There is a 1;25,000 map published by an Irish company called ‘East West Mapping’ and one of the recent additions to their range is a map called ‘Wild Nephin’. Looking at the reverse side of the area covered on the map the words ‘Wild Nephin Wilderness’ sprawls across the middle of the area. This region covers a remote part of County Mayo devoid of any population, roads and civilisation. The Bangor Trail which crosses it takes two days to walk and is one of the few paths in the area. Well it was time to take an exploration into the eastern fringe of this wilderness. I wanted a circular walk to take in one of the mountainous areas and so the mountain called Birreencorragh in the Nephin Beg range seemed a good choice and even today there is little information I can find about walking in the area.
I’m setting off to do this circuit under cloudy skies but at least the cloud base is above the summits. I am a bit apprehensive on what I will find on this remote walk and careful planning beforehand hopefully will pay off as I need to cross an un-named river several miles from its source. I am however confident that there is a bridge over the river. From what I can gather Birreencorragh is a little walked area and I will be walking in rough and remote terrain all day.
There is a small car park at Bellanaderg Bridge. To start off with, and towards the end I will be following part of the Keenagh Loop – a way marked trail.
I arrive to an empty and remote car park and set off on my walk along the western arm of the Keenagh Loop Trail which initially runs along a minor lane with the odd house and farm.
From my previous walking experiences in remote Ireland farm dogs might be an issue and so I always carry my walking pole at the ready. I pass the first house without disturbing any dog but I’m not so lucky as I pass the second farm as a dog come out and has all the intentions in taking a bite out of my leg. Luckily the owner soon come out to see what the commotion is and thankfully with the aid of my walking pole I escaped without the dog getting too close. It could have been a very different story had I not had my walking pole.
The lane soon degenerate into a muddy track and then faint squelchy path however way markers are prominent as I ventured into the hills. My aim is first to get to the satellite summit of Knockaffertagh (517 metres). Leaving the so called path, it is initially a steep short ascent through heather before the slope levels out somewhat. It seems like a long toil to get to this modest summit but all the time the vegetation is becoming shorter and to going much easier. I pause briefly on the summit and survey the route ahead. The route towards Birreencorragh is much stonier than I have imagined and my intended route looks good and for once I make good progress over easy and relatively dry ground before passing over a col then over a minor summit before another steepish ascent onto a broad rocky ridge. Progress remains good and with the amount of loose rock around there are several cairns. A pleasant walk lead up to the summit at 698 metres and it is still only mid morning. Just below the summit I stopped for a break out of the cool breeze. This is proving fine country and a good area to walk and secondly it was much drier underfoot than I expected. It is fairly quiet with the odd skylark overhead, the occasional transatlantic jet high above the thin cloud cover and the distant sound of forestry operations going on below Buckoogh (hill) a few miles away.
I spend awhile surveying the view around me in this almost untamed landscape and to the west of me the view stretches toward the heart of Wild Nephin. The ridge south towards Birreen Corrough Beg looks good with just a few peat hags which can easily be avoided and indeed this proves to be an excellent part of the walk. Again I make good progress to reach this 564 metre summit. After a brief pause I take the smooth ridge running east southeast and find myself walking over a thick mossy terrain just like a deep piled carpet. It is walking at its best but this will come to an abrupt end where I have to descend through a short section of felled forest to a forestry track which I can see a hundred or so metres below me. This short section proves most frustrating and in complete contrast with my walk up to now. I inch my way down testing each step through fallen timber and deep vegetation. At least it is only a short section but cannot be avoided and I am glad to reach the forestry track. Now this is where Irish maps aren’t as accurate as not all forestry tracks are marked on the map but I had done my homework by studying aerial photography in the area prior to my visit and so without taking any wrong turns I negotiated the mile and a half of forest tracks without going wrong.
It is a fair walk back along what is for now a reasonable track and at a small private stile I stopped for my picnic lunch. It is turning duller and even the hint of rain in the air but at least I had done the most exciting and high part of the walk.
Continuing my trek northeast I soon cross Derryroe Bridge which is marked by a sign ‘Built 1950’ but this is where the good track ends. Ahead lies a boggy path but thankfully these boggy sections can be quite easily avoided by walking to one side. The grey hulk of Nephin, the second highest summit in Connaght dominates the view in front of me and it isn’t long before this summit is engulfed in cloud. Rain is in the air but for now isn’t coming to anything. It seems a long trek across the moors but in doing so I pick up the Keenagh Loop Trail once more and now the path is way-marked. A gradual descent leads down through farm gates and later onto a minor lane for the last long mile and a half to reach the car.