Five Fabulous Forest Walks Close to Westport
Time for a forest frolic...
Just south of Westport, a mere 7km out the Leenane Road (N59), lies Brackloon Wood – a precious remnant of Ireland’s once-substantial mixed Atlantic-Oak woodlands. Alongside centuries-old oaks, you’ll find a host of other native beauties, including ash, willow, hazel, birch and holly. It’s truly magical and ancient place, made even more so by its lush moss, lichen and ferns.
This undemanding loop walk is about 4km. Bargain on around 45 minutes, or longer if you have small kids.
Take the turn marked Owenwee Kennels and keep right at the fork. Pass Brackloon National School school, and keep following the road as it curves to the right. Soon the entrance to Brackloon will pop up on your right – look out for the wooden gates.
Westport House Estate
The Westport House Loop is a beautiful 3.5k loop trail through Westport House estate. Walkers can start from any of three points – from the historic house itself, from the Hotel Westport Bridge entrance, or from the estate’s Quay entrance. Whichever you choose, you will quickly find yourself immersed in a woodland landscape that is both historic and beautiful.
The stunning parkland was by Lancelot ‘Capability' Brown, an acclaimed and hugely influential English landscape architect. Much of the 100 acres of magnificent broad-leaved woodlands were planted in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, while the 19th and early 20th centuries saw additional large-scale planting. The gardens and pathways have recently been tenderly and respectfully rejuvenated under landscape architect Oisín Griffin, and they are a joy.
The looped walk takes you through some of the most picturesque riverside, lakeside, and woodland vistas. Have your cameras at the ready! There are also two routes to choose from – an easy river walk on the flat, or a slightly more challenging through the woods.
Old Head Woods
Speaking of ancient Atlantic Oaks, head out to Old Head for something truly unique: Ireland’s only Atlantic-Oak forest that grows right on the coast.
Take the 20-minute drive to Old Head Beach out the coast road (R335). You’ll find the woods by crossing the smaller beach to the left of Old Head Pier. On the far side of the strand, you’ll spot a little gate and stile in the rocky rise. This will lead you into the forest.
Take a short stroll along the path that leads through these magnificent woods to emerge on the cliffs overlooking the sea, or leave the path and spend some time exploring (this way no one will see you hugging the trees).
Another enchanting gem, Toumakeady Forest is just half an hour’s drive away from Westport. The short 2.5k forest trail that hugs the Glensaul River is perfect for a morning or afternoon stroll. As you walk among the oak, birch, ash, hazel and holly, keep an eye on the ground for autumnal stands of golden chanterelle mushrooms – these much-prized fungi are to die for when fried up in butter and seasoned. As if this wasn’t enough, at the end of this little trail lies magical Tourmakeady Waterfall. It’s almost too much!
In the village of Partry turn off the N84 at the signpost for Tourmakeady. Follow the signs through a series of minor roads for around 10km, and you’ll spot the forest entrance.
The wooded Moorehall estate is also just half an hour’s spin from Westport, on the shores of stunning Lough Carra. The ruins of the once-glorious country house, Moorehall, are surrounded by a network of enchanting woodland trails. The house itself was built in the 1790s by the Moore family but it was destroyed by fire in 1923, during the Civil War.
The estate has two kinds of woodland, coniferous and deciduous. A large plantation of spruce is home to pine marten and, more recently, red squirrel. There is also a heart-stoppingly beautiful beechwood forest, and deep within its dappled light, you’ll find church ruins and an old family tomb. Keep going, and the woods will bring you out to the lakeshore.
Breathtaking, romantic, tranquil, enchanting and ghostly, a trip to Moorehall will stay with you long after you leave.