Sunny days this summer are as rare as a winter swallow. So a sapphire sky, sprinkled with puffy white clouds, sailing over Ballina, was a call to motor west to the wilds of Ballycroy to once more recharge the batteries along the Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail, a sliver of Mayo blanket bog between mountain and sea.
Situated between Ballycroy Village and Mulranny, the short circular trail is a magical stroll over a winding boardwalk through a vibrant habitat of flowering bog.
The return leg to the car park took us along the pebbled seashore where the vestiges of a per-historic forest that once grew along this beautiful coastline reveal the never-ending story of how climate change has shaped our little corner of the world.
On this balmy, sun-filled afternoon under the dome of a Mayo prairie sky, we walked into a vibrant amphitheatre of sunlit mountains, dominated by Claggan, the most southerly peak in the Nephin Beg range, and a vista crowned by the towering peaks of Achill.
All around, the panorama of a stilled Dooghill Lough; the incoming tide caressing the stony shore of this stretch of lonely island-laden sea that is enclosed on three sides within the shelter of fabled Bellacragher Bay where pirates and smugglers once ruled the roost.
On a fine day, such as this, it was more a dilly-dally than a walk along the meandering duck-board as we savoured the sights, sounds and fragrant scents of this heather-covered spongy landscape of sphagnum, moor-grass, sedge and bobbing strands of bog cotton.
A perfect summer day when the clouds were in the bog-pools and the light and shadow on the surrounding mountains caught the summer tints of purple and green against streaked outcrops of grey quartzite.
The heath’s many hues, a kaleidoscope of subtle tints from brown, purple and green to the silver-grey, yellow and orange of the abundant plant-life. The scene an inspirational, elemental composition of light, colour, and texture that only the creative talents of a landscape painter could do justice to.
Patrick Kavanagh, in his poem, The One, summed up the beauty of common, unsung places such as this Ballycroy bog:
Green, blue, yellow and red –
God is down in the swamps and marshes
Sensational as April and almost incred-
ible the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked
The raving flowers looked up in the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris – but mostly anonymous performers
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.
My attempt to photograph glowing sundews ended in a hasty retreat under a cloud of midges; the insects are food and drink for the carnivorous sundew. Sitting in a cloud-mirror bog pool, the sundews vibrant colours of claret-pink and yellow complemented the more muted palette of the surrounding grasses. On the seaward side of the boardwalk, clumps of fragrant bog myrtle grew along the trail edge.
Stepping off the duck-board onto the peaceful, pebbled seashore was an invitation to consider a different definition of time from our human understanding of time as we marvelled at the scattered oak and pine stumps; weather-bleached wood sculptures draped with dried bladder wrack, evidence of Mayo’s ancient oak and pine forests that grew here between 5,000 and 7,500 years ago.
For those with mobility issues, the boardwalk is a godsend, as is the one at the nearby Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the magnificent scenery and relish the delights of Wild Mayo, an unblemished, heathery wilderness of bog, mountain and seashore.