Downpatrick Head is without a doubt one of the highlights along the Wild Atlantic Way. I had the pleasure of visiting here last year, and loved it so much I couldn’t wait to return. The area is completely wild and unspoilt. There are no fences or walls like you find at the Cliffs of Moher, and you won’t find massive crowds there either. We parked in the car park, and within five minutes we were sitting next to Dún Briste, the famous sea stack at Downpatrick Head. It is an exhilarating coastal walk, and you can get as close to the edge as your nerves, or family, allow!
You will also find a holy well and stone cross on the site of a former church founded by St Patrick, as well as an ancient Blow hole, a World War II lookout point, and one of the 80 Éire signs that are still visible in Ireland. These were dotted around the coast during World War II to indicate to bombers that they were flying over neutral Ireland. As I am writing this, my mind wanders, that would be an epic road trip in Ireland - a task to find all 80 signs!
The reason for this road trip, as well as visiting the Mullet Peninsula for the first time, was to test a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, and find out its suitability for a family staycation in Ireland. I must confess I had never driven a Hybrid before, and as I am not a motoring journalist, so I was unsure of what to expect.
When I picked up the RAV4 I was immediately impressed with its spacious interior, huge boot space (capacity 543 litres), and the synthetic leather throughout - all of which are massive advantages when bringing children on a staycation.
The leather was extremely practical, and for the first time this year we didn’t need to bring our roof box on holidays with us. We have a SUP board which we always have to place in our roof box, but the RAV4 was able to comfortably fit the SUP, three suitcases, a large back-pack and two camera bags - and there was still room for coats, handbags and laptops. So far so good.
Initially I didn’t realise that the RAV4 Hybrid was self-charging - I assumed we would have to find a place to plug it in to charge it, or else use petrol for most of the journey. I envisage regular Carzone readers cringing at this point, and while I thought this was just naivety on my part, I was amazed at the amount of messages I received from people who thought exactly the same!
For those reading this who don’t know - the electric motor is powered by a battery which the car charges itself - so there is no need to plug it in. The system automatically decides what power source to use too, so you don’t even need to think about it. The car spends on average over 60% of the time in zero emissions.
So back to the road trip. We left Downpatrick Head and drove west along the Céide Coast to Belmullet. We drove this scenic drive in one day, but assuming you have more time than we had, I suggest a stop at the Céide Fields. This remarkable neolithic site is home to the oldest known stone-walled fields in the world – dating back nearly 6,000 years. They overlook the Atlantic Ocean and there are stunning views of Downpatrick Head, from a completely different perspective to what you will have just witnessed.
Carrowteige Walks were also recommended to us, and are a good halfway point from Downpatrick to Belmullet. There are numerous walks to choose from, and I’m told Benwee Head is one of Ireland’s best kept secrets, so try to go there if you can. If you fancy a beach stroll or swim, check out Portacloy beach here.
Regardless of whether you have stopped off along the way, make sure to plan lunch or dinner in Talbot's Seafood Bar in the Talbot Hotel Belmullet. I can highly recommend the Seafood Platter - but make sure you are hungry! The menu is extensive, so if fish doesn’t float your boat, there are plenty of alternatives, including steaks, pizzas, sandwiches and burgers. The chicken wings were a big hit with my kids too - albeit very spicy!
A swim in the Belmullet tidal pool is a must, weather permitting. It is a short walk from the town centre and there is a toddlers section as well as a deeper section for experienced swimmers. A lifeguard is also on hand during July and August.
If you skipped the Carrowteige Walks, you might want to consider the Erris Head Loop Walk. This 5km walk is suitable for all fitness levels and is home to another Éire World War II coastal watch sign and lookout post, as well as dramatic cliffs and stunning sea views.
Dún na mbó is close to Belmullet, and is worth the spin, if only to see the Atlantic Ocean crashing against the cliffs here. It is famous for the sculpture that was built around a blowhole, but if you have seen the blowhole in Downpatrick Head, you may not be too impressed by this one. However, it is such a wild unspoilt area, and you could argue that it is the Wild Atlantic Way at its best. It also offers excellent views of Eagle Island Lighthouse.
My suggestion from here is to visit some of the many unspoilt beaches that the Mullet Peninsula has to offer. Elly Beach is a Blue Flag sheltered beach, known for watersports and swimming, but we visited Glosh Beach, another hidden gem - in fact so hidden that there are no signposts!
It is located near the village of Aughleam, close to Blacksod. As the Mullet Peninsula is a Ghaeltacht region, most of the signs are in Irish. Take the Bothar na Costa and take the turn beside Teach John Joe - I kid you not! You may be lucky and find the beach to yourself, we did, with the exception of a few avid surfers. When the tide is out you can walk this beach for 4km, it also offers views of Inishkea Islands.
Iniskea Islands have been on my wish list since I saw them highlighted on RTE’s No Place Like Home last summer. They are located 3km off the coast of Belmullet, and are accessible by boat with Belmullet Charters from Blacksod. There are abandoned villages, numerous monasteries and ancient ruins on the islands, as well as two white sandy beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters. Trips include a guided tour of the islands and visitors usually spend 3-5 hours there, so you might want to plan an overnight stay in Belmullet if you are thinking of visiting.
The boat trip leaves from Blacksod Pier, our last stop on this north Mayo road trip. After 142km we had reached our destination. Blacksod has a working harbour and is home to a Blacksod Lighthouse that was built in 1864. It played a key role in D-Day Landings and guided tours are available. This remote part of Ireland is located at the tip of the Mullet Peninsula, I got the feeling I had certainly taken the road less travelled.
The weather was not in our favour for most of the trip, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the beautiful unspoilt Mayo coastline and the Mullet Peninsula. This is our second road trip in as many years in Mayo - you can read about our trip from Keem Bay in Achill, to Leenane in Galway, in my post on the best road trips in Ireland.
Our RAV4 Hybrid was a pleasure to drive on this north Mayo road trip. I loved the adaptive cruise control that maintains a safe distance with the car in front. It also makes suggestions to increase or decrease your speed depending on the road’s speed limit. This was just one of the gadgets that impressed me. The touch screen navigation system was a Godsend, as phone coverage is very poor in this region, and we were unable to access Google Maps. The RAV4 also has Apple carplay (or Android Auto), so we could listen to our playlist throughout the trip, and there are lots of nice touches like the power boot, rearview camera, heated front seats with lumbar support, and heated door mirrors - not that we needed them!
We measured the fuel efficiency from when we left our house in Dublin until our return. It was almost 757km before we had to refuel, and most of our journey was on a Motorway. We enjoyed a similar staycation on the Causeway Coast a few weeks previously, and had to refuel before we left Belfast - circa 150km less driving. The battery is recharged when the car decelerates or brakes are applied, so I can only assume that the RAV4 Hybrid would be even more economical for city driving.
The RAV 4 Hybrid may look like a regular SUV, but it is anything but. I am not surprised that over 90% of the cars Toyota Ireland sell are hybrids - a staggering statistic for sure, and one I have no doubt I will be a part of in the near future.