It can take a few weeks to make the switch from summer activities to autumnal ones. The shorter daylight hours and cooler nights can be hard to adjust to at first but once you get kitted out with warm, waterproof clothes and good walking shoes, you’re up for the challenges that this most colourful time of the year offers.
Ireland is one of the best places in Europe to see migratory birds that fly from the Arctic regions to spend time in ice-free waters over the winter months. From October onwards, you can begin to see swans, geese and ducks on wetlands and mudflats around the Irish coastline. Whooper swans, Greenland white-fronted geese and red-tailed godwit stay in Ireland until March or April.
Wading birds such as curlew and sandpiper also choose the Irish coastline to overwinter. North Bull Island in the Dublin Bay Biosphere, Cork Harbour, the Wexford Slobs and Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland are good places to see both the waders and the wildfowl but some also move beyond the coastal wetlands and fly inland as far as the bogs in Offaly.
See birdwatchireland.ie for suggestions where the best sites are to watch these migratory birds.
The soft crunch underfoot of yellow, red and brown leaves that have fallen from deciduous trees is one of the most potent symbols of autumn. In Ireland, we only occasionally experience the rich red colours associated with the fall in North America but we can still enjoy the therapeutic benefits of colour, texture and smell of autumnal leaves.
And while we tend to prefer the atmosphere of deciduous woods with their under storey of smaller trees and shrubs, there is growing appreciation for walking in pine forest as awareness of the Japanese practice of forest-bathing grows. This movement encourages slow appreciation of the smells, textures, movement and colours in what might otherwise be perceived as bland coniferous forests. And when you consider that deciduous woodlands account for about 10 per cent of the total of woodlands, sometimes, you’ve got to choose a pine forest to walk in.
Suggestions of woodlands to visit in autumn include Avondale Park and Glendalough in Co Wicklow, the JFK Arboretum in Co Wexford, Muckross Park in Co Kerry, Glenveagh National Park in Co Donegal, Belvedere Park in Co Westmeath and Louth Key Forest in Co Roscommon. Also worth considering are Dublin parks such as Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, Bushy Park, Terenure St Anne’s Park, Clontarf/Raheny and and Malahide Castle grounds.
See coillte.ie for a list of forest parks open to the public.
WILD FOOD FORAGING
There is an abundance of wild berries to choose from at this time of year. And, while most people can identify blackberries (remembering only to pick those that have clear white centres), more experienced foragers will pick rosehips, haws and rowan berries to use to make jams and cordials. Crab apples and hazel nuts can also be fun to pick at this time of the year.
But, when it comes to autumnal foraging, going in search of edible fungi in Irish forests is the most challenging – and potentially the most rewarding of them all. Popular edible forest fungi include chanterelles, ceps, common puffballs and charcoal burners but you've got to look close to the ground and learn which trees specific mushrooms are most likely to grow under. You also have to develop a keen eye to identify characteristic shapes, colours, gills and age of what you're picking. Novice mushroom foragers must beware because there as many more poisonous mushrooms out there, some of which closely resemble the edible ones. It's best to go out with an expert forager or join an organised mushroom foraging hunt. See blackstairsecotrails.ie, mushroomstuff.com and irishseedsavers.ie
DARK SKY WATCHING
As artificial light moves further and further into the countryside (with many rural dwellers preferring to light up their properties at nighttime for safety reasons), it is increasingly difficult to see the stars. We can’t even yet contemplate what this loss means to the human psyche (remember farmers used to decide times to sow and harvest from specific star constellations) but, researchers already identify the detrimental health benefits of too much artificial light at night time.
Be thankful then that there are two designated areas of Ireland where dark skies are protected. These are in north Kerry (kerrydarksky.com) and in Mayo (mayodarkskypark.ie). The communities in Newport, Mulranny and Ballycroy in Co Mayo will celebrate the Dark Skies Festival from November 2nd-4th in 2018. See mayodarkskyfestival.ie for information on walks, talks and stargazing.
Joining a guided full moon walk is another way to enjoy the night sky. Hilltoptreks organize monthly full moon walks in the Wicklow mountains. See hilltoptreks.com/guided-walks/full-moon-walks for full details.
EXPLORE THE COASTLINE
Trips to the seaside don’t have to be confined to the summer months. Discovering or re-discovering coastal walks can be an exhilarating activity during the autumn months. The Bray to Greystones cliff walk and the walks on Howth Head are easy to reach by Dart and are perfect for day trips for Dublin-based folk. Bull Island, Dollymount Strand and Killiney beach are perfect places to go for shorter walks.
Outside the capital, there is a myriad of coastal locations to explore. The Hook peninsula in Co Wexford with its iconic black and white striped lighthouse at the tip is one option. Raven Point – also in Wexford is a beautiful forest to walk in, followed by a stroll on the adjacent Curracloe beach.
If you’ve keen to watch the surf, head for Enniscrone beach in Co Sligo, Rossnowlagh in Co Donegal, Rossbeigh beach in Co Kerry, Lahinch in Co Clare and Keel beach on Achill Island to mention just a few locations.
Joining whalewatchers at specific headlands along the Irish coastline is another option. See iwdg.ie for details of organised whale watches over the next few months.
JUST FOR KIDS
While all the above can be enjoyed by all ages, here are a few suggestions of outdoor activities aimed at children. The treetop activities at Squirrel Scramble in Killruddery Estate in Bray, Co Wicklow, (squirrelscramble.ie) is open at weekends until November.
Castlecomer Discovery Park in Co Kilkenny, which offers great outdoor fun on ziplines, treetop walks and rock climbing (discoverypark.ie), remains open at weekends until October 31st.
Wells House and Gardens in Co Wexford is hosting an autumn fairy trail which will take young children through the woodlands on September 30th from 1pm to 5pm (wellshouse.ie).
Outdoor adventure centres such as Killary Adventure Company in Killary, Co Mayo (killaryadventure.com) also offer day/half-day activities including canyoning, gorge walking, rock climbing and kayaking for children aged 8 and over.
The Wake Dock kids club in Dublin's Grand Canal Dock on Sunday mornings offers wakeboarding classes for children aged 8-16 (wakedock.ie). And the Crana Fest canoeing races on October 20th-21st on Lough Swilly and the Crana River in Buncrana, Co Donegal, (cranafest.ie) is another option for those keen to keep up their canoeing in the autumn months.