Our Road Trip on The Wild Atlantic Way… Day I: Westport Bound
It was time for our journey to begin. On day one, our driver/guide picked us up promptly at nine am at our home in Dublin. I must say, I love traveling and I actually enjoy the ritual of renting a car, packing it up and hitting the road but I have to admit that walking downstairs to see the shiny Mercedes Viano in the driveway waiting for us was really a pleasant experience. Our driver greeted us with a smile, a “good morning” and introduced himself as Brian Kennedy. Then he put our bags into the boot, slid the doors of the van open and we climbed in to a nice, clean, and comfortable back seat to enjoy the ride. As the doors slid shut, I knew we were in good hands. I have driven out of Dublin so many times and to be sitting back and comfortably sipping on a fresh bottle of water as we pulled out of the driveway was not just nice, it was perfect.
Our destination on day one was Westport. Along the way, we chatted and got to know Brian a bit. He gave us an abridged Irish history lesson and some local information as we travelled past the names of towns and villages posted along the motorway. He was informative as he explained the Irish town names and what they signified. Learning as we went that Bally means town and that Kill means church, will now lend some understanding for the next time we are passing through towns like Ballysimon or Kilrush. The personal touch was nice, and the insight was appreciated. As we traveled the countryside in comfort, it was nice to be driven by someone who had knowledge of the areas and anecdotes to share along the way. This was a great beginning to our week on the road. We sat back and relaxed as Brian drove us down the motorway towards our first destination.
Our first stop of the journey was to be, The Lost Valley Visitor Experience. Located just outside of Westport in Louisburgh on the coast of Mayo. Brian knew exactly where we were going, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. We were met by the owners, Gerard and Maureen Bourke who gave us a warm welcome. Gerard created and runs the excursion which is a walking tour set in the picturesque Lost Valley of Uggool (Eagles Egg). We were looking forward to the tour. We also thought it would be a good way to get some fresh air as we were guided along the historical journey of the people of the Lost Valley, and we were right. It was a perfect way to stretch the legs.
The walk which Gerard has put together can be classified as a moderate hike. It lasts three hours and covers five kilometers. It has some inclines but nothing too drastic and there are stops along the way. The story is captivating, the views are spectacular, and the walk takes you through fields and past the houses that his family built and lived in for generations before being evicted in the 1850’s after the famine. Along the way Gerard stops to point out interesting features in the landscape such as potato ridges that date back to the famine and remain untouched, a lone Hawthorn bush (fairy tree) which will also remain untouched for disturbing it would bring bad luck to anyone who might do such a thing.
There is also a stop at a beautiful waterfall that is tucked into a little nook in the woods. In addition to the natural landscape, Gerard also points out his family homes on the property. A series of famine cottages which had been vacated shortly afterwards as the evictions followed. Gerard tells the story of how they were evicted, a sad period in Irish history brought to life by recitations and vivid depictions of how things transpired in the valley. One terrific aspect of this walk is that you are in a completely remote area with no modern-day interruptions. As you wind along the coast and onto the strand, the tour ends up in one of the Bourke’s cottages that has been restored to its original condition. Here you can take a break and have a cup of tea or coffee. As you look around towards the sea, you feel as if you are transported in time as there are no modern conveniences to remind you of the current year. The Lost Valley. Such a poignant name as the generations who walked and farmed this land before have in a sense been lost. Lost in time, however, Gerard and his family are doing a nice job in ensuring that they are in fact, remembered. A fantastic tour, out of the ordinary and highly recommended.
As the tour winds down, we say our goodbyes and head back to the Viano to continue our journey. We have worked up an appetite along the trail and it is time to head back into Westport for some dinner. I did mention that we are traveling during a pandemic. This being the case, one of our challenges during our journey was in finding a place to eat. We did not really know Westport and there were restrictions on restaurant capacity at the time. We thought this might pose a problem but what we did not consider, was that we had Brian Kennedy as our guide. This was lucky for us as Brian was easily able to make a recommendation and a phone call which would get us into a great new restaurant in Westport, Hoban’s. Upon arrival, we were greeted with open arms (from 3 meters distance) and sat down to a much-needed break. The host was quite friendly, and the bartender excelled at his craft as he concocted some quality cocktails to prepare us for our dining experience. The menu was extraordinary, the service too. We ordered, enjoyed conversation, and shared an excellent meal together. A welcome stop after a day of travel.
After our meal, we hopped back in the Viano for a leisurely drive to our hotel for the evening. We were staying down the road in Castlebar at Breaffy House Resort, a Select Hotel and part of the Specialized Travel Services family.
The 4 Star Breaffy House Hotel known as “Destination Breaffy” is located just 3km outside Castlebar on a 101-acre woodland estate in the heart of Co. Mayo on the doorstep of the Wild Atlantic Way, a mere 15 mins drive to Westport and a 25 min drive to Croagh Patrick and the Great Western Greenway. The 4 Star House hotel is a stunning 19th century Victorian Manor hotel with repointed Victorian architecture and regained its 4 Star in October 2018. The hotel boasts 106 bedrooms including a number of suites, the Award Winning Breaffy Leisure Club and Breaffy Spa, Healy Mac’s Bar, Mulberry Restaurant and Bespoke Wine Cellar. Additionally, the 3 Star Breaffy Woods Hotel co-located on the same property as Breaffy House Hotel is the perfect holiday destination for families with 126 Bedrooms and 6 Self-Catering Apartments.
It also did not disappoint and after yet another warm welcome by the staff at Breaffy House, we were ready to relax and retire for the evening. It was a great day of travel, and winding down in a nice, comfortable setting was the perfect way to end our first day on the road. Well done all around. We retired for the evening in anticipation of what day two had in store.
The Blasket Islands – Na Blascaodaí
March 21, 22
Visit The Ceide Fields & Downpatrick Head
March 14, 22
Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens
February 7, 22