North Mayo – Ireland’s final frontier

North Mayo – Ireland’s final frontier

By David Horkan, Paddle and Pedal

As an outdoor enthusiast and being fond of adventure I am never left without something to explore in this diverse landscape. Being based in Ballina, it is possible to climb a mountain in the morning and kayak along the coast in the afternoon without much hassle.

When I was asked to write this blog I was a little torn. Being passionate about your surroundings and local area can be a double edged sword. Much of North Mayo’s charm and appeal is its untouched and undiscovered locations and the more we grow as a nation the harder it becomes to find these areas of remoteness. Telling everyone how great it is will inevitably attract more people. However I feel a great sense of pride when I meet people on their first visit to Ballina and they can’t believe how much it has to offer.

Kayaking, cycling or hiking around North Mayo it is easy to forget your surroundings and feel a real sense of wilderness – not an easy task in modern Ireland. Here I will share with you some of the reasons why I love this region so much and why you might too.

Getting here could not be easier. Bus, Train, Car, Plan! Daily flights into Ireland West Airport Knock mean you could leave your home in Manchester or London in the morning and be taking to the water or trails by the afternoon.

The River Moy: For years the River Moy has been famous for fishing and attracted household names like Jack Charlton and John Rocha, but the Moy has more to offer then just salmon. Its lower reaches from Ballina town centre to Killala Bay form a spectacular waterway. Kayaking under the canopy of Belleek Forest Park as it spills into the river on high tides with kingfisher birds whizzing over the water is a special experience, for even the most seasoned outdoor enthusiast. Considering you are only five minutes’ drive from a busy town, it is without doubt a truly stunning place to lose yourself and to get in touch with nature. It’s also a perfect place to learn for beginners and first-time kayakers.

The Atlantic Ocean: Sea kayaking in Ireland has to be up there with anywhere in the world. The rugged West Coast has been etched over millennia by the pounding Atlantic swell, leaving amazing golden beaches, huge cliffs and spectacular sea caves. For the intermediate and advanced kayaker, North Mayo has some truly epic coastline to explore when the weather allows. The Stags of Broadhaven jut proudly from the cold Atlantic over 2km of shore, sea caves puncture the cliffs by the hundred from Erris Head to Downpatrick Head and golden beaches lie deserted and inaccessible from land around every corner.

Mt Nephin: There is one mountain that dominates the skyline in North Mayo and that is Nephin. Situated just 30 minutes from Ballina and standing 806 metres high, Nephin is a beautiful mountain. Quiet and unassuming it is a pristine, little climbed and offers a real sense of adventure for anyone who hikes its gentle slopes. Amazing views over Lough Conn and Lough Cullen and over to Clew Bay are your reward on a clear day.

Belleek Forest Park: The jewel in the crown of outdoor amenities in County Mayo. Situated just 5 minutes from Ballina town centre, Belleek Woods is one of the largest urban woodlands in Europe. Running along the banks of the River Moy, it is hugely popular with joggers, cyclists, families and nature lovers alike. With over 10km of trial and paths, dotted with numerous ancient ruins, Belleek is simply spectacular. A habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna in particular, including the rare red squirrel, pine martin and wild birds, this forest is a true gift for locals and visitors alike.

Cyclists overlooking the Quay in Ballina from Belleek Woods

Cyclists overlooking the Quay in Ballina from Belleek Woods. © David Horkan

Leave No Trace. Remember that these amazing places are there for everyone to enjoy and we are very lucky to have them. We should take pride in our beautiful environment and protect it the best we can for ourselves and the next generation.

David Horkan is one of Ireland’s leading kayakers and kayak instructors and regularly competes at Irish kayaking events and at international events all over Europe. David runs Paddle and Pedal, which offers kayak and bike tours in Ballina and North Mayo.