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At one with nature: Five of the best counties for your active staycation

With the right gear, hiking, mountain biking and even surfing are possible in the autumn months

Surfers on Rossnowlagh beach, Co Donegal. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Surfers on Rossnowlagh beach, Co Donegal. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Instagram feeds have pointed to the fact that very many of us were, for the first time, stepping foot on glistening Donegal or West Cork beach, kayaking along our midlands waterways or cycling one of the resplendent greenways. Ireland is an activity lover’s paradise. So even if the weather is slightly inclement during the autumn and winter months, get the waterproofs on and make the most of what the island has to offer.

We look at five of the best counties to get active in.

Donegal

Donegal has many of the best beaches in Ireland. There are certainly plenty to choose from and myriad ways to explore and experience the coast line. As we go into more off peak seasons, visitors will often have spectacular long sandy beaches all to themselves. Surfing is one way to take in the glorious coastline and with spectacular waves all year round, experts at Rossnowlagh Surf on popular Rossnowlagh beach are happy to get people upright on a board. Alternatively, explore the coast via kayak – which is usually available subject to weather, and Rapid Kayaking offer trips and bespoke routes subject to tide and time of year.

Go horseriding all year round on Tullan Strand Beach at Donegal Equestrian Centre. This is available from complete novices up, and is a great way for all the family to take in the wild North Atlantic coastline.

Walking, cycling and hiking is highly recommended and Sliabh Liag, Europe’s highest sea cliffs are a must-see.

Lough Eske Castle is the ideal spot to base yourself in Donegal for an activity holiday, due to the location, and all activities mentioned are within a 30 to 60 minute drive.

The hotel has a special offer to help guests explore Donegal- 3 nights for the price of 2 starting from €455 per couple in a Courtyard Guestroom.

For more, visit lougheskecastlehotel.com.

Cork

In west Cork activities range from once in a lifetime, world class whale watching to Atlantic sea kayaking. Take a boat out of Reen Pier with Cork Whale Watch, and you might be lucky enough to spot some of the rarest creatures on earth. In fact deep into October and November are some of the best times to spot these incredible cetaceans. Sea kayaking takes place from Reen or Lough Hyne in Skibbereen but the famous night kayaking with Jim and Maria Kennedy is not to be missed. The Fastnet Rock and Cape Clear Island Tours with Cape Clear Ferries out of Baltimore run every week until the October Bank Holiday weekend.

The Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, a small town with lots of character, is the perfect base for exploring the Wild Atlantic Way. There are some great beaches locally, an idyllic coast that is not as crowded in autumn as the summer months.

Reen Pier, West Cork. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Reen Pier, West Cork. Photograph: Emma Jervis

And if the weather turns a little too wintery, drive to Cork city to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the English market.

The Celtic Ross has a walking package, Rambles in Rosscarbery, where the hotel kits guests with a walking guide and packed lunch so they can explore a number of local walks close by, many with excellent coastal views, taking in the cliff and beaches nearby.

Try foraging with the hotel as well as kayaking or stand up paddling with the Lagoon Activity Centre. Crazy golf at Smugglers Cove is great for both adults and kids.

There’s crazy golf at Smugglers Cove
There’s crazy golf at Smugglers Cove

The Rambles Round Rosscarbery break includes two nights B&B, picnic lunch and goodie bag and costs from €189 in total.

For more, visit celticrosshotel.com.

For something that little bit special, check out the Old Head Gold Links in Kinsale. Steeped in history, there has been a common misconception that it has a “closed door” environment, but this has never been the case. It is usually heavily booked well in advance by overseas guests but events of 2020 have seen many more Irish golfers check out the course, situated on the spectacular headland in Kinsale. Stay in a luxury suite for €250 per room, including breakfast.

For more, visit oldhead.com.

Sligo

Just south of Donegal is the small village of Mullaghmore, where you can try out scuba diving, paddle boarding or sailing. Hike around the head, a brisk 30 minute walk and stop for an ice-cream along the pier.

Trek the Benbulben Forest Walk and Queen Maeve’s Trail on Knocknarea to The Devil’s Chimney and Keash Hill Trail.

There’s plenty of mountain biking and rock climbing as well as horse trails on offer and visitors can recover from all the exertion with one of the seaweed baths Sligo is famous for.

