This article is part of the series of blog posts and video guides exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
This blog begins at Downpatrick Head in County Mayo, Ireland. Click here for an overview of the entire route.
Summary: The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500km (>1,550 mile) tourist route along Ireland’s Western coastline, from Malin Head in Donegal in the North to Kinsale in the South. It connects significant historic, cultural and geographic features into a manageable road trip from staggering clifftop vistas to golden strands and stunning lighthouses.
VIDEO GUIDE to Downpatrick Head
In today’s blog…
I start in County Mayo at the dramatic Downpatrick Head where a drone drama unfolds. Next up it’s the Céide Fields which is sadly closed for the 2022 season but doesn’t stop some exploration, a quick stop at Ballycroy National Park and onwards to Achill Island and the sensational light and strand at Keem Bay.
If you need to catch up to this point on my trip, I started my adventure further north, at Malin Head (read that post), before exploring the North of Donegal (covered here). I stayed beside the sensational Fanad Head Lighthouse and used that as the starting point for a tour of South Donegal. Up next was a tour of great Sligo locations, including Mullaghmore Head.
In this itinerary along the Wild Atlantic Way, there have been an unexpected number of Coastal ‘Heads’ from Malin to Fanad to Mullaghmore! But there is always room for one or two more and this one is special. Downpatrick Head is the first stop in this itinerary focusing on County Mayo.
I wasn’t sure what I would be able to see from the coast, but it was also exceptionally windy. I wondered if it might be safe to send up the drone to get some video and shots (see the entire drama unfold in the video at the end of this page).
This stunning sea stack stands 45 metres high and is known as Dun Briste (Broken Fort). It is very unusual in geological terms as it became a sea stack very recently in 1393 (I believe this is very recent for sea stacks!). It would originally have been connected to the mainland by a land arch which fell away into the sea.
With it’s flat top and safe location, bird life has thrived here as a nesting site.
This drone shot is from a different angle and gives a sense of where the original arch would have been. I was fascinated by the hollowing out of caves at the foot of the cliffs. People can walk right to the edge of the cliffs and look over! Of course, it’s only by boat or drone that you can see this angle. It’s so gorgeous.
And then the drone work all went wrong. With strong winds, the drone can ‘skip’ a little as it is pushed off course. At Downpatrick Head, the wind was so strong, I really struggled to control the drone at all. The only thing I could think to do was to lower the drone as that function was still working from my remote control. By some miracle, the wind was less strong the lower I went, so I took the drone towards the cliffs (a precarious task and very risky) and managed to get over land just as the battery started to completely lose power.
The batteries are usually good for 20 minutes or more, but any struggle against the wind uses up the power and I got barely 3 minutes out of the drone. I got it low enough before it gave up the ghost and fell from the sky! I have to give major kudos to the manufacturer, DJI as the drone features a Find Me skill for just such occasions and it lead me to find the drone in a field above Downpatrick Head. And… the drone was completely undamaged. I think this is because it is so light. If you are into drones, I have an affiliate link for the DJI Mini 2 for the UK/EU and for US (at no extra charge to you).
The photo below DOES look like an extension of Downpatrick Head, but in fact it’s the area around the Céide Fields, much further along the Mayo coastline. The Céide Fields complex is a fascinating Neolithic site that contains the archeological remains of a stone-walled field system dating back close to 6,000 years, one of the oldest if not the oldest known such system in the world. (More info here).
I was really fascinated to learn more about this, but the visitor centre is closed for the 2022 season.
As a great added bonus, I sent the drone up one more time and caught an absolutely stunning view of the cliffs at the Céide Fields – please do check out the video at the end of this page.
And then it was on towards Achill Island. At times the road was very quiet and it felt remote (which some might argue is hard on an island like Ireland but is part of our charm as a nation!). The sheep were certainly enjoying a wander along.
The owner of this wee boat certainly likes a pop of cyan!
Places for a motorhome to pull over and take a rest can be few and far between, but there is a lovely big car park at the start of the walkway through Ballycroy National Park. This place does feel like it’s at the end of the world.
I could see hikers miles away with their dogs enjoying a walk through the park.
I was very interested to see that this is a “Dark Sky Park”, meaning that the light pollution is so low in this area that it makes stargazing a joy (the population is small in this part of Mayo). As I love a bit of research, I fell down the rabbit hole of Dark Sky Parks (had you heard of them before) and this website will feed your hunger for knowledge.
After a quick rest, it was back on the road to Achill Island.
Achill Island & Keem Bay
Achill Island is the biggest of Ireland’s many gorgeous islands and has been connected to the mainland by a bridge since 1887. I had visited once before (the only time I had ever stayed in a campervan before!) and the island has been recommended so many times, I knew this was a great time to get back there and enjoy some time beach-walking and hoping for good weather!
The Wild Atlantic Way recommends that visitors go to Keem Bay, famous for its horseshoe-shaped bay and silver strand.
Although the wind was high (no shock if you’ve been following this itinerary!), the view from the golden sands to the blue of the bay is perhaps the most gorgeous I had yet seen in Ireland. There was almost nobody there so I got to breath in the ozone and play ‘chicken’ with the waves crashing into the shore. A memory I will cherish.
I think everyone needs to be strategic about access to toilets, not just if you’re in Ireland. At Keem Bay, there are no public toilets in the car park and it’s a couple of miles back to Keel, where you might need to use the toilets at one of the local bars.
My advice is always to use the facilities when you can. Nothing worse than being caught or under pressure in a place you want to spend time discovering. And yes, I do wish Ireland would follow Norway’s example of making a feature of toilets in remote locations. It can’t be a surprise that people need bathrooms.
Parking & Facilities
There is lots of parking at Keem Bay, including for motorhomes. However, it’s only when you are halfway down the hill that a sign appears requesting that motorhomes use an UPPER car parking area and walk down. Of course, I was already so far down that I’d have had to turn to go back and as so few people were around, I just parked up. Sorry officials 🙂
There was no toilet here nor coffee van, but I’m hopeful that at the height of the season there might be an opportunity for someone to deliver a snack service. Have you seen one? Let me know in the comments.
This was a great way to end my itinerary on Achill Island. It was back to the village of Keel for my campsite and a bite to eat at the Amethyst, but that’s a whole other blog! Thanks for being here.
Check out my accommodation recommendations in the area.
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Find the accompanying video for this article below: