When the R312, linking Belmullet and the wider Erris region to Castlebar, makes the headlines it’s usually to do with justifiable calls to upgrade the road that takes motorists through many dangerous twists and turns on their journey to the county town.
Even though the route from Bellacorick to Castlebar passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Mayo most of those who drive the R312 understandably don’t have the time to stop and enjoy the beauty of Beltra Lough as they make their commute to Castlebar.
The road winds its way through blanket bogland between the Nephin Beg mountain range with its many lovely peaks and valleys carved out during the Ice Age by giant glaciers that left drumlins, lakes and many other natural wonders in their wake.
As someone who commuted between Ballina and Carrick-on-Shannon for many years, travelling over another lovely part of the country through the Ox Mountains, I understand more than most the pressures of the long drive whether to work or to keep a hospital appointment.
A Quiet Valley
And comments about how lucky I was, to be able to enjoy such remarkable scenery every morning on my daily commute through the beautiful Windy Gap, usually met with a wry smile from myself.
Of course, driving around Lough Talt was lovely on a summer’s evening, but on a frosty morning in December, the scenery was the last thing on my mind.
Happily, my time is mainly my own now, and when driving around Mayo I can pull over and enjoy whatever view catches my eye; no matter what the weather as the changing light and moods of nature combine to reveal the many faces of Mayo’s abundant natural beauty.
One such place that I like to stop and take a walk is at Tawnakeel along the R312, near Keenagh crossroads, where a small car park overlooks Drumleen Lake Loop Walk.
Although set only a stone’s throw from the busy county road, this is a quiet valley with only birdsong and the crystal clear water lapping the stony shore to interrupt your thoughts.
The walk takes you along the foot of the gently sloping1,000-metre high Tristia – one half covered in conifer forest and the other slope a blanket of purple heather. The reflection of the mountain in the lake can look spectacular on a still evening.
The Mayo Trails signpost, at the trailhead, displays a map for the longer trail up the side of the mountain, but it makes no mention of the newer and shorter route that takes you around Drumleen Lake.
And while the mountain walk through the conifer forest that blankets part of the mountain is more suited to the experienced hiker, the loop around Drumleen Lake that brings you back to the car park along the main road is perfect for all ages.
It only takes about an hour, at a leisurely pace, to complete the 3km loop around the lakeshore that is easily traversed along a mostly gravel path that passes through a number of gateways.
Make sure you close the gates after you as this is sheep country and it’s thanks to the generosity of the local farming community in conjunction with Mayo County Council that this trail was created for our enjoyment
Along the trail, I was delighted to see lots of birds, including a family of mallard ducks on Drumleen Lake, and a Pied Wagtail hopping from rock to rock, curious at my presence. Apparently, mountain bogland is not the usual habitat of the Pied Wagtail, but I have noticed a few here on my recent walks.
Drumleen Lake is the largest of three small adjoining lakes – Black Lough and Lough Clevala make up the trio of glacial lakes overlooked by Tristia, a mountain in the shadow of Nephin.
Drumleen Loop Walk is an easily accessible, undemanding, and thoroughly enjoyable ramble in the clear mountain air where you are surrounded by the majestic Nephin Beg range
It’s worth taking some time out from the commute to enjoy this magical place.