Tour Reports

This excellent part of the WAW entails riding from the Donegal/Sligo border to Westport in Mayo, taking in Mullaghmore Head, Downpatrick Head, Achill Island and finishes in the most excellent party town of Westport, this is one hell of a ride. This route is approximately 600km, so if ye take on the full WAW coast road you’d want to allocate 2 days. If you’ve only one day to spare then pick one of my alternative routes available in the GPS Download page.

Sligo & North Mayo Route

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County Sligo is an enchanting place to visit for any number of reasons, many of which you will come across riding along the WAW and through a landscape that inspired the works of William Butler Yeats who grew up here. Along the coast giant Atlantic rollers crash onto surfing spots all the way along Ireland’s wild western coastline. But it’s off the coast of Sligo that ‘prowlers’ come to light. A prowler is a wave like no other, according to a local fisherman I had a pint with here these monsters can be up to 30 metres (100 feet) in height sent against the unwary by pissed off sea fairy’s. Personally I find that a bit hard to believe, mostly becauuse I simply can’t imagine a wave that big. but this tall tale may well be true as Sligo has become an incredibly popular spot for professional big wave surfers from around the world, especially in March when the biggest waves roll in.


Mullaghmore Head


This section of the Wild Atlantic Way (heading south) begins just south of Bundoran on the Donegal Sligo border and the first POI worth riding around is Mullaghmore Head. Jutting out of Sligo’s northern edge, close to the county’s border with Donegal, the small peninsula of Mullaghmore thrusts dramatically out into the North Atlantic. In 2011 Mullaghmore Head hosted Ireland’s first Big Wave contest, drawing surfers from across the globe.

Mullaghmore Head has become known for some of the most sought-after waves in surfing. Mullaghmore is notably championed for one big break in particular which Surfing magazine has dubbed “a mutant Irish left” and is listed as the 5th best big wave surf spot in the world, so be sure to not park your bike too close to the beach.

Mullaghmore itself is a lovely, picturesque fishing village both for its harbour setting and the nearby Classiebawn Castle, former residence of Lord Luis Mountbatten – killed by the IRA when his boat was blown up off the coast in 1979. You can get a pint/lunch or stay overnight by the harbour at the Pier Head Hotel Bar & Lounge, I’ve not stayed overnight there myself but by all accounts it’s worth a try and the views are magic as it’s less than a stones throw from the beach.


Gleniff Horseshoe Valley


Next on my “must ride” list of POI’s is the Gleniff Horseshoe valley ride through country roads into the magical horse shoe spot behind Ben Bulben, a distinctive mountain carved during the Ice Age that rises abruptly out of the coastal plain. Again while not on the WAW route itself it’s certainly well worth a ride up this valley for the spectacular views and is part of one of my alternative routes which you can get on the download page.

Gleniff Horseshoe Valley is worth a detour..

The late time I was through here the weather was so bad I’d not risk getting my camera out, but I’ll be back this way in Sept 2015 armed with my action cam so I’ll hopefully have some video/photos of this great ride and will be updating this guide.


Table Top mountain of Benbulben


While in this area you’ll find it impossible to miss the table top mountain of Benbulben. This very distinctive looking mountain dominates the localityy. It was shaped during the ice age, when Ireland was under glaciers, originally it was a large plateau but as glaciers moved from the northeast to southwest they shaped it into its present distinct formation.

Benbulben along the WAW route in County Sligo, Ireland

It’s not possible to ride up the mountain on motorbike as it’s a protected site for the healthy hill walker types, but if you are feeling adventurous you can get close by riding up a couple of easy dirt tracks that dead end in a bog, but the views of the mountain and back towards the Atlantic make the effort worth it.

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Continuing southwest along the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll cross the Sligo border and enter Mayo at Ballina before arriving at Aughris. If you find yourself in need a place to stay in this area of Sligo I highly recommend you check-in at Aughris Beach Bar B&B (POI on the download map).

Aughris Beach Bar B&B Co. Sligo

This brilliant and biker friendly B&B is right on Aughris beach and sitting tight beside it is a cosy traditional thatched roof pub serving good food. This is a secretly popular spot for bike clubs from across Ireland and the UK who roll up for the craic and take over the large campsite on the seafront beside to bar. I can’t recommend this place enough, when booking tell Darren who’s in charge of the bar I sent you and he’ll look after you… Last orders for bar food is around 8 or 9pm so be sure not to roll in too late. The breakfast in the B&B can only be described as a gut buster that will set you up for the whole day…

For more info and bookings visit

  • Augris Beach Bar B&B – Sligo

    Dún Briste


    Heading south on the WAW it’s also worth heading out to see the impressive sea stack known as ‘Dún Briste’. Legend says the people living there were rescued using ships’ ropes when high seas separated the stack from the mainland in 1393. There’s an amazing blowhole called ‘Poll na Seantainne’ where 25 men lost their lives during the 1798 rebellion after getting trapped in a subterranean channel below the blowhole. From the carpark on the headland it’s about a 10 minute walk out to the sea stack itself but worth the effort for the view. If you’re lucky enough to be there when the high waves are rolling in it’s amazing.. If you’re a bit short on time don’t be too upset if you need to bypass this point as there is plenty more to see a little further south.

