On an overcast day in July, we decided to take a daytrip to Wild Nephin Ballycroy National park (Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park (wildnephinnationalpark.ie) , Ireland's sixth National park which is located on th Western seaboard in County Mayo. The park is a vast uninhabited wilderness of blanket bog and mountainous terrain, the perfect location for outdoor fanatics.
The Owenduff bog which is part of the park is one of Europe's last active intact blanket bog systems. We arrived at the visitor centre which to our delight was open to the public, although with covid19 controls in place.
The visitor centre is worthwhile visiting. Downstairs you can enjoy interactive displays that explain life around Ballycroy National Park,. From the old pictures explaining the whale hunting to the displays showcasing the local fauna and flora, we learned a lot of new things about the area. We also learned that the area was once covered in forest, a fact we would see on our walk along the Claggan Mountain coastal boardwalk.
Upstairs in the visitor centre is the Ginger and Wild cafe which serves fresh food. But on this day, we decided to give it a miss and have a picnic in the great outdoors instead. It is worthwhile admiring the panoramic views from the terras towards Achill and across Ballycroy National Park
Outside the visitor centre is the starting point of the many walks ranging from short 2km walks to multi-hour long hikes. An interesting introduction to the area is the Tochar Daithi Ban Nature Trail, a 2km long looped walk which brings you along a local boardwalk with views as far as Achill island. We decided to drive a bit further and walk the Claggan Mountain Coastal trail, a boardwalk which crosses blanket bog while following the coastline along a tidal inlet. At different locations along the path are display boards explaining all there is to know about the local flora and fauna.
At one location , we got to see Sundew, a carnivorous plant that traps prey in sticky hairs located on its leaves. At another location, we admired the many flowers in full bloom.
At the end of the boardwalk, you take a sharp turn towards the coastal inlet from where you return back to the carpark along a stony beach. What's really special about this part of the walk is that you can see the blanket bog along the shoreline, at many locations showing exposed tree stumps jutting out of the bog or standing tall in the water.
These tree stumps are leftovers from ancient pine forests which once covered vast areas of County Mayo and Ireland in general. Some of the exposed stumps are more than 6000 years old, basically older than the pyramids.
We can only recommend a visit to Ballycroy National Park, a visit both young and old will enjoy. We have already decided to return to the park, this time planning to visit the area at night. Before you ask us, the reason we want to return at night is that the area is part of the Mayo Dark Sky Park ( Viewing Points (mayodarkskypark.ie) which received the gold tier standard of International Dark Sky park. With other words, the area is now recognised as one of the best places in the world to view the night sky.