Take the coast road from Westport along the southern arc of Clew Bay, with the sparkling sea to your right and Croagh Patrick rising to your left. Spend the day hopping from village to village, beach to beach, or climb the Reek for a bird’s eye view.
South Clew Bay
Drive or cycle out to Bertra Beach, watching out for the signpost right, around 12k from Westport. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted with a stunning peninsula that reaches northward, as though trying to reach the other side of the bay.
Walk along the machair dunes at its centre, or amble along the wide sandy strand on the west side when the tide is out. This is a great spot for photos to – think shimmering blues and drumlin greens. At sunset, watch the sky blaze over Clare island straight ahead, with Croagh Patrick on your left and Achill to your right. Pure magic.
Known locally as The Reek, Croagh Patrick soars majestically above the surrounding countryside, with the villages of Murrisk and Lecanvey nestled at its feet. Saint Patrick fasted for forty days on its summit in 441 AD, and as such it is an important site of Christian pilgrimage.
Croagh Patrick attracts around 1 million pilgrims and hillwalkers annually, while as many as 25,000 pilgrims climb on Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July – many barefoot. To climb the 764-metre mountain, give yourself around two-and-a-half hours for the ascent, and an hour-and-a-half for the descent. Beware though, this is no walk in the park! Certain sections, particularly the final ‘cone’, are tough going.
See our Bluffer’s Guide to Climbing Croagh Patrick for some essential Reek tips before you lace up your boots and strike for the peak.
Pretty Murrisk is much more than the gateway to the Reek. The village has a rich heritage with several sites to see, including Murrisk Abbey, built in 1457 on the site of a church that founded by St Patrick; a poignant national memorial commemorating the Irish Famine; and on the coast at Annagh, ancient standing stones that indicate the sun alignment at midwinter.
The Murrisk 5k Loop 5k Loop is a really popular walk, taking in the foothills of Croagh Patrick, Murrisk Abbey, Murrisk Pier and spectacular views over the bay. The route passes alongside several historical gems, including a fulacht fiadh (Bronze Age cooking site), a Mass rock, a stone fort and lazy beds (potato ridges) dating from the Great Famine.
Old Head has it all. A beautiful long sandy strand that curves back towards Croagh Patrick, a spectacular oak-forest backdrop, a cliff walk with stunning Clare Island views, and some of the best swimming in Mayo, thanks to its soft, gently sloping sands and sheltered position. Oh, and there’s an ice cream parlour close-by. It’s almost too much!
During the summer, the area nearest the pier is a hub of activity, from paddle-boarding and canoeing to pier jumping and general seaside frolicking. If you would rather a quiet beach vibe, head further up the long strand – you’ll find be plenty of space to stretch out and let your inner Crusoe loose.
Old Head is around 19km from Westport, along the coast road.
Louisburgh and the beaches beyond
Just past Old Head lies the lovely village of Louisburgh. Here you can browse for art and books, or stop off for coffee and cake in one of the artisan cafés, before striking out for the beaches beyond. Louisburgh’s Carrowniskey Strand, its neighbouring beach Cross, and closeby Carrowmore Beach are all surfing meccas.
Further out still, past Killadoon, lies majestic, remote Silver Strand. This vast, unspoiled beach with crystal-clear waters can be found around 15 kilometres south of Louisburgh. Stay on the the R378 until you can go no further – you literally run out of road and there it is!
Sheltered by Mayo’s highest mountain, Mweelrea, Silver Strand’s immense sandy beach is flanked by rocky headlands, while Inishboffin, Clare Island and Inishturk shimmer on the horizon. A stunning setting for a panoramic photo if ever there was one.