Day 52-59: Suck Valley Way / by Carl Lange

  • Official length: 105km
  • What we walked: ? Felt like 105km to me
  • Trail difficulty: 2/5, if you're good with livestock
  • Trail Quality: 3.8/5
  • Views/area: 3.8/5 (not many views, but nice villages)
  • Camping/Accommodation: Plentiful towns for Bed and Breakfasts in the season
  • Public transport: It's pretty easy to get to Castlerea or Athleague, on opposite ends of the loop

Carl here! This is my first time writing one of these posts, so bear with me while I get settled in.

The Suck Valley way was a 105km loop from Castlerea to Ballygar and back, going through nine 'friendly villages' - Ballintober, Dunamon, Castlecoote, Athleague, Mount Talbot, Ballygar, Creggs, Glinsk, and Ballymoe. The friendly villages lived up to their name - in Ballintober, a lady actually opened her pub so that she could give us a coffee, and our experience at Cuisle in Dunamon is one of the best we’ve had so far on these trails.

Upon finishing the Sligo Way, we found ourselves sitting next to an R-road at Lough Talt. Our initial plan had been to essentially continue on the way we'd been going and walk the Western Way from the northernmost tip of Mayo down through to Galway city. One of our maps showed a continuation of the Sligo way right into the start of the Western Way, but upon arrival, we couldn't find anything that corroborated the story. Our hope had been that there'd be an Elvis, or (in a fit of exuberance) perhaps an info board about the Western Way, at the end of the Sligo Way, but sadly we weren't so lucky this time, and we were faced with an extremely busy R-road and a fifteen kilometre walk into Ballina, the nearest town. Neither of us felt much like attempting to hitchike our way into Ballina, so we simply gave in to our dark side and called a taxi.

Naturally, 30 seconds into the taxi ride, I saw an info board about the Western Way. I kept this information to myself.

Anyway, we continued into Ballina and put ourselves up in a hotel we were decidedly too smelly for. Once we’d showered and changed, we tried to figure out what to do next.

We looked at a few of the maps and so on for the Western Way, saw that it contained a 8-kilometre section along an N-road, and suddenly found that we could no longer make up our minds on where to go.

So I put up a Twitter poll! Beyond the Western Way, the only real option was the Suck Valley Way, as it was pretty close by and wouldn’t cost us too much to get to the start of. We were pretty convinced the poll would send us on the Western Way regardless, since it has a much cooler name than the Suck Valley Way, but lo, twitter followers are funny things, and they voted for the Suck Valley Way instead.

That settled, we spent most of the day editing video in Ballina library - which is extremely nice - amongst kids pretending to study for their Leaving Cert exams, and got the train to Castlerea in the afternoon.

It was raining as we arrived into Castlerea, which follows the natural laws of the universe.

We didn't really have much of an idea of what we were planning to do once we arrived in Castlerea, but there were some promising spots on the maps where we might be able to camp. The only trouble was that they were close to Castlerea Prison. I'm sure nothing bad would have come of that, but it turned out that Castlerea itself has a tiny forest right behind the town, and we were able to camp there in surprising peace.

Day 1

The next day, our first day really on the trail, we walked southeast. Our first friendly village was to be Ballintober, and the walk there was quite nice. Quite a large percentage of this trail is through active farmland, and we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of fenced, trimmed, well-kept walkways through fields there were. It was incredibly refreshing to walk through a field and feel as though we were actually meant to be there, rather than encroaching on someone’s land.

We arrived in Ballintober quite early in the day, I think around half ten or eleven, after only around ten or fifteen so kilometres. It had begun drizzling and we were on the hunt for a coffee, but as it was so early, we didn't expect any of the pubs to be open. On the far side of the village, we stopped into a shop to ask if there might be an open pub, and the lady behind the counter opened up the adjacent pub to get us a coffee. That was definitely a lovely experience. We enjoyed a rest and watched the raindrops race down the windows.

The weather cleared a bit and we left Ballintober by walking a few hundred metres down a footpath next to an N-road, and took a right straight into a field of cows.

Six fields of cows later, I realised I'd lost my debit card. We'd used it at the pub, so it had to be in the last two kilometres or so. I left Ellie at a stile and traipsed back the whole way to the pub, watching the ground (studiously avoiding the judgmental gaze of the cows). I made it the whole way back to the pub, convinced the lady that it wasn't in my pocket (no, not even that pocket, yes, I checked it, no, I definitely didn't leave it in my bag), and left my number there in case it showed up.

On my way back to Ellie, it started raining.

My card never found its way back to me - I replaced it a little while later.

We walked on to Dunamon. On our way there, a lady took a minute out of working in the bog to tell us that we should stop by the castle there, that the people there would be happy to give us a cup of tea and maybe a place to put our tent down for the night. We were a little unsure about this - people living in a castle? Was there a small pocket of the 16th century in south Roscommon?

It turns out that Dunamon Castle has a fantastic fully accessible holiday resort named Cuisle. We were absolutely blown away by the incredible friendliness of everyone there, and I would highly recommend checking out their website. I really can't overstate how lovely they were. They gave us coffee and biscuits, an amazing meal, and they let us camp next to their football pitch without so much as a second thought. I'm not sure I'll ever forget the incredible generosity at the end of a long day.

Day 2

We woke up tired. We'd slept quite well, but the tiredness wasn't really a "sleepy" tired, more like an "muscles no longer function" tired.

