Winter walks for Christmas and new year

Winter can be a most rewarding time among the hills and you are actually less likely to suffer in your efforts, for this is the season that lifts the burden of abundance and allows our uplands to breathe easily again

Summer is for the outdoors. Then, as the sun becomes a late riser, most of us sadly retreat fireside. Sure you’d be crazy to go rambling with all those cold abbreviated days and ceaseless rain. Wrong! Winter can be a most rewarding time among the hills and you are actually less likely to suffer in your efforts, for this is the season that lifts the burden of abundance and allows our uplands to breathe easily again.

Midges, flourishing vegetation, energy- sapping heat and holiday hordes disappear as the hill country becomes barer, browner and decidedly more peaceful and walker-friendly.

Whether on a sunny, leaf-crunching November morning, the moody twilight of a December afternoon, the eye-watering whiteness of a frost laden January or a February day when the hills stand white-veiled like nurses past, the winter landscape rewards the intrepid. And if you don’t want any faffing around with navigation, plenty of fully organised outings are available.

Off-season walking events were once rare, but recently they have become deliciously less uncommon. Ideal for newcomers wishing to safely experience the best of winter in the outdoors, they conveniently eliminate route-finding concerns. To enjoy an outing planned to within an inch of a waypoint, book one of the events listed below and then embrace the captivating bleakness of our winter hills.


Step back in time December 26th
Walk off over-indulgence on St Stephens's Day by joining the traditional four-hour organised walk that follows the prehistoric route between the ancient monastic site at Aughagower and Ballintubber Abbey, Co Mayo. Originally, a chariot road linking Rathcruachan, the seat of the kings and queens of Connacht to Croagh Patrick, this low-level hike traverses fields, minor roads and pathways that virtually groan under the weight of antiquities. The meeting point is Ballintubber Abbey and walkers are then transported to the start point. Further information from Ballintubber Abbey office, tel 094-903 0934 or email, info@

Beauty of the Blooms December 26th
Discover the solitude of the Slieve Blooms while also supporting a good cause on the 22nd annual Slieve Bloom Walk in aid of the Laois Hospice on St Stephen's Day. Raise some funds for hospice and then meet in Clonaslee village, Co Laois, at noon for a choice of two walks. A strenuous, fully way-marked outing will take you high into the Slieve Blooms or you can choose a shorter family walk to Brittas Lake. Then return to Clonaslee for lashings of food and hospitality in the local community centre. For sponsorship cards and information, contact Shelia at 057-864 8084 or Lucy at 057- 864 8063.

Best of the west December 26th to 29th
What better way to spend Christmas than in Ireland's most atmospheric town, with daily walks amid the glorious mountains of Mayo and Connemara? Great for sociability and enjoying the craic, this festival offers some of the best walks and views in the west. Organised by Gerry Greensmyth, one of Ireland's foremost walking guides, the event particularly welcomes participants coming alone who are immediately made welcomed into the group. Information from 098-26090 or 087-233 3295; Email:

LARCC on the Devil's Bit December 27th
A demon is once reputed to have taken a mouthful from the summit of Tipperary's Devils Bit Mountain thereby reducing its height considerably. The devil's work ensures you can now reach this unpretentious summit with modest effort while helping the LARCC organisation which provides support for cancer victims. Your compensation is a charming view, good company and the added bonus of complementary hot toddies afterwards. This popular annual walk leaves from outside the Templemore Arms Hotel at 10.30am with a shorter ramble departing at noon. For information visit or contact Clare at 0504 32333 or 086-873 4665.

Discover a Hidden Gem January 30th-February 1st
The Glen of Aherlow is a truly a hidden gem for outdoor lovers, with the Slievenamuck Hills offering great low and moderate level outings, while south of the glen, the towering Galtee Mountains provide challenging circuits on Ireland's highest inland range that often come with full-on winter conditions. The wonderfully charming old hunting lodge at Aherlow House Hotel is the base for the Glen of Aherlow Winter Walking Festival. Information from 062- 56331 or visit

Explore a Winter Wonderland February 8th-15th
There is nothing like trekking the hills on a clear day with snow crunching satisfyingly beneath your boots. You are certainly guaranteed plenty of snow on Mountaineering Ireland's winter meet in the Scottish highlands which takes place amid the incomparable scenery of Glencoe. Participants can acquire winter skills by undertaking a winter mountaineering course or alternatively can join in the walking and climbing on an informal basis. Evening talks and slide shows ensure plenty of after-dark entertainment. Information from Jane at 01-625 1115 or visit

The Romance of Dingle February 13th-15th
Here is an opportunity to spend Valentine's weekend exploring one of Ireland's most romantic landscapes. Used by Davis Lean as a backdrop for the movie Ryan's Daughter, the true star of which was the beguiling Corca Dhuibhne landscape beyond Dingle. This year the Dingle Walking Festival highlights include an opportunity to ascend the deeply mythological Mount Brandon, a walk along the Cosáin na Naomh pilgrim path or a chance to explore the compelling landscape around the Conor Pass. Further information from Colm at 087-222 2248 or visit