Guest Post: 'The Wild North Shore of Achill' by Michael Guilfoyle - Visit North Mayo

Welcome back to another captivating journey through the lens and words of our esteemed guest blogger, Michael Guilfoyle. Following the resounding success of last week’s exploration, Michael returns to guide us through the untamed wonders of ‘The Wild North Shore of Achill’. His keen eye for detail and love for nature promise to unveil the raw, rugged beauty of this remote landscape. We hope you enjoy it as much as us.

The Wild North Shore of Achill

If you draw a straight line between Dugort on the North coast of Achill and Keem Beach in the island’s South-West corner, that line and the Atlantic Ocean will embrace and encompass one of Ireland’s only two real coastal wildernesses. And if you go hike there, the reward for you will be a 40 square kilometres wonderland adorned with high mountains and cliffs, spectacular headlands, lonely loughs, a single strand and lots of pristine little streams that tumble noisily onto slanting rocky shores.

Except for a single very enigmatic Neolithic tomb this special area is as God, the glaciers and countless millennia of wind and rain and sun have shaped it. Perhaps in the immediate post-glacial past it was scrub-forested, perhaps there has been mediaeval grazing there, or perhaps it was as it is at least since the climatic downturn and onset of mountain bog growth about 4000 years ago.

Approaching Croaghaun Mountain by Michael Guilfoyle

Four of us wandered into it in August 2016 for a back packing gear check excursion prior to taking on the Tour de Mont Blanc the following month. Laden down with tents, sleeping bags and food for two days, we very slowly picked our way up  Slievemore from Dugort Pier, descended the tricky slope down to Annagh Strand, gathered ourselves and had a swim. We walked the lowest glacial moraine in Ireland, camped beside little wild Lough Nakeeroge, and settled in after I did a lovely pre-sleep circuit of the lough.  Next morning, the local midges had found us, and we were generously treated to a protein-laden melange of midges and muesli for our breakfast (August was a bad choice!).

And so, after a chaotic expletive-driven conversion of us from campers to backpackers, we walked the coast from Saddle Head up past beautiful and fragile Bunnafreeva Lough West, on over brooding Croghaun and down for another swim and an icecream among the sunbathers and swimmers enjoying a beautiful day on Keem Beach. And we loved it, though one of our TMB aspirants took fright after it and abandoned thoughts of that magical circuit of Mont Blanc in September!

Views of Keel Beach and Lough Nakeeroge from Slievemore by Michael Guilfoyle

And so, 11 of us were back there in November of last year, happily this time without the intimate attentions of mountain midges. The general consensus was to pass up on  a two-day Winter backpack, instead opting for a more amenable one day trip bounded by a hearty breakfast and a nice post-walk meal, pints, a singsong and a warm bed in our base at Wyatt’s Hotel in Westport.

Slievemore was out for us, though the sight of it provided a beautiful backdrop to our walk in the changing light of that lovely November day. We placed two cars at the road head at Lough Accorymore, and started our hike from the Deserted Village under Slievemore. Our route took us along the high rim of that backpacked wilderness area, passing over spot heights with no names – 194mts (which has an old signal tower), 269mts and 234mts and on up the broad westering spur of Croaghaun Mountain. The rising cloud base matched our pace, slowly exposing to us the broad brooding back of the mountain as we went, joining for us the vista of sea and storied islands which had been our constant companions since we’d left the Signal Tower.   

Keel Beach from Slievemore, Achill by Michael Guilfoyle

I have visited Bunnafreeva West many times, the first time back in the 70s. In a way I adopted it as my special, almost wondrous place, known only to me! Now, its on every piece of hiking social media, its beautiful shape and form and story exposed to the multitudes. But for me, and I suspect many others, its shape, loneliness and remoteness, and its precarious proximity to the Atlantic, make it an almost secret place.

View over Bunnafreeva West from Croaghaun Mountain, Achill by Michael Guilfoyle

In 2016 we lingered on its shore and climbed, with full backpack, the glacially and marine eroded arrete bounding the corrie’s west wall. This time, more safely, we just admired it from its high east wall, lingering there before ascending Croaghaun, by now back in Atlantic mist.

A more careful member of our group gifted me the treat of a very slow descent to our cars in Accorymore, allowing me to absorb the great beauty of that corrie and the intricate tapestry of mountain and waters and beaches and sky off to the east, as we went, in the wonderful changing light of a November evening.

by Michael Guilfoyle, February 2024

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Michael for once again sharing his insights and experiences with us. Click here to view past blog contributions.

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