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With an abundance of natural splendour in Mayo, from the ever-changing vistas on the coastline to the stalwart mountains and forests inland, there are many ways to immerse yourself in nature. A number of forest parks, managed by Coillte, Ireland’s forestry service, are open to the public. The best-known forest parks are Belleek Wood, Clare Lake, Nephin Beg Range, Brackloon Wood, Glenamoy Forest, Cong Forest and Millennium Forest.
Belleek Wood is home to 300-year old trees set in 1,000-acres of woodland and forestry on the banks of the River Moy, near Ballina. Clare Lake in Claremorris has a small forest adjoining a lakeside walk. The Nephin Beg Range yields a plethora of natural marvels, including lakes, forests, streams, bogland, rivers and mountains. Brackloon Wood just outside Westport town, is believed to be one of the largest surviving woodlands in the west of Ireland. Glenamoy Forest is in northwest Mayo, between Belderg and Belmullet, while Cong Forest in the south has an easy trail with a variety of coniferous and deciduous trees, including firs, pines and spruces. Millennium Forest, on the western shore of Lough Mask in south Mayo, is a lovely walk which culminates in a spectacular waterfall.
The bog is an interesting natural phenomenon found throughout Ireland. A marshy, water-logged area, its formations is the result of thousands of years of compacted decomposed plants, particularly sphagnum moss. Bogland makes up approximately 5% of the land in Ireland and is naturally inhospitable. There are two types of bog: raised bogs, which are deep and flat and blanket bogs, which, at less than 2 metres deep are more shallow and are found in mountainous areas. Peat turf was traditionally cultivated from raised bogs and dried out for use as fuel. It is still a major source of fuel for most people in Mayo, used in open fires or stoves. Despite its hostility to most animals, plants like heather, moor grasses and bog cotton thrive here and animals such as hares, otters, foxes and deer live here as well as a variety of birds.
Mayo is home to several bogs, including Knockmoyle Sheskin Nature Reserve in north Mayo, near Bellacorick with Sheskin Forest extending from Bellacorrick to Ballycastle within the bogland. Oldhead Wood Nature Reserve is a small but beautifully situated reserve on the south shore of Clew Bay near Louisburgh with large swathes of oak trees as well rowan, willow and birch trees. Between Crossmolina and Bellacorrick in north Mayo, lies Owenboy Nature Reserve.
The largest blanket bog system, not only in Ireland, but in western Europe is Ballycroy National Park between Mulranny and Bangor. Formed by glacial activity Ballycroy National Park is in the Owenduff complex and is one of only six national parks in the country, as declared by the National Park and Wildlife Service. The park offers truly unspoilt landscape and is the perfect refuge for those seeking natural beauty and a quiet place to experience wilderness. Slieve Carr, at 721 metres is the highest mountain in the Nephin Beg range which dominates to the south and east. Hikers enjoy discovering the Scardaun Loughs which are nestled in valleys between the mountains.
The park comes replete with a nicely scaled interpretive centre which, through adroitly curated exhibits offers insights into the habitats in the area as well as life as it was lived on the western seaboard in times past, including such historical curios as the briefly flourishing whale-hunting industry which was centred in Inishkea off the coast of the Belmullet Peninsula in the early 20th century.