MAYO GEMS: You’ll be socially isolated on Bangor Trail

WITH the Covid-19 restrictions continuing, Tom Gillespie is focusing on some well-known and other 'hidden' gem locations in Mayo where, hopefully, readers can visit post coronavirus.

This week his 'Mayo Gems' series features the Bangor Trail.

IT is almost 10 years since I tackled part of the Bangor Trail - an old road through the Nephin Beg mountains in north-west Mayo.

Hopefully when the present lockdown is lifted and we are free to wander again, I might attempt it again.

Ou trek commenced outside Bangor Erris and it was uphill for quite a distance. Underfoot was very wet and we covered about eight miles when Christy Loftus led us off the trail.

It was challenging but totally rewarding for the solitude, isolation, sheer beauty of the unspoiled countryside and the magnificent panoramic views.

The path used to be the main route from Bangor to Newport, dating back to the 16th century.

Nowadays it mainly attracts recreational walkers, though due to the distance involved and the rough ground underfoot it is probably quieter now than it once was at the height of Ireland’s population in the early 1800s.

The full length of the trail, from Bangor to Newport, is almost 40km, however this can be shortened to 26km by leaving a car at or being collected at Letterkeen.

The ground underfoot is rough and depending on weather can be very wet. The way is signposted but it is recommended to bring a map and compass and know how to use them.

What you’ll need - food and water (at least two litres), waterproof jacket and trousers, spare warm clothing, waterproof boots - map (OS Sheets 23 and 31), a compass, head torch, and a mobile phone (but don’t expect to have much signal).

The time required for completing the full walk is at least 10 hours - 12 is more likely and longer than this is not uncommon.

It is a long day and as such, walkers should be well prepared and ensure they have started early enough to finish before nightfall.

This is not a beginner’s walk. Walkers should be experienced and prepared for a long day over rough terrain. Don’t go alone and be sure to tell somebody of your estimated time to arrive back.

The Bangor Trail passes through the Nephin Beg mountains and Owenduff Bog. This area is Ireland’s biggest wilderness. Evidence of humans is rare and it is a remote and quiet place. Keep an eye out for Irish hares, red deer, frogs and red grouse as well as other birds and wildflowers. There are few places in the country so far from civilisation and the walker will be rewarded with peace and quiet and stunning views.

The Bangor Trail follows an old drover path which may date from the Iron Age. There is, along the route, evidence of previous human habitation, particularly from the mid-19th century just prior to the Famine when population pressure in this area was intense.

In the days (16th century until early 20th century) when English landlords owned vast estates across Ireland, fishing and hunting lodges abounded, especially beside the rivers and lakes, which were used seasonally for red deer and shooting expeditions and the leisure activities of the aristocracy.

The landlords would have been responsible for the maintenance of sections of the trail which passed through their lands. The trail was the main route for people and livestock before roads were built in the area in the first half of the 19th century.

If you would like to recommend a hidden gem in your area, email details to gillespietom49@gmail.com.

* Pictured on the Bangor Trail in October 2010 were, from left: Tom Shiel, Christy Loftus, Denise Horan, Bernard Hughes and Tom Gillespie.

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