Mayo begins to walk the walk
The results of efforts to make Mayo the walking capital of Ireland are being seen all over the county
FOR decades now, the hills and fields of Mayo have been trekked by walking and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. With a vast and unspoilt countryside, mystical mountains, offshore islands and the second longest coastline in Ireland, the idea was mooted several years ago of making Mayo the walking capital of Ireland, and work on this began immediately.
In the intervening time various projects have commenced and, with a dedicated walking officer now employed by Mayo County Council, the desire to transform Mayo into one of the major walking destinations in the country seems more realistic than ever.
Boosted by the support of Fáilte Ireland – including a €1 million grant for walking and cycling routes last month – and the input of agencies such as FÁS, the Achill Development Company (CFÁA), Meitheal Maigheo, Údarás na Gaeltachta, the Irish Sports Council, the Tochar Valley Network, Achill Tourism, Westport Tourism, South West Mayo Leader Company and local farmers, volunteers and landowners, a plethora of mapped and furnished walking trails now snake their way all around the county.
The Mayo County Walking Strategy was introduced in 2007 and set out a three-year plan with the objective of making Mayo the walking capital of Ireland. This is now being realised through the development of walking trails, the promotion of walking in Mayo as a product through maps, brochures and logos, and the maintenance of trails. A Walking Partnership Committee was also formed and meets regularly to regularise policies on such issues as the promotion and marketing of walking, the production of guidebooks, management and maintenance of all trails, the standardising of trail furniture and the categorisation of the walks by length and level of difficulty.
Clare Island is one part of Mayo where walking is not only popular, but now an essential part of the livelihood for many on the island. Last week scores of walkers could be seen near the pier and community centre having returned from walking the many kilometres of roads around the island. They will soon be able to trek two new five-kilometre and 12-kilometre loop walks on the island, which were recently approved by Fáilte Ireland and are currently being worked on.
On nearby Inishturk two walks have also been marked out – of five kilometres and seven kilometres in length – and the map-board is now in place for these, with an application lodged to Fáilte Ireland for funding for trail furniture. One of these walks circumnavigates the island – much of which has remained untouched for thousands of years – and is one of the most peaceful and scenic walking routes anywhere in the country.
On the other side of the county is the beginning of one of the longest and most ambitious walking trails in Mayo – the 63km Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail – which runs from Balla to Murrisk. This linear walk project has involved many agencies and access permission to use private property has been obtained from 56 people whose land the trail traverses. The proposed trail was inspected by the National Trails Office, which is under the auspices of the Sports Council, and the route is currently being marked by locals working as part of the Rural Social Scheme.
If further proof of the popularity of walking in Mayo is needed, then last month’s four-day walking festival in Castlebar saw 220 people walk part of the Achill Spur on Friday, July 4, while the following day, approximately 250 walkers walked the Letterkeen Loop.
Speaking of the projects, Mayo County Council’s Walking Officer, Anna Connor, said that everyone involved in the development of the walks feels they have begun with a flying start.
“There has been a lot of help and co-operation from a lot of key players who are backing and supporting us in various ways,” she said, “and without their will and commitment none of this would be possible. All involved are driving the project on and we will continue to identify and develop routes for future walks.”
Anna also stated that she would like to hear from people who may be able to help identify walking routes or help in any other way. She can be contacted on 094 9024444.
TYPES OF WALKS IN MAYO
Looped walks – Burrishoole
Localised/Town walks – Railway Walk, Westport
Linear walks – Western Way, Leenane to Bellacorick (44km)
Forest walks – Sheskin Forest, Ballycastle and Bellacorick (25km)
Coastal walks – Bertra, Westport (4km)
Island walks – Clare Island (5km and 12km)
Slí na Sláinta – Belmullet (3.1km)
Update on some other projects
Slí Acla/Achill Spur Phase 2 (Mulranny – Cashel 20km)
Route identified and inspected by National Trails Office and permission to access lands being sought.
The Rural Social Scheme has commenced some of the development work where agreement has been reached.
Localised and Loop Walks
In recent weeks improvement works have been carried out to this route, additional marker posts have been put in place and a footbridge was repaired.
Fáilte Ireland have approved funding for the development of a loop walk at this location. Materials have been supplied and some development work has been carried out.
A number of possible routes have been identified. In the near future a Slí na Sláinte route will be developed and promotional work will be carried out on the newly established lake side walk.
A village/riverside walk has been identified and work is in progress.
Loop walks have been identified and work is in progress.