Four fantastic Irish winter walking festivals
This quartet of events will show you some of the best scenery Ireland has to offer
A hiker walking along Leenane Hill, Co Galway, after snowfall, with Killary fjord and Mweelrea mountain in the background
Walking festivals are a great way to explore areas of Ireland that you might not be very familiar with. In the hands of an experienced guide, you can focus on the views around you as opposed to battling with a map and compass. And in spring, summer and autumn, there are multiple walking festivals to choose from every weekend.
There are fewer on offer in the winter months, but those that do take place are well worth signing up to. A walking festival at this time of year forces you to stretch those legs a little farther than you might ordinarily do on those short, dark days.
The only thing to be mindful of when heading out in winter is the additional gear you will need to pack. As we are all too aware, the weather can turn from glorious to ghastly in a matter of minutes, so it is vital that you have the right kit to cope with this.
The majority of walking guides will insist that you wear a good pair of hiking boots for their walks. In addition, you will also need plenty of warm layers, a hat, gloves, a full set of waterproofs and food and water. It is also a good idea to carry a basic first aid kit and a head-torch (just in case you do find yourself out after the sun goes down).
Walking festivals will usually offer a choice of walks. Grade A walks are for experienced hikers with a good level of fitness. Grade B are moderate level walks, while Grade C are perfect for those looking for a relaxed stroll that is not too taxing. The walking festivals will always depart from a central hub, with some walks requiring a bus journey to the starting point.
Here are four walking festivals taking place over the next few months that are guaranteed to show you some of the very best scenery that Ireland has to offer.
Westport Christmas and New Year Walking Festival 2018
The Westport Christmas and New Year Walking Festival is the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs that tend to settle over the Christmas period. Offering two days of hiking in one of Ireland’s most scenic spots, this walking festival is more suited to those with a base level of fitness as the walks are fairly challenging.
The first day of walking will take you over the highest mountain in Connaught, Mweelrea, on a 10km route. Don’t be fooled into thinking that day two will be less of a challenge, though. Despite the fact that the route is just 7km and on lower terrain, the route can be very muddy and wet in parts. However, the views will make all of the effort worthwhile. Both days will deliver some truly spectacular scenery.
In the evenings you can relax and restore your aching muscles in the pubs of Westport, where you’ll hear some of the best traditional music available anywhere in Ireland.
Glen of Aherlow Winter Walking Festival
The Glen of Aherlow Winter Walking Festival is an opportunity to take in the beauty of the Galtees and Slievenamuck in Co Tipperary through a series of guided walks led by the Galtee Walking Club.
Kicking off in the Aherlow House hotel on Friday evening, you will have an opportunity to meet both your fellow walkers and your guides, as well as enjoying the comforts of the hotel.
Over the Saturday and the Sunday there are five guided hikes and walks ranked from A to C. The routes will include the Galtymore Horseshoe and a walk over Knockastakeen that takes in both Lake Muskry and Far Breaga.
Sligo Walking Festival
The Sligo Walking Festival has been gaining momentum over the last few years, and is now a favourite not just with the Irish but with those from further afield.
Kicking off on Friday night with a torch-lit hike over the Ox Mountains, walkers will be treated to hot chocolate under the stars as they gaze down at the twinkling lights of Sligo town below.
Participants can then choose from A, B or C graded walks on Saturday and Sunday. The most experienced hikers will head out along the Royal Peaks and the Sleeping Giant of the Dartry Mountains. The B walks will include the iconic Benbulben Mountain and the Classic Sligo Way. The C walkers will be brought out to the tombs of Carrowkeel in the Bricklieves and to Knocknarea and Queen Maeve’s Trail. The Sunday C walk will end with some live music and tasty grub at the famous Strandhill People’s Market.
Dingle Walking Festival
The Dingle Walking Festival offers a great opportunity to explore one of the most scenic corners of Ireland. Kicking off on Friday night with a leisurely night walk around the town of Dingle, the festival will also host two different hikes on Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday offers a 20km hike to Dunquin on the Dingle Way for those who want to push themselves. This route offers unrivalled views across Dingle Bay, the Skellig Rocks, the Beehive Huts and Coumeenoole Beach. Those who want something a little more relaxed can opt for a three-hour jaunt along the Slea Head Road to Teampall Geall, an early Christian site.
There will also be two route options on the Sunday. A 17km option will be available from Dunquin to Ballydavid which will offers stunning views of the Blasket Islands and Sybil Head. The easier walk will head along Burnham road which looks across Dingle Harbour and Dingle Town. If the weather plays ball the route will also take you up to Eask Tower which was built in 1847 during the Great Famine.
Heather Snelgar edits the outdoor and adventure website outsider.ie