    Backroad to Easky Lough, Co. Sligo on our 2014 route


    Céide Fields


    A few miles further south along the route the R314 runs along another set of stunning cliffs (POI’s Mayo Cliffs 1+2 on download map). These points are a great spot for a photo or two, and while you’re at it ye might as well wonder across the road to the Céide Fields visitors center. What’s the story here ye may well ask? Listed as a UNESCO site, the Céide Fields were constructed around 6,000 years ago by Neolithic farmers and comprises a Neolithic landscape consisting of megalithic burial monuments, dwelling houses and enclosures within an integrated system of stone walls defining fields. The significance of the site lies in the fact that it is the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world and the oldest enclosed landscape in Europe. The blanket bog landscape is of immense importance for its natural habitat value as well as for its illustration of environmental and climate history. I’ll admit to being a bit of a history fanatic and find this kind of thing facinating but it won’t be for everyone. My long suffering wife would be a good indication of this as she once mentioned she’d rather have her head shaved with a blunt spoon then be dragged into another ruin. She might have a point, as interesting as this spot is you might also find it a bit of a sweaty pain in the arse walking around here fully clad in bike gear on a summers day while surrounded by other people’s sticky bored children and camera toting Japanese tourists.

    For more info check UNESCO website  


    Belmullet Peninsula


    Anyway, back to business. Rolling on south the Wild Atlantic Way brings you out to Belmullet Peninsula which is another great ride. Along this section you’ll find yet more fecken history in the form of Faulmore Stone Circle out by the end of the peninsula along with first class views of the Achill Island cliffs across Blacksod bay. As legend would have it Blacksod bay was where Irish pirates would hide from the British navy during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1.

    Achill Island will be another highlight for those wise enough to be on two wheels.

    Achill Island

    Towering sea-cliffs, exposed mountains, bogland, deserted villages and sweeping sandy beaches and a rather excellent section of road that follows the coast named the Atlantic Drive await.

    The Deserted Village at Slievemore, Achill Island

    Apart from the Atlantic Drive there are a number of highlights for me on this island. The Deserted Village at Slievemore consists of some 80 – 100 stone cottages located along a mile long stretch of road on the southern slopes of Slievemore mountain. Park your bike up by the old graveyard and have a wander around this fascinating spot, and a wee bit haunting on a misty day.

    The Deserted Village

    The whole area is loaded in archaeology that’s sure to bore the tits off your wife too if you’ve dragged her along, including megalithic tombs dating from the Neolithic period some 5,000 years ago. Luckily for the historically disinterested there are plenty more interesting things to do and see.

    Keem Bay looking back towards the cliff road..


    Keem Bay


    Further out towards the western end of Achill is Keem Bay, this is a perfect horseshoe bay containing a beautiful beach at the head of a valley between the cliffs of Benmore to the west and Croaghaun mountain on the east. Origionally a basking shark fishery at the southern end of the valley, the beach is sheltered to the west by Moyteoge Head, while at the northwestern end of the valley the cliffs of Benmore connect with the spectacular mile long promontory of Achill Head. I’m happy to report there’s not much history going on here, except for the basking shark butchery and an old British Army lookout post up on the hill. This spar is the most westerly point on Achill and tails off with two sea stacks called Gaoí Saggart and Carrickakin. More interesting to me is the road that gets you there. Keem beach is accessible via a splendid clifftop road (R319) that was constructed in the 1960s along the route of an older track. On a sunny day this bit of road is utterly spectacular, while on a very stormy day it may induce a few wet panty moments, if ye go over the side here near the top the game’s over.

    Biketastic clifftop road (R319) to Keem

    As you’re heading towards Keem Bay there is a turn off to the right that leads up to a reservoir called Lough Accorymore. On a clear day the ride up is magic, the ride back down is a treat and the summit offers some of the best views on the island. On your way back from Keem Bay just before you get to Dooagh village ye can pop in for lunch at Gielty’s Clew Bay Pub overlooking a panoramic view of Clew Bay and Islands Clare, Inishturk and Inishbofin. In doing so you can tell your mates back home you had a drink in the most westerly pub in Europe, you might also find as I do that the Guinness somehow tastes better this far west ;)

    Atlantic Drive, Achill Island


    Kildavnet Tower


    On the south-east corner of Achill Island on the Atlantic Drive section is Kildavnet Tower (oh here we go again lol) which is a perfect example of a 15th century Irish tower house. The Gaelic Chiefs of the time copied a Norman design and constructed many such tower houses. The tower at Kildavnet was constructed by the Clan O’Malley in about 1429, but is associated locally with a descendant of the original builder, the pirate Grace O’Malley. This legendary Irish pirate queen is thought to have been born around 1530 and died in about 1603. The Tower at Kildavnet is one of a series of such strongholds that the pirate queen established along the western seaboard (she is said to be buried in a similar tower on Clare Island) as she dominated the waters during the 16th century.

