Outdoor adventures within an hour of Dublin
Go beyond the usual capital sites and climb trees, walk hills and ride rivers and the sea
Tree climbing in Rock Farm Slane
I remember the time when city breaks became a thing. When budget airlines went ballistic. You left work on a Friday, dashed to the airport and took a couple of days to cram in as many museums, monuments and margaritas as you could in a weekend. Yet I have to confess that they aren’t totally my thing. Well, they are if I can get out of town for a while too and discover the places where local people go when the concrete becomes too claustrophobic. And so I now set myself a task, when I visit to new city, to discover the fresh air forays that await just an hour or so from it.
Similarly, when friends visit Dublin for the first time, they want to do all the usual sites, until I introduce them to my “an hour from” concept and they start to see a whole new side to the city. Many of these escapes remain unexplored by fellow Irish friends, and so I thought I might share a few ways to spread your wings the next time you visit the capital. And I’m not getting too pedantic about the exact timing of an hour by the way. Poetic licence overrides the annoying reality of traffic jams or delayed trains.
Up tree and down river
Heading north, one of my favourite spots is Rock Farm Slane (rockfarmslane.ie) where you can do a number of activities as day trippers, my favourite being tree climbing. This isn’t just a bit of a lep into the branches, but a fully harnessed climb up into the canopy of a 50ft oak tree, with an expert guide who teaches you the skills to climb up and abseil gently down. So not only are you getting out of town, you get the best possible views of the Boyne Valley while you’re at it.
Still up in Meath, hire a kayak from the brilliant Boyne boyos at Boyne Valley Activities based in Trim (boynevalleyactivities.ie). Take a guided kayaking trip down the river, or hire a kayak from them and paddle independently along parts of the 35km Boyne Valley River Trail, passing abbeys and castles. You will really feel as if you have escaped into another world. Get a group of four or more up there and you can go rafting between November and May when the river is rapacious enough.
Southern sea and mountains
I’m always amazed how many visiting friends from abroad have no idea Dublin is on the coast, and sometimes even Dubliners forget that the sea air is just minutes away. The cliff walk from Bray to Greystones is 7km of free, and totally freeing, fun. Take the Dart to Bray, stroll along the beach to the sign marked “cliff top path” and just breathe in that sea air. A must stop in Greystones before taking the train back is the Happy Pear, well known already for its healthy and hip café and shop (thehappypear.ie). If you like being up and early, you can always subscribe to its Swimrise Alert, where they do sporadic swims at dawn.
While in Wicklow head for the Wicklow Mountains National Park. It may have come in for some judicial coverage of late, but how many of us are guilty of ignoring the natural nirvana on the capital’s doorstep? You may think of Glendalough as touristy, but there are actually nine waymarked walking trails so you can easily get away from the coach loads. Enjoy the likes of the 11km long Spinc and Wicklow Way which takes you well up into the mountains and back down to the information centre. If you don’t want to drive, you can always take the Glendalough Bus (glendaloughbus.com), a family run service that has been heading out to these parts for about as long as the monks have.
And for one last blast of those city cobwebs, there is nothing like being out on the waves, and sea kayaking is a cool way to do that. Expert guides Seán Pierce and Eileen Murphy at Shearwater Sea Kayaking (shearwaterseakayaking.ie) welcome beginners in Howth for full or half-day experiences. Also marine wildlife enthusiasts, they take you out to the Skerries, Lambay or the rocky shores of Ireland’s Eye in search of seals, puffins and, indeed, shearwater sea birds. But most importantly, this escape out onto the water gives you a perspective of how easy it is to escape the city by just paddling and pootling along its gift of a coast. An hour is all it takes.
Rock Farm Slane, rockfarmslane.ie
Tree climbing sessions cost €39 for adults and €29 for children (over eights only) for two hours
Boyne Valley Activities, boynevalleyactivities.ie
Self-guided kayaking costs €45 a day. Two-hour guided kayak sessions are €40
Glendalough Bus, glendaloughbus.com
From Dublin to Glendalough and back,€20
Wicklow Mountains, wicklowmountainsnationalpark.com
Shearwater Sea Kayaking, shearwaterseakayaking.ie
A half-day session costs €55 each