The winter months bring with them short days, unpredictable weather conditions and a resulting lack of motivation when it comes to getting out there for a brisk walk or a hike. But once you get those boots on you will never regret the decision to leave the house.
However, you should take a few extra precautions when heading out on a hike in the winter months. Bring enough warm clothing, food and water with you. Make sure somebody knows where you are going. Have a map and compass with you (that you know how to use), even if you know the route just in case the weather closes in on you.
And be sure not to bite off more than you can chew when it comes to your route. With limited daylight hours you don’t want to find yourself caught out in the mountains after dark.
Here are five short- to medium-distance walks that are perfect for a winter’s day.
1. Cliffs of Moher Walk, Co Clare
Distance: 5km or 10km
OS Map: 51 and 57
Offering some of the best views in Ireland, this flat walk along the windswept cliffs is a great way to clear the head on a winter's day. The Hag's Head end of the cliffs in the quiet little neighbourhood of Kilconnell has a small carpark and is an ideal starting point for this hike. Seen in silhouette the headland looks like an old woman looking out to sea, giving the place its name.
The walk follows the short but spectacular line of the cliffs to the Cliffs of Moher Interpretive Centre and beyond to O’Brien’s Tower lookout point which was built as an observation point for tourists in 1835. The walk to O’Brien’s Tower is 5km. Here you can either turn on your heel and return to the car or venture further on if you have arranged a shuttle service among your group to take you back to the start point.
2. Portumna Forest Park, Co Galway
OS Map: 53
Portumna Forest Park covers almost 450 hectares of which the majority is dominated by coniferous woodland. This is great for a wet winter's day as it means you will get some shelter from the elements.
Nature lovers will be in their element here. Ash, beech and silver birch are dotted along the lakeside while animal species in the area include red squirrel, fallow deer, foxes, badgers and a white-tailed sea eagle who nests there.
There are four walking trails of varying distances in Portumna Forest Park. One is the Rinmaher Walking Trail, a long single-track loop with great views across Lough Derg.
3. Fairy Castle Loop, Dublin
OS Map: 50
Ticknock offers a great network of mountain and forest walks just a stone's throw from Dublin. Nestled in the hills just beyond Sandyford in south Dublin, you can drive to Ticknock from the city centre in about half an hour but the walk will make you feel like you're lost in the wilderness.
There is about 10km of walking trails through forests and mountains with incredible views of the greater Dublin area from the top of Three Rock Mountain. You can do an out and back if you don’t want to go too far, or there are plenty of loop walks in this area like the Fairy Castle Loop which is 5.5km long.
The trails are fairly well maintained, with some rocky and muddy sections, and are of moderate difficulty with some steep climbs. The main forest roads are very doable for children and families.
4. The Avonmore Way, Co Wicklow
OS Map: 56 and 62
The Avonmore Way is a relatively new trail along the beautiful Avonmore river in Co Wicklow. Departing from the Trooperstown carpark near Laragh, the route follows a mixture of minor roads, forest roads and tracks as it skirts its way around Trooperstown Hill. It then winds its way through the beautiful Claravale Nature Reserve alongside the peaceful Avonmore river, passing by the picturesque settlement of Claravale.
Views of the surrounding Wicklow Mountains and the mature oak woods of the Claravale Nature Reserve are spectacular.
This route is fully marked and will take approximately four hours to complete. It is a one-way route which finishes at the Stump Forest entrance near Rathdrum so you will need to arrange a shuttle with your hiking buddies.
5. Omey Island Loop, Co Galway
OS Map: 37
Largely abandoned in winter, Omey Island in Claddaghduff, Connemara, is a gorgeous spot to explore on foot. This is an easy but really special walk as you'll head off across a sandy causeway that is exposed when the tide is low. Be sure to check the tide times so you can get back and be prepared for plenty of water and tidal puddles on the route!
You’ll leave from Sweeney’s pub on the mainland and head left along the road before taking a right at the chapel to head to the shore to cross the sands following the marker posts.
Once on the island, head right, ignoring the road leading inland, and continue walking along the beach, following the northern coastline.
You will come to one beach, then another. Where a fence turns inland above the second beach, follow it to the remains of Teampall Féichín. This medieval church was built on the site of an earlier monastic settlement founded by St Féichín. Then head back towards the beach to continue the loop.
Keep your eyes peeled for St Féichín’s well, where pilgrims have left some strange trinkets. You will eventually come to a road (there are two mobile homes on it), turn left and follow it back to your starting point.
Heather Snelgar edits the outdoor and adventure website Outsider.ie