Cycling the Great Western Greenway

By | 14 November, 2013

A couple of weekends back we cycled the Great Western Greenway from Westport to Achill, a journey of just over 42km.

The Great Western Greenway is Ireland’s longest off-road walking and cycling trail. It’s situated in County Mayo and runs between the towns of Westport, Newport, Mulranny, and Achill Sound. The greenway roughly follows the route of a former railway line, and for the most part has fairly gentle gradients.

The Greenway is a popular tourist attraction, and there are an estimated 300 people using the trail every day. If you’re not an experienced cyclist, then you can do one or two sections of the route. There are bike hire places in all the towns, and they have minibuses that can transport you and your bike home if you don’t fancy the return leg.

We decided to do the entire length of the Greenway using our own bikes. We booked a return train to Westport, and took the bikes on-board with us. We travelled up on the Friday night after work, stayed in Westport over night, then set off after breakfast on the Saturday.

Westport to Newport

Greenway Station just outside Westport town

Greenway Station just outside Westport town

The route from Westport to Newport is the shortest section of the Greenway, and is 11km long. We joined the trail just outside Westport, and soon encountered the Westport Greenway Station – an amusing homage to the former railway line that’s used for the route. It’s also a handy shelter against the Irish weather – and boy did we encounter some horrific weather in this section!

I don’t remember seeing much of the countryside, because the rain was so heavy. By the time we reached Newport we were completely soaked through. What I saw of the route itself was quite pleasant, and there was a little bit of shelter provided by woodland. However the route mostly follows the side of the road – and at a couple of points you need to cross the road.

Newport to Mulranny

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This is the most picturesque, but longest, section of the Greenway at 18km long. You get right into the heart of some stunning countryside – and there are lots of opportunities for photos. For us, the rain also stopped, so we were more inclined to get the camera out!

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As you can see from the photos, the trail is pretty well designed and maintained. The track, for the most part, is tarmac and pretty smooth, although I wouldn’t want to attempt the ride on a road bike (a hybrid or city bike is fine).

At some points the trail takes you through the middle of farmed land, and you may encounter sheep on the path.

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The end of this section brings you to the back of the Mulranny Park Hotel overlooking Mulranny town, where we stopped for a late lunch. However I wouldn’t recommend stopping here to anyone, as the bar food was very poor quality. I’d say you’re better off continuing into the town and finding a local cafe.

Mulranny to Achill

The final stretch to Achill Island is the most exposed section of the trail. There are hardly any trees along this section, and we found a strong headwind very hard going. At one point we had to get off our bikes and push, as the wind was so strong and our legs were tired.

Mulranny to Achill

Trail from Mulranny to Achill

About two thirds of the way along this 13km section we got talking to some local people that were out walking, and they told us that a farmer had blocked the trail up ahead. And indeed, not much further along we found that the way was blocked.

Great Western Greenway blocked by a farmer

Great Western Greenway blocked by a farmer

We had two options: to either cycle back the way we had come for about a kilometre and then dodge the traffic on the main road; or we could ignore the sign and lift our bikes over the barricade. I’ll let you guess which we did!

For the last couple of kilometres the off-road trail ends, and you cycle along the road to the reach the bridge to Achill Island. At the end of our ride the sight of the bridge was a huge relief. We were still soaked from the rain in the morning, and we had cycled the last 10km into punishing strong headwinds, but we had made it – shattered but delighted.  And that night we slept incredibly well!

Visitors Advice

Although it suited us to use our own bikes for our trip, I would probably advise others to hire them from one of the local companies. Their free minibus transfers are incredibly useful, and not something available to people riding their own bikes. Indeed we asked a couple of the bike hire firms if they would drive us the return leg from Achill to Westport, but they both refused.

I would also advise that you plan to stay for at least one night in Westport, as the local nightlife is fantastic. We had great craic in Matt Molloys pub, and Westport itself is a lovely place to explore, including Westport House and Westport Quays.

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Action shot!

One thought on “Cycling the Great Western Greenway

  1. Richard Bloomfield

    I just saw an article saying that the dispute with the land owner in Achill is in the process of being resolved, and the blockage on the greenway has been removed. Good news!

    Reply

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