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Ballycroy National Park is a portal to wild Mayo

Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre is a portal that opens the door to all that is wild and wonderful about Mayo. The Visitor Centre is located in the village of Ballycroy on the long and winding N59 road between Mulranny and Bangor Erris.

I have had the pleasure of visiting Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre on a number of occasions since it opened in July 2009 and I always enjoy what the centre has to offer the visitor, including the interactive exhibitions on the Mayo habitats, local culture, and the history of North West Mayo – and my own favourite, the lovely Ballycroy nature trail.

The interactive exhibitions suit all ages and the video about cutting and saving turf are particularly relevant as the Owenduff bog is one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in the world and is an important scientific and scenic feature of Ballycroy National Park.

Spectacular views on the nature trail

No visit to the centre is complete without taking the nature trail that loops back to the centre and takes the walker along a path with spectacular views of the Nephin Beg mountains that give the name Wild Nephin to the national park. The towering peaks of nearby Achill Island loom against the southern horizon.

The views along the walk of the 11,000 hectares of blanket bog and mountainous and unspoiled wilderness bring to mind Ballycroy National Park’s history.

It’s through this wild and wonderful countryside that the Bangor Trail passes. The trail is now one of the most popular walking routes in Ireland, but in previous times it was the main link between Bangor Erris and Newport, and for Erris emigrants taking the boat from Westport Quay.

Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre is a portal that opens the door to all that is wild and wonderful about Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre is a portal that opens the door to all that is wild and wonderful about Mayo. Photo: Anthony Hickey

The walk is a real joy as you can see close up some of the Park’s rare flora and fauna, including plants such as Milkwort, Purple moor-grass, Reindeer Lichen Bog Myrtle, Bell Heather, and Orchid, and the fascinating birdlife that includes the Song Thrush, Linnet, Kestrel, Cuckoo, and Peregrine Falcon.

The information boards light up the nature trail experience for the visitor and it is also worth checking with the reception to see when the next guided nature walk is taking place when you will learn much more about the Ballycroy National Park habitats.

Park Expansion

Ballycroy National Park can look to an even brighter future following the announcement on Friday, December 1st, 2017, by Michael Ring TD, Minister for Rural and Community Development, of the expansion of the National Park to include the area known as Wild Nephin.

The Wild Nephin area has now be added to Ballycroy National Park, expanding the total size of the National Park to over 15,000 hectares, on the State-owned lands.

This new acquisition of land will be the key link from the Great Western Greenway going north into Bangor Erris and Ballycastle and will be an important tourist hub and a gateway for cyclists and hikers from the Greenway into north Mayo.

One of the major advantages of this consolidation of land will be that access to Ballycroy National Park, which had been a significant problem to date, will be greatly improved.

And while you’re in the Ballycroy area and if you have time to spare, there is also lots to see in Mulranny which is close to Ballycroy National Park.

Following my tour of the centre and nature walk, I’m always ready for some refreshments in the Ballycroy Visitor Centre Cafe where the fresh apple tart and scones are to die for.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

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