A season of Irish walks: time to get out and explore
Here’s a selection of organised walks around Ireland led by experienced guides
The evenings are closing in a little and those depressingly familiar back-to-school ads have returned as a reminder our summer is ebbing away. Fear not, however, for opportunities to escape the materialistic clutches of 21st-century living continue to abound in the
countryside. If you see leisure time not as an escape, but as an opportunity to accumulate unforgettable experiences, late summer and autumn present an ideal time to explore the Irish countryside at its best, while also getting some worthwhile exercise. On the walks outlined below, you don’t have to worry about route finding, for all are led by experienced and knowledgeable guides. Choose from the dizzying choice of the fully organised outings for all abilities listed here, and then watch the multi-layered sagas of Ireland’s most captivating landscapes come alive before your eyes.
A pilgrim for a weekend
Co Cork (August 16/17th)
Magnificent two-day, guided walk crossing three mountains and four valleys on a pilgrim journey with a long penitential tradition stretching back to the hazy dawn of Christianity in Ireland. This is an opportunity to explore a less-frequented part of Ireland on an infinitely varied route offering memorable views over Bantry Bay and access to a rich archaeological and spiritual heritage.
Departure: 9am. Distance: 33km. Duration: two days. Cost: €40. Includes: two lunches, bus transfers and walk guide. Start: Top of the Rock, 1km north of Drimoleague, Co Cork. Finish: Gougane Barra. Information and booking: topoftherock.ie Email: email@example.com; Accommodation: Gougane Barra Hotel: 026-47069 or Elizabeth Ross: 028-31547.
In the footsteps of Kevin
Co Wicklow (August 23rd)
Celebrate National Heritage Week as you weave your way along St Kevin’s ancient trail to Glendalough. The undemanding terrain allows plenty of time to appreciate the inspirational Wicklow landscape. Opportunities to linger come with background information on St Kevin and the rich heritage of Ireland’s garden county. Distance: 11km. Duration: three hours. Cost: Free of charge. Meeting place: Glendalough visitor centre car park. Bus drops participants out to the walk start point. Information and booking: 086-4090289/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Irish Camino
Co Mayo (August 30th)
Ireland’s answer to the Camino is a prehistoric druidical pathway with many symbolic resonances from its pagan past. Christianised by St Patrick, it remains stubbornly untamed and much as it was for medieval pilgrims. Be warned, however – this is a demanding walk and in the true penitential tradition has a steep ascent coming at day’s end, but plenty of time set aside for reflection along the way. Departure: 8.30am. Distance: 35km. Duration: 10 hours. Cost: €10. Start: Ballintubber Abbey, which is located off the N84, 14km from Castlebar. Finish: Murrisk Car, Croagh Patrick, where participants are returned by bus to Balintubber. Information and booking: 094-9030934; email: email@example.com
Social climbing at its best
Co Down (September12th-14th)
For those who would like to explore Ireland’s border counties amid September russets, the Wee Binnian Walking Festival is just the ticket. Organised by a group that describes itself as primarily a social club, the renowned event offers nine fully guided walks to suit all abilities in the sublime Mourne and Cooley mountains and on fabled Slieve Gullion. Based in Newry, the festival combines a wide variety of walks with a social scene culminating in the famous Blister Ball on Saturday evening, Cost: £10, one day; £18, two days; £25, three days Information: 086-843 4440. weebinnians.com
The magic of East Clare
East Clare may not be a place that immediately springs to mind for quality walking but this is exactly what is on offer at the East Clare Walking Festival which is renowned for its welcoming atmosphere. Walks explore a little known but deeply compelling landscape. On offer are memorable Slieve Aughty and Slieve Bearnagh along with adorable vistas of Lough Derg and Lough Graney. A boat trip and guided walk on Holy Island, which was once a great centre of medieval pilgrimage, is a highlight of the weekend. Information: 087-6867548: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Cost: A/B walk, €12; C walk, €8; Family Walk, €5 (children free); Holy Island walk, €20. Includes bus transfers and refreshments after walk.
The best of the west
Co Mayo (October 10th-12th)
Westport is a town with a genuine heartbeat and a walking weekend based in the “olde worlde” charm of four-star Knockranny House – to support visually impaired people – is bound to prove a winner. Choice of fully guided walks including an ascent of Mweelrea (highest mountain in Connaught); a full traverse of Croagh Patrick; or a low-level wilderness ramble along the renowned Great Western Greenway. Included items: accommodation and breakfast on Friday and Saturday; dinner and entertainment on Saturday, and a choice of six walks to suit all fitness levels, led by experienced guides. Cost: €169 per person Information: midtipphillwalkers.ie Booking: 086-4009989 email: email@example.com
Co Waterford (October 10th-12th)
Waterford’s Nire Valley is a place where the Celtic Tiger failed to roar and so remains one of Ireland’s hidden gems. Above this serene valley the lordly Comeragh mountains provide a rugged outdoor experience comparable with the best on offer anywhere in Ireland. This year’s 21st annual Nire Valley Walking Festival offers a choice of 11 outings ranging from the tough, seven-hour, Lake Loop in the high Comeraghs to a three-hour family friendly outing on woodland trails. Meeting Place: Nire Hall beside the Nire Church Cost: €10 per walk Information and starting times: 087-7539276; nirevalley.com
The roof of Ireland
Co Kerry (Twice weekly)
If you believe everyone should visit the highest point of their native land at least once, then a fully guided ascent to Ireland’s highest piece of real estate is just the thing for you.
Irish people are lucky in this regard, for not only is Carrauntoohil Ireland’s loftiest peak, it is, in many ways, also its finest mountain. Every Wednesday and Saturday, Hidden Ireland Adventures offer ascents for small, intimate groups on this delightfully complex and spectacular massif ,led by experienced and knowledgeable local guides. Information: hiddenirelandadventures.com Booking: 087-2214002; email: firstname.lastname@example.org Cost: €75 per person Duration: Six to seven hours (average time) Meet: Gap of Dungloe (by prior arrangement). Equipment for the ascent can be supplied.