    Clew Bay by Westport, Co. Mayo




    From here it’s a fairly short hop into the busy seaside town of Westport on the south-east corner of Clew Bay… Westport was the home of the pirate chief in the mid-to-late 16th century but is now better known as a base for barefoot religious fanatics who like to hike up the pilgrimage mountain of Croagh Patrick. However, back in the wilder days of my youth Westport was better known to me for bank holiday pub crawls and romantic liaisons with female French and American backpackers looking for a bit of the ol’ Irish.

    I have many happy memories of drunken debauchery in Westport, but these days it’s all gone a bit tits up with more respectable types playing happy families and utterly bewildered Japanese tourists wandering around stating in total shock that the traffic is worse than Tokyo during a Godzilla rampage. The traffic here has become even worse in recent times since some idiot journalist stated in the press that Westport was without doubt the best town to live in Ireland. Unsurprisingly this resulted in hordes of gullible idiots moving to Westport and thereby destroying much of it’s original old world charms and the reason to live here in the first place. The only lad happy about this influx of humanity is the local property agent – and suspected close relation to the journalist in question. I can only assume the idiot journalist and newspaper responsible is now looking for some other greedy property agent and unsuspecting town to destroy. Westport is most definitely worth a stop over however as there is still plenty of craic to be found in the pubs and the restaurants and hotels are excellent.

    Matt Molloy’s is a must…

    One of the first pub’s that needs your undivided attention is an institution in itself and hardly needs an introduction. It is of course attending a live session at Matt Molloy’s on Bridge Street, I’ve had many a magic night dancing and having almighty rare craic only to end up talking absolute shite by the end of the night as is the custom.

    As the years have now caught up with me I’ve managed to cool my britches a little, but I’ve yet to ever walk out of this bar sober and ye’d be mad to miss out on a few pints in here…

    The Towers Bar Westport

    Another personal favorite these days is the Towers Bar & Restaurant down on the quay. As far as I’m concerned the food here is top class and a bucket of Kates Killary mussels in cream, leak and white wine sauce can’t be beat. By all accounts I’m not the only fan of the Tower Bars mussels as they sell at least 40kg of ‘em on a typical day.

    The bucket of mussles in the Tower Bar can’t be beat at €5.50 (Sept 2014). The mussles are delivered fresh each morning from the nearby mussel farm in Killary Fjord and due to the nature of the bay these mussels really are beautiful, plumb, soft and grit free – much like the waitresses and just the way I like ‘em….

    My mouth is watering already at the prospect of a return. For me the fare is best washed down with a pint of Donegal Atlantic Pale Ale before moving on to try some of the other local brews while listening to the band throwing out a few reels. Check out the Towers Bar Menu on their Facebook page

    Alistair Scott stuffing his face at the Tower Bar, a very happy camper by the looks of it on the Sept 2014 WAW trip..

    The are plenty of other great bars to try in Westport, the only real problem is trying to get out of ‘em at a reasonable hour to be fit to ride a motorbike the next morning. If you have the time I’d recommend Westport as a good town to schedule a rest day off the motorbike.

    This is the problem with bars on the west coast, ye try to have a quiet pint but end up talking to complete stranges and end up in a session. Now I can’t remember who these nice folks were..


    Westport House


    There is plenty to see and do around town for the more sensible non drinkers and there is also Westport House thats worth a walk-a-bout. It’s considered one of the most significant historic homes open to the public with the garden grounds being popular for some reason. Now if the house had a few Honda DR 250′s to rent for an hour and allowed us to tear round the manicured lawns and flower beds I’d show a bit more enthusiasm on that front.

    Westport House is situated in a parkland setting with a lake, terraces, gardens and views overlooking Clew Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, Achill, Clare Island and Ireland’s Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick and despite the lack of dirt bike rides it is a very pretty spot. It was built and is still privately owned by the Browne family, who are direct descendants of the pirate queen, Gráinne Ní Mháille, Queen of Umaill, Bane of the English, Aaargh Mioscaiseach (Irish – Vicious Bitch) and the origional Irish tax evasionist – now who doesn’t love a good pirate story?

    During the 16th century, Gráinne Ní Mháille was far more than a pirate and scourge of the English Navy, as a leading Gaelic-Irish chief in Connacht she also had a nasty habit of troubling the English Armies on land in a very unfriendly manner. After her death, a report by Sir Richard Bingham, Governor of Connacht stated that for forty years she was the stay of all rebellions in the West, a polite way of saying she was a right pain in the royal arse. Gráinne had several castles in the west of Ireland and it was on the foundations of one of these that Westport House was built. There is still an area of her original castle in the basement of the House (the dungeons), which is on view to visitors.


    Read Next Post – The Wild Atlantic Way for Bikers – South Mayo & Galway »


    Biking Routes - Ireland, The Wild Atlantic Way One Response so far

    One Response to “The Wild Atlantic Way Guide for Bikers – Sligo & North Mayo”

    1. paulh says:

      Visited The Towers a few days ago whilst on WAW, a for sale sign is up outside, not sure if that will affect the quality of food, we only stopped for a drink

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