There’s plenty of outdoor activities to do in Sligo. Photograph: iStock
There’s plenty of outdoor activities to do in Sligo. Photograph: iStock

Stay at Coopershill House, a fine example of a Georgian family mansion which is home to seven generations of the O’Hara family, since it was built in 1774. Explore Lough Gill and its myriad of islands, bays and tranquil forests. The 3 hour guided tour is the perfect way to discover some of the untouched beauty in the hidden corners of Sligo. Stop for coffee, tea and cookies half way.

Two nights B&B and 1 x 4 course dinner at Coopershill costs €640 total stay.

For more, visit coopershill.com.

Wicklow

Known as the garden of Ireland, there are lots of pretty walks and hikes throughout the county. The beautiful Wicklow mountains, the Poulanass Waterfall at Glendalough and the gardens of Russborough House are just some of the more popular attractions in the county.

If you bring the kids along, try Bray Adventures, which is an excellent one-stop-shop for all outdoor activities, including rock climbing, kayaking, surfing and hillwalking.

Alternatively, for an adults-only weekend, check into the Eagle Lodge at Rathsallagh House, which comprises three bedrooms and sleeps six. Stay in the house and a enjoy a complimentary 36 holes of golf on Rathsallagh’s championship course for each guest, costing €950 in total for two nights.

There is also a tennis court, croquet lawn, and not far is Rathcon Farm, which is exclusively for the guests of Rathsallagh. Rathcon has a fantastic fly fishing lake where guests can catch a trout, bring it back and the team can cook it for tea. There is also a clay pigeon shooting school.

For more, visit rathsallagh.com.

Mayo

Mayo offers up a unique landscape where ocean, hills and fields merge, creating a beautiful vista. Horse riding, fishing, golf, surfing and hiking are all on offer here, along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Make a Break West is a package put together by Mulranny Park hotel that includes a variety of the aforementioned activities as well as socially distanced wine and beer tasting, baking demonstrations, classic movie nights, star gazing, Pilates and aqua aerobics.

Nestled within a woodland estate overlooking Clew Bay and Mulranny blue flag beach, and sandwiched between The Wild Atlantic Way and the Great Western Greenway there is plenty for lovers of the outdoors to get their teeth into.

Two nights B&B with dinner on one evening costs from €169.00 pp.

AT ONE WITH NATURE

Having spent her childhood camping, hiking, orienteering and kayaking, former scout Sarah Johnston spent eight days travelling around the West Cork and Kerry coastline this summer, finding confidence once again in being at one with nature.

“We camped on beaches and in the mountains - the Mizen Peninsula and on the north side of the Dingle Peninsula, and the Caha Mountains. There were quite a few people out camping this summer but we didn’t have too much trouble finding spots.

Rachel Johnston in Muckross Park, Killarney
Rachel Johnston in Muckross Park, Killarney

“There were plenty of opportunities along the way for outdoorsy activities that we were really excited about. We hiked around the Caha Mountains and up Mount Brandon, which was challenging but fun. We took the boat to Sherkin Island and walked the loop walk, which was more easy-going and doable in a nice afternoon.

“For other scenic outdoor activities, we walked around Slea Head, and one day rented bicycles to explore the Killarney National Park. Swimming was excellent and our favourite spot was Fermoyle Strand on the Dingle Peninsula. It was much less packed than other beaches we saw, but gorgeous - with mountains in clear view.

“There are also plenty of attractions that are outdoors. We were able to visit the Mitchelstown Caves, Mizen Head, and the historic beehive huts. And even without leaving the car, we really enjoyed winding our way along the Wild Atlantic Way, making sure to also take in some of the well-known and striking drives through the Gap of Dunloe, the Healy Pass, Molly’s Gap, and the Conor Pass.

“In some of the bigger towns, we went for walks and found lots of nice parks in Cork City and Kinsale. We also checked out a number of local breweries, and were really impressed with Tom Crean Brewing in Kenmare. Even though we were too late to do a tasting, we were able to meet the brewer and hear about the origins of the brewery.

“Apart from the obvious health benefits from being in nature, I find it gives you time without distraction to develop your relationships,” she said.