I was always going to reserve my first dapple in the rambling posts for Westport. If you watched this series of Great British Bake Off you will know that the infamous Croagh Patrick, in which Westport rests in the shadow of, was the inspiration for my ‘biscuit selfie’.
There’s just something magical about this little town. One of my earliest family holiday memories is staying in a large, white farmhouse at the foot of Croagh Patrick in the pouring rain for a week and, as strange as it sounds I have been enchanted by the beauty of Co. Mayo ever since.
On the approach to Westport, you come down over the crest of the hill on the Castlebar Road, Westport meets the eye, lying out in front of you in the valley below, while the majestic Croagh Patrick sits ever still and silent in the background. I get such a buzz every time I see that sight-the promise of the stay ahead!
The purpose of this trip was to compete in an adventure race ‘Sea to Summit’. I had heard of this race many years before but could never conjure up the courage to come and attempt it. I talked about it a few years ago with my sister and her husband but the logistics of them living in Oxford with a little one just didn’t allow it unfortunately. This year however, I decided I would grab life by the proverbials and do it myself! #adulting at the ripe old age of 33!
Registration for the race was on the Friday night so we headed off from Fermanagh on Friday afternoon…an hour behind schedule courtesy of my travel buddy Clarissa. That one friend who will be late for their own funeral! We all have one...and if you can’t think of that friend you probably are that friend!
I digress…off we headed with the Mini filled to the gills with bags and a bike attached to the back…all the gear and no idea! I think I was probably more looking ahead to the pints in Matt Molloy’s rather than considering the feat of the race that lay before me!
Registration complete; a much less worrisome task than I had anticipated thanks to the incredibly organised team, we checked into the Hillcrest B&B (– Give Úna a shout if you’re down, great wee spot and so central as well) and off we popped for some pints.
If you’re not familiar with Matt Molloy’s, it’s a great spot for a pint. It’s owned by the renowned flautist Matt Molloy of the Chieftains and in keeping with his passion for music, the pub has live trad sessions almost every night resulting in one of the best pubs in Ireland where you’re guaranteed a great atmosphere! The pints of Guinness are second to none…treat yourself!
That Friday was quiet to be fair – unusual for Westport on a Friday night and even more unusual considering there was a major event on the next day…or was it unusual?! Maybe I should have taken heed and had an early night…! Alas no, the craic was ninety, the music was great and we sipped on our drinks until 1am when I decided to call it a night – much to the dismay of my trusty travel buddy who coincidentally wasn’t doing ‘Sea to Summit’ the next day!
Low and behold, the one night you might want to catch a few hours ZZZs is the one night where you won’t get any and so it was, the day of the race, that I had been training for for months had arrived and here I was; sleep deprived and fuelled on a pint or two of Matt’s finest…bring it on!
After a good solid breakfast of porridge and scrambled eggs, and the obligatory ‘nervous poo’ (TMI?! ...c’mon, we’ve all been there!) I set off down to the start line. Now, you need to understand that I am the most socially awkward being and this is the first race I’ve done on my own so it’s kind of a big deal! Off I set with trepidation, down the hill, already late for the race briefing, really nervous about what lay ahead and I see these two guys ahead of me and think ‘shit, they look very professional…there’s something about them boys…..MY RACE NUMBER!’.
So after all the hooting and a hollering about Clarissa being late, my smugness at the stress free registration, the complacency of having a few the previous night to warm up….big balls forgets her race number! TIT…so I sprint back UP the hill to the B&B and get all the requirements pinned to me. Off I go again….
I started taking part in road races a few years ago and since I have done about a dozen half marathons, 10milers and 10K runs to date. Absolutely not a seasoned athlete and more definitely built for endurance rather than speed. But at the start line and throughout the runs, all I hear is nonsense about 7 minute miles, taking energy ‘on-board’, pacing yourself ra,ra,ra! To me, it was always about the sense of personal achievement so I always found this ‘athlete’ talk intimidating and rather boring….don’t shoot me. Just my opinion! However, I can say that Sea to Summit was absolutely not like that!
Every man and woman was there offering words of support and encouragement to each other. It really did feel like I was part of a big team, and that sense of support was never more needed than at the last two km of 35km of a combined running, hiking and cycling effort! It really was something else to witness and I’m so glad I decided to be a part of it.
At one stage as I was clambering down Croagh Patrick, with the shale shifting between my feet, competitors to right and left of me, behind and in front of me and I just thought ‘Jesus, if you were an alien, from some other planet and you happened to come across us at that moment, what in the Mother of Mercy would you not think of the human race?!’ Madness! But the most fun madness I have had in a while. And fair play to each and every one of the organisers and marshals – your shouts of encouragement and smiles really did make such a difference. Huge gratitude to you all for making it the day that it was!
Race done and dusted. Medal in the bag and another great tick off the list I headed back up to the B&B only to find Clarissa a bit worse for wear…we couldn’t understand why she was so hung over after “only 4 glasses of wine” but as Fiona rightly pointed out when she joined us later that night…that’s a whole bottle of wine and then some….!!
Never one to rest easy, we re-fuelled down at the Towers restaurant in the Quays. A great family restaurant with locally sourced food, it was the perfect way to rebuild the glycogen stores and get some fuel ‘on-board’!!...washed down with a bottle of locally brewed IPA I was well and truly in my element.
Absolutely exhausted and more than ready to sleep, we were adamant to make the most of our time and soak in as much Mayo as we could as we were only there for the weekend. On we toured down into the magnificent Killary Harbour, Connemara and Letterfrack. This is by far the most stunning part of our little country if you’re asking. The Maumturk Mountains are so incredible, views ever changing with the light, colours moving fluidly from dusky greens to burnt oranges and browns, the wild mountain sheep grazing lazily on the roadsides providing you with the only traffic you’ll see for miles. If you have never been, I implore you to visit. You won’t regret it!
After a few more obligatory pints in Matt Molloy’s on the Saturday night there was only one place we were going to visit on Sunday morning - ‘The Creel’ coffee house, again down by the Quays. This is the most quaint, fabulous little place with a real sense of home cooking with a creative menu using real local food. The coffee is second to none and the food provided a perfect antidote to help lift that Sunday fog. Looking around on that particular day you could spot those that had taken part in the race the day before, as the limbs moved gingerly, quiet moans being involuntarily exhaled, the legs tired and sore from the previous days expedition.
I think the word ‘sad’ is overused in our society. It’s a word often taken out of context and trivialised but I did feel sad leaving Westport that Sunday to come back home. It does feel like a second home to me and I always leave it with a heavy heart, looking forward to when I can return. So Westport, thanks for your hospitality and warmth once again…until next time mo chara.