North Mayo, remote and isolated, Praeger’s ‘loneliest corner of the country’, an aqueous world of bog, lakes and sea encircling a group of mountains scented by the warm sweet smell of peat; a wild and primitive landscape undisturbed by the din of habitation, one transformed into a riot of rich colour in the translucency of midsummer light. Here, solitude reigns supreme under endless skies that fade into the restless Atlantic.
The Brogan Carrol Bothy is an ideal base to explore the Nephin Begs; the Glennamong Horseshoe, a 21 km climb over 7 summits, offers some of the finest views in Ireland. From a forestry road above Lough Feeagh the route begins at an old concrete bridge over the Glennamong River near the ruins of cottages, to emerge from forestry onto open moor. Ancient stumps of Scots pine bleached white by the sun erupt through the peat like gnarled bones. Traversing the lip of Lough Doo, berated incessantly by a lone raven for daring to enter his lonely realm, a steep climb up heather and bilberry covered slopes interspersed with large moss-covered boulders brought us to the summit of Ben Gorm. Clew Bay, a raft of green islands set in a transparent sea of aquamarine and blue guarded by quartzite giant, Croagh Patrick, beyond which lie the smoky blue peaks of Connemara’s mountains, ravished the eye.
The descent over rocky terrain requires concentration, as does the pull up Ben Gorm NW Top. The serrated ridge rising to Corranabinnia SW Top etched sharply in the glassy sunlight offers fine scrambling over schist with short, exposed sections above Corranabinnia Lough. Below, a vast expanse of olive bog tinged with pink and set with deep blue lakes rises to greet the mountains. The sight of Achill and Clare amid an island-studded sea fringed by thin ribbons of yellow sand, brought a pang of emotion, a mixture of joy and heartache one feels when confronted with profound beauty. The view towards Corranabinnia, set against a backdrop of green peaks below white airy clouds receding in tumultuous waves towards Slieve Carr, was divine. Who had carved a cross onto a lonely boulder atop this peak to defiantly face the countless storms of ages in this, the remotest corner of western Christendom?
The route from Glennamong to Tirkslieve, the end of the horseshoe, looks deceptively benign from Corranabinnia. A short, but narrow arête above the twin lakes of Corryloughhaphuill Lough is followed by a gentle climb up a grassy slope to Glennamong, but the long walk over eroded peat hags and numerous unsuspected rocky gullies via Glennamong SE Top to Turkslieve was tiring, enlivened only by the trill of a skylark. The cairn atop Tirkslieve crimsoned by the fading sun was a most welcome sight. Descending to the valley floor, the mirror-like surface of Lough Feeagh fed by the silvery serpentine coils of the Glennamong River, floated into view while the cloud boiling up behind the conquered peak of Corranabinnia burned red and orange as if on fire.