10 great reasons to visit Westport
Could Westport be the best weekend break in Ireland? Pól Ó Conghaile has 10 great reasons to think so...
Published 24/07/2014 | 12:50
Westport works. It clicks. It connects. A lot of that's down to the people, and a lot of it's down to the Clew Bay landscape... both of which are at their absolute best in the summer months.
1. Go horse riding on the beach…
There’s something elemental about the slosh and clop of hooves in shallow water. With 50 miles of beach on its doorstep, Westport offers no shortage of opportunities for beach trekking (pictured above), and we signed up with gotrekking.ie for a trot along Oyster Beach near Murrisk. The equestrian centre is closely linked with Westport Woods Hotel, and following a quick assessment in its outdoor arena, we were out in the open air. At low tide, with Croagh Patrick looming in the distance, it was possible to trek right out into Clew Bay.
Details: A three-day package bundling B&B, two evening meals, three treks and a seaweed bath starts from €339pp at the Westport Woods Hotel. www.gotrekking.ie
2. Drink this…
Ireland’s craft beer revolution continues apace, but the last thing I expected to find was a Belgian-style beer brewed on the slopes of Croagh Patrick. The Mescan Brewery is named for St. Patrick’s friend and personal brewer, and you’ll find its short, stumpy bottles for sale in an increasing number of pubs like Campbell’s, McGing’s and Matt Molloy’s. I tasted it thanks to a Twitter tip (below), and was delighted with the crispy tang and fruity notes to the blond ale... it’s made from all natural ingredients, so despite the Belgian influence, ranks as a pure Mayo mouthful.
3. Try Zorbing...
Westport House has been around for 500 years. It still contains dungeons reputed to have belonged to Grace O’Malley. But history hasn’t hemmed it in – the estate continues to evolve, offering camping, a Pirate Adventure Park and adventure activities like zorbing. What’s Zorbing? Erm, basically it’s the art, sport or science of climbing into a huge plastic ball and laughing your head off as you roll down a hill inside it. You can either strap in or get your togs on and slosh about in a mix of warm water and washing-up liquid. Be warned... once may not be enough.
@poloconghaile have we converted you?! Greenway to Seaway tour is good. Try the local craft beers too - Mescan & West Mayo. Enjoy!— Sue Heffernan (@suzy_heff) July 9, 2014
Details: €26 for two people; www.westporthouse.ie.
4. Get into the Atlantic at Old Head...
Old Head is a superb little beach 20 minutes beyond Westport on the Louisburgh road. It's got a little something for everyone... sand to crash out on, rock pools to explore, a nearby ice-cream shop and smashing views of Croagh Patrick (we recently included it on our 10 Best Beaches on the Wild Atlantic Way gallery). When we visited, there were two different adventure companies hosting groups jumping off the pier.... and it's a tasty spot for budding snorkellers too.
5. Eat this…
Westport hasn’t quite hit the heights of Kinsale or Dingle when it comes to food, but the offering gets better every time I visit. An Port Mór, Knockranny House Hotel and the Quay Cottage are all sound bets for an evening out, and the town is currently gearing up for Westport Food Festival (Sept 5-7; www.westportfoodfestival.ie).
On this trip, we were pleasantly surprised by the warm service and yummy fare on offer at Pantry & Corkscrew, a restaurant with the atmosphere of a tea room just off the Octagon. I loved the buttermilk fried chicken, which offered just the right mix of spice, crunch and moist meat, but best of all was their approach to kids, who are offered smaller versions of healthy adult mains. The sage and cheddar-infused beef burger with hand-cut fries cost just €7.95.
Details: 098 26977; www.thepantryandcorkscrew.com
6. Cycle the Great Western Greenway
This 42km cycling trail linking Westport and Achill along the route of an old railway route is one of the great success stories of 21st century Irish tourism. Who would have thought a simple, off-road cycling and walking trail would prove so popular with visitors, inspire a gourmet food trail spin-off, and provide the model for fledgling greenways all over the country?
My favourite stretch is the 15km or so from Mulranny to Achill Sound, with amazing views out over the Atlantic from the Currane Peninsula. If you’re fit, the whole route is doable in a day. If you’re not, or you have kids along, then I’d advise limiting yourself to a single section. We got bikes from Clew Bay Bike Hire, who can collect at various stops along the route.
Details: 098 37675: www.clewbaybikehire.ie.
7. Visit Croagh Patrick & Campbell's Pub…
Croagh Patrick lords over Westport like the volcanic Mount Taranaki lords over New Plymouth in New Zealand – by turns beautiful, forboding and foggily invisible. Climbing it is a rite of passage (taking around 3.5 hours), but you need to be fit to do it. When it comes to the pub at the foot of the reek, however, fitness is irrelevant. Whether you stop in for a pint and a chat with the pilgrims, or a cup of tea or hot chocolate while browsing cabinets laid out like shrines to a bygone Ireland (check the rosary beads, Infants of Prague and photos of JFK and Jackie), it’s a beautiful little burst of atmosphere. The nearby Murrisk Tavern is a better food bet, mind you.
Details: 098 64870.
8. Snorkel in Keem Bay
Ok, it’s not in Westport. It’s just over an hour away in fact... but when that hour is spent driving the Wild Atlantic Way with the reward of one of Ireland’s great Blue Flag beaches at the end, we’re willing to make an exception. Keem is a Signature Discovery Point on the new touring route - primarily due to its gobsmacking beauty - but this was the first time I’d ever actually got into the water with a snorkel on. My daughter and I followed the Blueway trail towards the west side of the shoreline, and though it was chilly, the water was absolutely teeming with fish. Heaven.
9. Mosey along the Mall...
Westport was laid out as an estate town by the Georgian architect, James Wyatt, and it retains its elegance today - making for some lovely ambling along the river and out along the spoke-like shopping streets emanating from the Octagon. The traffic can be annoying (especially when you’re trying to pass through, and several delivery trucks are blocking lanes), but that’s all the more reason to park up and get moseying along the Mall. The tree-lined bank of the Carrowbeg River is a gorgeously understated set-piece, and perfect for a stroll before or after dinner.
10. Stay over...
We stayed at Westport Woods Hotel (098 25811; www.westportwoodshotel.com), a Best Western Plus three-star that’s particularly popular with families during school holidays. Other options include the town’s fanciest hotel and spa, the four-star Knockranny House (098 28600; www.khh.ie) and the twin hospitality towers that are the Castlecourt (098 55088; www.castlecourthotel.ie) and Westport Plaza (098 51166; www.westportplazahotel.ie). There are several B&B options, and Westport House (098 27766; westporthouse.ie) also runs a camping park.
Pól stayed as a guest of Destination Westport. As with any tourist hotspot at this time of year, the best accommodation deals in Westport are midweek.