After a very enjoyable trip to Rathkeale to ride the Southern Heritage Trail last week I was left with a taste for more Greenway cycling adventures. This week I found myself in Galway midweek so decided to head on up to Westport just over an hour and a half further north to try out the most famous greenway of all in Ireland (and possibly beyond) The Great Western Greenway.
Arriving into the beautiful town of Westport I decided to be a tourist and see if I could stumble upon the Greenway. I noticed a few cycling trail signposts with routes 2 and 3 on them but wasn’t sure if they signified what I was looking for. As it turned out the cycle routes would have brought me to the greenway.
I asked a local who advised me to head out the Castlebar road and take the first left after the traffic lights, towards the Alergan factory which would lead directly to the Great Western Greenway itself.
Just as you begin the Greenway you encounter a steep enough hill that resembles one of those great big ripple slides that they used to have in Tramore. But the view from the top is well worth the effort.
Down the other side past a few lucky householders who live on the greenway, and a slipway that joins from the Newport/Achill road you come upon the beautiful Westport Greenway Station.
Next you venture off out into the countryside on an enclosed track that soon runs parallel to the road. I noticed a fellow cyclist out on the road and we stayed in tandem for quite a while so no speed is lost on the greenway.
The surface is smooth hard packed gravel so again best suited to Hybrid bikes or Mountain bikes with 60 or 70 psi in the tyres. I had a slight breeze coming towards me making its presence felt but it was hardly noticeable with so many scenic distractions keeping my mind occupied.
Approaching the town of Newport I came face to face with a sign proclaiming the end of the cycling path. I peered around the back of the sign and was greeted with this
The wrong way part was for a charity cycle the following day but it was the signal for the Great Western Greenway 2k back behind me that made me wonder if I had missed a turn. Luckily the cyclist who had been out on the road whilst I was on the greenway came along and I decided to check with him before doubling back 2k on myself. Gary from Castlebar could not have been more helpful. He informed me that I was still on the right track and that the greenway continued on out the far side of Newport. He guided me through the town right to the next entrance back on to the greenway, going well off of his own planned route in the process. As I thanked him and he doubled back I noticed that the signposts for the greenway are well spread along through Newport, just to be aware that you will be riding through the streets of the town along the way.
Off I set again into more open countryside now with the impressive Nephin Beg Mountains rising up on my right and Newport bay shimmering in the spring sunshine on my left. Only three times did I arrive at a gate that I had to open and each time it was possible to do so without getting off the bike which is ideal. Most boundaries have cattle grids which you can just ride over and they still manage to keep the animals in.
What is important on a cycle like this is to remember that the aim is not to set a record time, or a massive average speed. What matters is to take in all that surrounds you in an area of truly magnificent beauty. When you see a spectacular view stop and take it all in. When you smell a fragrant aroma stop and figure out whether it is the gorse, the heather or some other flower or fauna that it is coming form. Taste the fresh salty sea air on your lips. Every now and then with no one in sight for miles around stop and listen to what silence actually sounds like. All of this makes you feel alive and guess what, it all costs absolutely nothing.
As you approach Mulranny the coast really comes into view and with the backdrop of Croagh Patrick off across Westport bay in the distance you really should stop again to just have a good look around. The rugged mountain in the distance, the small islands near the shore, if ever there was an image worthy of a postcard this would be it.
Mind the steep descent as you negotiate the trail through the outskirts of the village. It will test your brakes and your climbing prowess on the return journey. After Mulranny the woodlands take over before delivering you back out into open countryside on the shores of the Achill Sound.
All too soon Achill arrives and you reach the end of the greenway, but this does not signify the end of your journey. Head out onto the road and ride in the short distance across the bridge into Achill itself. I explored the island for a short while.
Now with over 50k in the legs and another 46k ahead of me back to Westport again I stopped for lunch outside a nice little cafe on the Island and even had some company for my meal.
The day was passing quickly and now it was time to retrace my journey along the same route. Heading in the opposite direction with so much scenery to look at felt like a new route all over again. The Great Western Greenway is split into three sections Westport to Newport, Newport to Mulranny and Mulranny to Achill, with bike hire available in each location. There’s plenty of more information available on the greenway.ie website.
I stopped in Mulranny on my return journey to top up on water at the local supermarket/pub/coffee-shop/petrol-station/off-licence. It was a busy place. I got chatting to the shopkeeper and the local postman who asked where I was from. When I answered ‘Tipp’ the postman commented that I was a small ball man so. It took me a split second to realise he was talking about hurling as opposed to football which is the game of choice in Mayo.
Off again I set as an atlantic mist began to fall. I popped on my rain cape and peddled on. As the rain fell I had a thought. I was recently in one of those fancy health spas. Beside the sauna and steam room was a special shower. The shower had a button marked cool Atlantic rain. The health spa wasn’t cheap but here I was getting all the cool atlantic rain I could wish for, and there was no charge.
My journey back to Westport went by quickly but for most cyclists wishing to ride the full route out to Achill and back I would allow 5 to 6 hours in order to enjoy the day. There are a number of coffee stops along the way and plenty of options should you wish for a shorter route via the bicycle hire companies who can drop off and pick up at different locations.
I thoroughly enjoyed each and every minute spent on the Great Western Greenway and already look forward to my next opportunity to enjoy all that it has to offer.