The Great Walks of Ireland
Walks on the wild side? Or the mild side? Whichever you choose, you can be assured the best way to explore the real organic beauty of Ireland is on foot. For starters, the scenery will always be panoramic and astonishing, and you will be able to view the landscape through your eyes and not via a window of a moving vehicle. What runs (or walks) in parallel with seeing the countryside in relatively slow motion is true appreciation – of your surroundings as much as your sense of calm. Most of the walks mentioned here are suitable for people with reasonable levels of health and fitness; they can also be undertaken in the course of a single morning or afternoon.
ANTRIM: GLENGARRIFF FOREST PARK
Also known as the Queen of the Glens, Glengarriff and its forest park – designated as a National Nature Reserve – stretches over 1,000 hectares, so you can take it either piecemeal or wolf it down. The official walk at Glengarriff is via a timber boardwalk that was originally constructed over 100 years ago, and which has been regularly strengthened and restructured over the years to offer a safe and truly impressive pathway. There are also forest-based walking trails, the best of which are the Waterfall Walk Trail (3km) and the Scenic Trail (8.9km).
CLARE: LOUGH AVALLA LOOP
Starting and ending at Gortlecka crossroads, a distance of about 6km, the time it takes around three hours (to be honest, the slower your pace the more magical the experience, walking through classic Burren limestone landscape has twists and turns, surprises and wonders. The latter include wildlife, carpets of flowers, and the woodland trails. The twists and turns could be your ankles, however, so best leave your dancing shoes behind and invest in a pair of sturdy, safe walking boots.
DONEGAL: ERRIGAL MOUNTAIN AND MACKOGHT LOOP TRAIL
Fancy walking to the summit of one of Ireland’s most well-known mountains? The walk is a distance of 6km, but because of its moderate-to-tough trail it will take you up to four hours to complete the loop. Not to worry, though. Once you reach Errigal’s peak of 750m (and not forgetting the 555m summit of Mackoght, aka ‘Little Errigal’) the views of Glenveigh National Park, Derryveagh peaks and Dunlewy Lough will soothe the brow and take the stings out of your soles.
DUBLIN: HOWTH CLIFF
Suitable for beginners and/or all levels of fitness, what you’ll nonetheless need for this walk (which can be segmented into varying distances, from 7km to 12km) is a little bit of stamina. Depending on which route you take, the walk can take up to three hours and starts from the centre of Howth. Highlights include views of Ireland’s Eye, Lambay Island and Dublin Bay. The area is also great for bird watching (razorbills, fulmars, guillemots). When you head back into the small but busy village centre, we guarantee you’ll have an appetite and a thirst. Fear not, my weary-footed friend, Howth isn’t short of food/bar options – from the humble fish’n’chips shop to rather more refined spaces, there’s something for everyone.
More info: https://visithowth.ie/the-cliff-path-loop/
Whereabouts in Co Kerry can you see from one vantage point two of its most sacred sites – Skellig Michael and Mount Brandon? At the summit of Knocknadobar, a 690m mountain that ascends steeply out of Dingle Bay, there are wonders to be viewed. Accessed from the bridge in the centre of Cahirsiveen town, there are two options for walkers: the full Irish (so to speak) that takes about five hours, or what is known as the ‘pilgrim path’, which takes three hours. Whatever your choice, the end result is the same: sheer delight.
WATERFORD: THE COUMSHINGAUN LOOP
Oh, this one is a beauty. Over 7.5km and the best part of four hours, you will behold scenery around Coumshingaun lake and its omnipresent mountains that could make a robot gasp with delight (and make you whistle in admiration). Start at Kilclooney Wood car park and begin the incline up the mountain. Be advised that the walk towards elevation is a slightly tough one, but once you reach the ridge top you’ll be fine. It’s a tad brusque and irregular on the downwards path, but the views of the Knockmealdown Mountains and the West Comeraghs are justification enough.
WEXFORD: RAVEN POINT WOOD
This is a relatively smooth walk with a slight gradient and is therefore suitable for a family outing. Starting at Curracloe beach Raven Wood car park, the distance is less than 7km and should take about 90-100 minutes, depending on pace. One of the best aspects of this walk is that you’re so close to the Raven sand dunes, which (according to those in the know) have been shaped from sea sand since the 1600s. Adjoining the woods, to the west, are the North Slob lands, in which wild geese gather during winter. Highlights include amazing views of Wexford Harbour. Closer to home and almost under your feet? Keep an eye out for a red squirrel or two.
WICKLOW: LUGNAQUILLA MOUNTAIN FROM GLENMALURE LOOP
Walking from Glenmalure to the summit of Lugnaquilla Mountain (at over 900m, the 13th highest in Ireland) and from there to Cloghernagh (about 800m) will take approximately six hours, so an early start is advisable. Twin peaks, anyone? This is quite likely the most taxing walk on the list (the distance is approx. 15km) but the work involved is worth it for the views, which include vistas provided by the Glen of Imaal and Glendalough, glimpses of Blessington Lakes and – on a very clear day – Snowdonia, Wales. The route begins in the Glenmalure Valley car park.
WICKLOW: BRAY TO GREYSTONES
At 7km in distance and about two hours to complete, this walk is straightforward enough to negotiate. It remains one of the most popular on the east coast, partly due to easy access via the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport), which has stations at both points. If our start point is Bray, then head to the promenade and then Bray Head, and keep following the signs. The cliff walk shadows the coastline and affords stunning views as well as a plethora of wildlife and flora. If you’re lucky, the water will be a temporary home to lounging sharks, dolphins and porpoises. Before you know where the time has gone, you’ll be skipping towards Greystones harbour, from where you can rest your feet, relax with a cuppa and grab the next DART back to Bray.