Abbey and a spot of lunch at Corley’s Abbey Lodge went down a treat. Next stage, Ballintubber to Aughagower!  
Part 2 of the three-article series on the Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail will be published on July 19.

Martin Dillane works for South West Mayo Development Company as Rural Recreation Officer. His job includes the design, development and promotion of walking and cycling trails. He can be contacted at living@mayonews.ie.