Cong is a small village situated on the narrow neck of land (isthmus) between Loughs Corrib and Mask and straddling the border of counties Mayo and Galway. It is the gateway to northern Connemara and was of strategic importance as a route throughout history. Geographically, it is also on a border – the lands to the east are very productive agriculturally. Those to the west are less fertile and are dominated by large expanses of carboniferous limestone, much of it exposed and dominating parts of the terrain here. Many of the caves, grottos, sinks and fissures along these loops have been created by the action of running water - the other dominant element of nature in this region. Lough Mask, to the north, is higher in elevation than Lough Corrib to the south and the water makes its way both over and underground. Man-made features are also very evident in the environs of the village. Almost immediately after leaving the trailhead for the looped walks, you pass through the ruins of the Augustinian abbey which was the residence of the last High King of Ireland.
A-B. Starting from the mapboard opposite the Tourist Office follow the blue (and red and green) arrows through the main doorway of Cong Abbey 10m to the left of the mapboard. The red arrow is for the longer Pigeon Hole Loop; the green arrow for a linear trail to the village of Clonbur. After the doorway veer right around the cloister lawn and cross the first footbridge over the Cong River. Continue across the second (and larger) footbridge which crosses the main body of the river and enter Cong Woods. This is the point from where the loop ‘proper’ begins - you will return to this point from the left, for now turn right.
B-C. Follow the arrows for 50m and turn left onto a woodland track. After only 50m the track joins a wider ‘avenue’ - veer right here. Continue to follow the blue arrows along the avenue for 400m to reach a 3-way junction where the Nature Loop (blue arrows) turns left - but you proceed straight ahead following the red and green arrows.
C-D. After only 30m, turn right at the top of steps, and descend to a T-junction where you turn left. Follow this forestry track through a tunnel (under the Cong-Cornamona road!) and onward for almost 1km to reach the Pigeon Hole cave. Take the time to visit the cave - it’s well worth the descent! Shortly after the cave watch for a 3-way junction where the Cong /Clonbur Trail (green arrow) continues straight - but you turn left. Follow this forestry roadway for almost 1km (passing Dog’s Cave) to reach a 3-way junction where you rejoin the Nature Loop and turn right.
D-A. Follow the blue arrows past a number of points of interest (including the Priest’s House, the Guinness Tower, and Teach Aille). After Teach Aille, continue straight at a crossroads, and turn left at the next T-junction. Travel a further 200m to regain the junction at B above - this time turn right and enjoy the 100m back to the trailhead.