From the dramatic Donegal coastline to the gentle slopes of The Glen of Aherlow, Ireland is a walker's paradise. If you've ever taken to the hills and mountains of Ireland, you'll know that wonderful feeling of getting away from it all and realise how truely beautiful our country is.
Fáilte Ireland has introduced the Walkers Welcome initiative which works with local communities in welcoming walkers with open arms. Walkers Welcome offers details of fantastic walking areas in Ireland and features towns and villages with great accommodation, services, packed lunches and guided walks. Further details can be found on the Fáilte Ireland website: http://www.discoverireland.ie/walkers-welcome.aspx
There are amazing areas to walk in Ireland and some key "Red carpet" areas are:
The Burren, Co. Clare
The Burren is the name given to the 500 square kilometres of fascinating silvery limestone-layered fields that stretch from south Galway, across Clare and all the way to the wide Atlantic.
This region offers numerous scenic looped walks as well as long-distance routes for those seeking more of a challenge. And for those seeking company on their hiking adventures, the Burren Peaks walking festival usually takes place at the end of September.
When it comes to places to base yourself for these walking adventures, you’ll be spoiled for choice. The Burren is surrounded by many beautiful towns and villages like Carron, Kilfenora, Ballyvaughan, Corofin, Lisdoonvarna and Doolin, which offer everything a walker could wish for.
Donegal Town & surrounding area
Ideally located on the doorstep of the rugged Blue Stack Way, Donegal offers a warm welcome to all walkers visiting the North West region.
Take your pick from rugged way-marked trails, enchanting coastal paths, looped walks overlooking dramatic cliffs and routes that follow quiet mountain trails and country lanes.
One star of the show is the Blue Stack Way. It runs 47km from Donegal Town to Ardara, with local link routes from towns and villages where accommodation and entertainment are available adding a further 63km to the route.
Or if you’d prefer something a little more leisurely, check out the stunning lakeshore stroll around picturesque Lough Eske, the 3km Bank Walk around Donegal Bay or Donegal Town’s Historic Town Trail which takes in Donegal Castle, the Diamond (a square designed in the1600s) and a Napoleonic anchor retrieved from the sea in the 1850s.
Another superb option is Glenveagh National Park with its 16,958 hectares of mountain, bogs, lakes and woods. The park is is cut in two by the spectacular valley of Glenveagh and contains Donegal’s two highest mountains, Errigal and Slieve Snacht, as well as many other fine hills, notably Dooish and Leahanmore.
Ranger-led walks take place throughout the year giving visitors an opportunity to experience a true wilderness and perhaps the chance to see the recently introduced golden eagles. (Visit www.npws.ie for more details.)
The Glen of Aherlow, Co. Tipperary.
If you’re into walking, you’ll be enchanted by the Glen of Aherlow. This stunning valley tucked between the Galtee Mountains and the Slievenamuck Hills offers everything from low-lying strolls along verdant river banks to high-level hikes through the Galtees – and everything in between.
There are eight loop trails on offer, with walking times ranging from a half hour to four hours. These loops start from two trail heads – Christ the King and Lisvarrinane Village.
For those looking for more gentle outings or with kids in tow, a foray into Aherlow Nature Park, with its oak, Scots pine and beech trees, is a treat. Keep an eye out for the many animals and birds that live here, such as foxes, red and grey squirrels and blackbirds.
If you want to push yourself a little more, you might prefer the two Lake Walks which take you into the Galtees. A trip to Lough Curra and Lake Muskry will ensure superb views of corrie lakes, wooded foothills, mountain streams and open moorland. These walks usually take the casual walker up to four hours.
Guided walks are also available for those who’d prefer not to go it alone. Or why not check out the Glen of Aherlow Walking Festival which usually takes place over the June bank holiday weekend? Run in association with Galtee Walking Club, these guys also organise hikes led by club leaders every Sunday (year round) and Wednesday (from May to September). Ranging from two to four hours, visitors are welcome. Visit www.galteewalkingclub.ie for more information.
For more information on the Glen of Aherlow, visit: www.aherlow.com
Tinahely, Co. Wicklow
The village of Tinahely nestles amidst the rolling hills of south Wicklow in the valley of the Derry River, close to the borders of Co. Carlow and Co. Wexford. This tranquil spot gives walkers access to all manner of stunning walks and hikes.
The Wicklow Way is perhaps the most famous route – and for good reason. This is one of Ireland’s most spectacular way-marked ways, running 132km from Rathfarnham in Dublin as far as Clonegal in Carlow. The trail winds its way through parkland, forests, and unspoilt mountainous countryside over the eastern flanks of the Wicklow Mountains.
It is a demanding hike which requires adequate preparation and takes the average hill-walker between eight and 10 days to complete. However, you might just like to explore one or several of the seven sections, stopping off in cosy spots like Glendalough or Moyne for an overnight stay and a home-cooked evening meal.
For those who fancy something a little less strenuous, don’t miss Tomnafinnoge Wood which lies between Tinahely and Shillelagh. This atmospheric forest is one of the last remnants of the oak woodlands which once blanketed south Wicklow and offers three marked walks of varying distance. The most popular is the 4km River Walk (2km each way) but others prefer the looped options – the Oak Walk (3.2km) and the Hazel Walk (1.3km).
West Cork & Kerry
West Cork and Kerry boast Ireland’s most mountainous landscape. Over millennia the crumpled and folded land has been carved by ice ages, wind and rain to create a vista of airy peaks, dizzying ridges, brooding corrie lakes and narrow gullies.
Opportunities for mountainy highs also abound on the region’s other peninsulas. But you’ll need to be an experienced mountain climber to go it alone on these peaks. If you’re not au fait with compass, map reading and ropes, it’s wise to travel with a guide who’ll pick the best routes for your ability, teach you skills along the way and inspire you with titbits of history and folklore.
Strewn with the ancient burial sites, rock art, standing stones, stone circles, forts and Christian artefacts, they include the 90km Sheep’s Head Way, the 179km Dingle Way, the 48km North Kerry Way; the 188km Blackwater Way; the 215km Kerry Way on the Iveragh Peninsula, and the 197km Beara Way.
Other good alternatives for stretching your legs are the region’s loop walks that range from 4km for a stroll to 16km for the more energetic. These include the Lighthouse and Poet’s Way loops on Sheep’s Head, Ardnakinna Lighthouse loop on Bere Island, and Muckross Lake and Torc Waterfall Loops in Killarney National Park.
Maps and guidebooks are available at local tourist offices to help you make the most of these routes which are perfect for groups of mixed ages and ability.
Whatever your choice of walk, from sandy shores to tussocky hillside, you’ll feel the energy of nature reinvigorate your soul.