Take on Nature: Empty beaches and rocky shorelines in west Mayo
ON THE long empty strand, shifting eddies of sand swirl on mini-whirlwinds before collapsing, only to rise again a few feet away. The Atlantic Ocean is moody and restless but the waves are tamed before they break on to the shore with a mournful hiss.
A few miles out off the Co Mayo coast lies Clare Island, Inishturk and, beyond them, slightly blurred by a haze of low lying cloud, Achill Island.
About 45 minutes drive out of Westport, past Louisburgh and all the way to the end of a narrow twisting road that eventually peters out, lies Silver Strand. Although not the easiest place to get to this is a popular spot for those who are brave enough to drive along the twisting, narrow road. But walking to the shore and then over rocks you are soon into solitary, uneven and unpredictable countryside.
Meandering sheep, foraging crows, angry gulls, flitting wagtails and a lethargic frog hop in and out of view.
The rocks rise and then fall away into sheer drops but straying inland can mean suddenly traversing boggy terrain. Purple mountain heather, broken by clusters of trefoil and eyebright and huge dandelions, carpet the landscape.
But heading back towards the sound of breaking wave the terrain gives way to sand dunes. Dodging foot-trapping rabbit holes and tumbling over the dunes I find myself on a long, deserted strand. I am puzzled at how such a stunning beach can be so empty.
Apart from tyre tracks of a four-wheel drive – which, given the churned-up sand in some parts, seemed to have got bogged down more than once (a snigger of satisfaction) – there is no evidence of people here.
After a mile or so the beach curves inland and still not a soul in sight until I come to a wide moat of stagnant water. At some point someone placed stepping stones that lead across to a track and a couple of cars are parked nearby, but the stepping stones have collapsed or sunk beneath the surface of the muddy, green water.
Walking five or 10 minutes either side, there is no way across and there is nothing for it but to pull off my boots and socks and roll up my trousers to paddle through the gunky stale sea water which comes up to my knees.
A couple of people coming in the opposite direction are brought up short as they see me wading through the deep channel that separates them from the huge empty beach and after a brief discussion (in Dutch?) turn and head back towards their car.
My feet and shins dried and booted once again, I continue up a laneway past hedgerows of hawthorn, bramble and fuschia (a non-native plant that originates in South America, but that has become almost synonymous with the west of Ireland landscape).
The lane reunites with the road I drove along three hours earlier and I head back towards Silver Strand – a sign warns against cutting a much less welcome non-native species, Japanese knotweed.
As the road dips back towards the shore, Mweelrea Mountain rises to the left and if it wasn't for a lunchtime pang of hunger it would be tempting to do the whole walk over again.