A long run around Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo

Runner, pass by Classiebawn Castle under bare Ben Bulben's head (Photo: Gerard Lovett via photopin cc)

Classiebawn Castle and Ben Bulben, looming over Mullaghmore (Photo: Gerard Lovett via photopin cc)

I’m just back from a great weekend in Mullaghmore on the wild Atlantic coast of Co. Sligo. As well as catching a few waves, I toured the area through the medium of a long run.

By catching waves, I mean that we went to Tullan Strand in nearby Co. Donegal for some body-boarding. This was my first time doing so – and my first time in a wetsuit, which I picked up at a surf shop in Bundoran.

Being more used to the freedom of loose running gear, including my race-day short shorts slit up to there, I found the tight wetsuit restrictive at first. But I got used to it, and soon I was looking quite the gnarly surfer dude.

Also, I managed to get the wetsuit on and off without dislocating a shoulder, which counts as a great success.

Amazingly, I managed this high-octane afternoon of wave-catching and body-boarding after an early-morning long run of 18 miles around Mullaghmore. There’s no holiday weekend from marathon training.

To fit in my beach activities I got up at dawn on Saturday morning and set out for my run at ten to seven. An early-morning haze hung over the Mullaghmore peninsula, casting the sea and coastline in grey. I left the silence of the village and headed anti-clockwise around the peninsula, to the sound of Atlantic waves crashing against the rocks.

The coast road was hillier than I expected, and so the first two miles of my run felt like hard work. Fortunately there was little or no wind. Without high hedgerows, the road offered clear visibility of any cars coming along the road – but no one came.

At around mile three I came around to face inland again – and saw to my right the impressive Classiebawn Castle jutting bleakly from the rocky headland and into the skyline like Wuthering Heights. Trees near it had been scoured bare by the Atlantic winds.

The castle is private property surrounded by many acres of land, so I couldn’t run up close to it for a better look. But in a way it’s better to see it from a distance and keep its magic intact – you’d be disappointed to see a satellite dish or someone putting out the bins.

Over the rooftop of Classiebawn Castle is another dramatic sight – Ben Bulben, the iconic table-top mountain beloved of artists and writers like W.B. Yeats, buried near it in Drumcliff churchyard.

Coming around to finish the loop of the peninsula, I still had a lot more miles to clock up. I headed inland on the road towards the one-street village of Cliffony, through which runs the main road between Sligo and Donegal.

Just like Mullaghmore, Cliffony was still asleep at this hour, although early morning trucks and cars hurtled through it towards Sligo on the main road. To add to my mileage I ran up and down the village along its tarmac paths, and once I had every inch covered in Cliffony I headed back to Mullaghmore.

Arriving back at Mullaghmore, I had only covered nine miles – so I set out for a second lap.

By now, after eight in the morning, the hazy sky was brightening and the Mullaghmore peninsula saw some other signs of life. Holiday makers poked sleepy heads out of camper vans. Farmers trundled by in four-wheel drives, and the first of the fishing boats bobbed past the headland. I even passed another runner coming towards me, although he was cocooned in earphones.

Coming back from Cliffony for the second time I clocked my fastest mile of the run. The straight road set me up for a good rhythm, but to be honest a second nine-mile lap had felt tough on my head, despite the spectacular scenery. So, I probably got an energy boost from knowing that I was heading home.

I had one last obstacle; the final stretch of road on my run, from Mullaghmore village to the heart of the peninsula, was a punishing climb. It was a neat summary of a scenic but demanding route.

If you ever go to Mullaghmore you’ll enjoy the surfing and running – but expect to do some climbing too.

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