We'd decided to take the weekend at my parents', which was only a short drive from us, but we had planned to make it through Castlecoote to Athleague and stop there, about a third of the way through the Way.

The section between Dunamon and Castlecoote was quite nice - some enjoyable river walking. We had barely gone three or four kilometres until coming up against a fork in the road - a tarmac detour or a grassy, potentially waterlogged section. We argued about it a bit, and eventually I won out and we walked along the grassy section… right into a field with a bull. We hastily backtracked (I hastily backtracked and Ellie followed, probably rolling her eyes at me and my bad decisions) and walked the tarmac detour. It wasn't the greatest start to a day of walking. We typically don't argue much, but the tiredness from the morning hadn't worn off, so there was a bit of friction around that morning.

We made up and we made it in to Castlecoote quite early, some time around 12. We stopped for lunch, eating a frankly disgusting amount of €2 fruitcake from a nearby shop.

We were ready to hammer out this last 10km stretch into Athleague where we might find a spot to camp and relax, and maybe head to my parents' the next day. So, we walked across the bridge in Castlecoote and Elvis pointed us straight into a field with about forty cows and one extremely muscular looking bull.

So we gave up.

We walked fifty metres back to where we had lunch and decided to call it a day. Neither of us were really prepared for a 6km R-road, unposted detour, and we definitely weren't prepared for angering a bull. I called my mother, promised to do some gardening while I was home, and we sat there and fell asleep waiting for our lift.

Day 3

Two days later, slightly more rested and plenty more fed, we started again in Castlecoote. This time the cows were out of sight, so we power-walked across the field. It was only the first field of dozens that morning, and we were a bit concerned about more bulls, we fairly exercised ourselves that morning.

We spotted a fox that morning - he went ahead of us along the trail, over stiles and all, for a few fields. I like to think he was our spirit animal, guiding us along. We went on to see another fox later in the trail - I'm sure it was the same one.

Athleague was a welcome sight after all that farmland. We were hoping to drop by the visitor's centre there, because it was the headquarters of the trail development group, but sadly it was closed. We hung around for a while, sitting opposite the old mill at the river Suck. It really was a lovely place. Almost more lovely was the sight of the cafe a little further into the town.

We caffeinated ourselves and pushed on ahead to Ballygar. This involved a decent bit of road walking, and included a fairly hairy N-road bridge crossing at Mount Talbot. We were hoping to find a pub in Mount Talbot, but we ended up finding nothing except a handball alley, which reminded me of my primary school days.

There was a tiny off-road section after Mount Talbot. We debated simply walking along the road, but we decided to head through the fields. This turned out to be a mistake. It seems like nobody ever walks this tiny section - the stiles were some of the most overgrown we've ever seen. When we finally emerged from the nettles, we were about fifty metres down the road we entered from.

There was a really enjoyable if overgrown section between Mount Talbot and Ballygar, and a farmer offered to drop our bags to Ballygar if we wanted. We declined, since we were beginning to look for a place to camp, but we always really appreciate when people offer help and it was no different this time.

Walking into Ballygar, there was a lovely section in a pine forest, and we decided to put down there for the night - but not before popping into the town for a pint and sadly the worst Chinese takeaway we've ever had in our lives.

While we were enjoying our pints, we planned out what which trails we'd do next - a completely futile effort, of course, but still nice to do.

We left it a little late leaving the town and spent half an hour killing midges against the inside of the tent before trying to sleep.

Day 4

The section from Ballygar to Creggs was more of the same: enjoyable farmland walking with occasional terrifying bull evasions. I genuinely didn't know there were so many bulls in this country. One memorable escape involved crossing a wide ditch and taking five minutes on the other side to congratulate ourselves on being so resourceful before learning that there was an open gate and bridge between us and the bull.

We made it through to Glinsk, and spent a bit of time looking around the old, Dickensian workhouse there. I also spotted a plaque stating that the Nore Valley Way has been opened there in 1997 by the Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport - Enda Kenny, TD. Coincidentally, the day I saw this plaque was the day that Enda Kenny finally resigned, having broken the record for longest sitting Taoiseach!

We dropped into the only pub in Glinsk, where we got a few Looks but also, pints, and camped outside the town right off the trail.

Day 5

Glinsk to Ballymoe was again extremely good farmland walking. It must take such incredible organisation to convince such a large number of farmers and landowners to allow a trail on their land. I suspect we should send whoever the responsible party is to the UN - world peace within days.

We made it to Ballymoe quite early, so no chance of a penultimate pint before closing the loop in Castlerea. We sat at the rugby pitch in the rain for a while and read a little.

The final section between Ballymoe and Castlerea has some really nice river walking sections which I would highly recommend.

Finishing in Castlerea, we decided to take a train to Roscommon and spend a night there, reasoning that it would be easier to get from Roscommon to our next destination than from Castlerea.

Finally

I think we both really enjoyed this trail. The walking itself is generally quite low-difficulty - I can't remember a single hill - as long as you're lucky and know how to handle livestock. I think that it would be a really lovely guided walk, or perhaps if you stayed in one of the towns and got a lift out each morning. It's a lovely introduction to more rural Ireland - heritage, hospitality, and farmland.

I want to take another opportunity to thank Cuisle for their generosity that night in Dunamon - I'll never forget it.

Below is the Wednesday video we made while on the Suck Valley Way: