Posted on Friday, February 12th, 2016
A new riding vacation in Ireland…
Ireland has always been a special place to me, and one of the most popular destinations that we offer. There’s something about the place where riding and horses are such a deep part of the culture, and the people so welcoming that makes it a wonderful Equitours destination. Returning to the lush green island is almost like coming home for me, and I try to get back to visit as often as I can. Before my last planned trip I was contacted by a ride operator in Westport who has been running treks since 1995. The ride looked promising and like it would complement our other trips well, so I rearranged my plans to include a few days riding on the Clew Bay Trail to test out this new riding vacation in Ireland.
The train ride from Dublin to Westport took about 4 hours but the time went by quickly as I watched the green landscape pass by. Padraic is the trip’s guide and he picked me up from the small train station and took me to the accommodations for my first night in Westport, the Clew Bay Hotel. The weather had been mixed coming up from Dublin and although the rain clouds were still hanging in the sky, blue was shining through. I decided to use this time before my early night to explore the quaint town a bit and to try to buy an electrical adapter for my laptop, which I realized I had left behind at home. The mercurial weather had already turned to pouring rain, but I darted through the city center, visiting some shops and eventually finding my necessary electrical equipment. It didn’t take long until I could no longer ignore my jet lag and hunger, so I went back to the hotel’s restaurant/bar for dinner. Lovely smoked salmon paired with some home-made bread and a pint of Kilkenny beer was an excellent way to calm my hunger pangs and sent me off into a good night’s rest.
The next morning I had a quick breakfast at the hotel before being picked up for the trail by Paddy, Padraic’s father, who does all the transfers on the ride. The horses had already been trailered to the starting point of today’s trek, so shortly after joining them we mounted up and started off.
My steed was Maggie, a surefooted and fun Irish Cobb who took me safely around the trail for a few hours and then through hinterland with Croagh Patrick in view.
We then headed to the beach for the first few gallops along the shores of Clew Bay; always such a treat to ride along the surf! The weather, although cool, was kind enough not to rain on us and I thoroughly enjoyed my riding. In addition to Padraic, my trail-mates were his daughter Ailise and her friend Laura, who accompanied us on my two days there since their season hadn’t yet officially started.
Around 4pm we were back from riding and since it was a lovely late afternoon clear of rain, I decided to explore Westport a bit further. I soon found myself on my way to Westport House as I was automatically drawn to the green woods on this lovely estate that is open to the public. Although it was too late in the day to visit the house’s rooms and exhibits, the grounds were so inviting and the varied hues of green enchanting.
“The grounds surrounding Westport House are an eclectic fusion of natural wonders, architectural grandeur and fascinating antiquities. The vast expanse of Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and Ireland’s holy mountain Croagh Patrick in the distance provide an idyllic backdrop to the Estate’s tumbling waterfalls, terraces, promenades and lofty ancient oaks. Whispers of the past are evident at each turn from the large soup pots used to feed the hungry during the Great Famine, a Spanish Armada cannon and the 3000 year old Greek sarcophagus brought back from Howe Peter’s excavations at Mycenae in Greece. Proud and graceful, a bronze casting of Grace O’Malley is a highlight amongst the grounds’ features, one of only two likenesses of the great Pirate Queen.” -From Westport House’s Website
From there I headed further down towards the quay area of the town. As I was meandering down to the waterfront I found myself striking up a conversation with two lovely Irish ladies from Kilkenny town who were in town for a cycling weekend. We ended up having dinner together at The Helm, an award winning pub and restaurant along the harbor, and the food was incredible! I had the best black pudding over mashed potatoes with scallops, an unusual combination but divine!
For my next two nights I tried out the different B&B accommodations available on this ride and stayed at McCarthy’s guesthouse, around the corner from the Clew Bay hotel. This lodge was quaint and comfortable and the owner served a full Irish breakfast the next morning before I headed back out on the trail. Today’s ride was a combination of two of the days of the itinerary as Padraic wanted to show me a cross-section of the ride with the short time I had. We had the pleasure of more gallops along the beach before heading back inland and riding along heather, peat and moss covered hillsides with views of the bay. The two days of riding where not nearly enough but gave me a good glimpse of what is available on this promising riding vacation in Ireland.
It is also a great option for non-riders as Clew Bay is a top class activity hub and a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Non riders can choose from walking, cycling, fishing, sailing, diving, golf, and a host of other adventure activities.
I really enjoyed my time on the Clew Bay Trail and am excited to be offering it to you in 2016! It offers a wonderful combination of excellent riding and cultural interaction in local inns and restaurants in a beautiful part of Ireland.
By Biggi Hayes