One of the longest walking routes in Ireland, the Western Way, is being upgraded, rebranded, and relaunched in a bid to attract more visitors to the rural communities through which it passes.
The promoters of the project say the 200 kilometre route, which stretches across Mayo from Aasleagh near Leenane to Bonniconlon, near the Sligo border, has the potential to be a huge rural tourism draw.
It could even mirror the success of one of Scotland’s best known walks, the West Highland Way, which attracts 85,000 visitors per annum.
“The trail has great potential and we hope that in a few years it will become a busy visitor attraction alongside the Great Western Greenway,” said Martin Dillane, rural recreations officer with the South West Mayo Development Company.
Mr Dillane has been working with his counterpart in Galway, at Forum Connemara Ltd, to introduce uniform signage and mapboards along the entire route for the first time.
“This is the first step in developing this long distance walking trail, which will compete with more established trails such as the Kerry/Wicklow Way and possibly even the West Highland Way in the near future,” he outlined.
The scenery along the Western Way is hugely varied, taking in as it does idyllic rural villages, wilderness, mountains, bogs, and coastline, but according to Mr Dillane, one of the unique attractions of the walk is its distance.
“It is one of the longest routes in the county at 200 kilometres. It would take between a week and 10 days to complete the route in its entirety,” he pointed out.
There is also potential to join the Western Way to the 50 kilometre Sligo Way.
Mr Dillane said visitors can now complete the entire Western Way in one big undertaking, thanks the new signage and maps, or aim to complete the route over multiple visits on a section-by-section basis.
The trail will be officially relaunched by Michael Gibbons, one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists, at this year’s Leenane Mountain Walking Festival on May 1.
For more information, visit www.leenanevillage.com