Why not take some time out from the Christmas festivities to enjoy a winter walk in the countryside. Whether you are living in the city, by the coast or in the midlands, there are plenty of recognised and renowned walking trails throughout Ireland. So wrap up and enjoy a day out at the Wicklow Mountains, the Glen of Aherlow or Lough Key Forest Park for a winter walking experience to help work off those mince pies or Christmas pudding, and maybe you can even try out those new woolly socks that were destined for the back of the wardrobe. Here are 10 of the best around Ireland, with all different levels of intensity for every level of walker.
The Glen of Aherlow
The Glen of Aherlow in County Tipperary is a beautiful landscape set between the Galtees and Slievenamuck Ridge. It is strewn with forests, hills and scatterings of prehistoric and early Christian sites. The Bianconi Loop, named after the Italian who set up the famous Bianconi coaches for mail and passengers throughout Ireland, is a four-kilometre mix of forestry tracks and woodland trails, and suitable for everyone in the family.
Inchidrisla Trail in Colligan Wood, County Waterford is located on the Clonmel road from Dungarvan in a vibrant valley sheltering the salmon-spawning River Colligan. The Inchidrisla Loop here is eminently suitable for families - it leaves from the wooden bridge, following the left bank of the river before swinging uphill through the beautiful Inchidrisla Wood, and eventually looping back to the picnic area.
The Doonbeg Looped Walk
The Doonbeg Looped Walk can be found in the West Clare village of Doonbeg, which lies on a magnificent coastal expanse, and this eight-kilometre looped walk offers a taste of both the village (reputed to be the longest in Ireland) and its surrounding landscape. The walk kicks off at the parish church, following the arrows along sandy and boggy roadways to an old stone bridge crossing on the Doonbeg River. If you're the active type you can try the longer 20km Tullaher Loop – if you prefer to relax you can sit in cosy local pubs, which offer traditional music for which the area is famous.
Donegal is a county of geographical extremes - the cliffs at Horn Head rise straight out of Sheephaven Bay to a height of 180m. The coastal loop here is a mix of sandy tracks, coastal paths and laneways braided around a peninsula laced with the remains of Neolithic stone circles, court tombs, passage tombs and teeming with seabirds. Don't miss McSwyne's Gun; it is said that storms can force the water through this blowhole to heights of over 200 feet. Afterwards, chill out amongst the galleries and craft shops of Dunfanaghy.
Avondale is a jewel of the Garden County, Wicklow. The house is set in a 500-acre forest park overflowing with trails, picnic areas and waymarked walks. The river walk is the longest, with steep descents and climbs following white waymarkers past magnificent views over the Vale of Avoca, and continuing along a gorgeous route by the Avonmore River.
Ten kilometres off the coast of Galway, the island of Inishbofin has been wooing walkers for years. Its monastic sites are associated with Saint Colman and amongst its pretty beaches and flurry of seabirds, you'll find the star-shaped Cromwell's Barracks – where Catholic clergy were imprisoned after the English Statute of 1585 declared them guilty of high treason. 'Bofin has three looped walks, including Westquarter, Cloonamore and the northeast.
The ruggedly beautiful Beara Peninsula in County Cork is home to any number of great walks, but even here, the national loops at Eyeries village are something special. Nestling at the base of Maulin Mountain you'll find two loops running along coastal tracks and laneways.
The 350-hectare Lough Key Forest Park in Roscommon is quite a playground. Sitting on the former King family estate at Rockingham, it is home to a lakeside centre including a tree canopy walkway, old servants' tunnels, an observation tower and a play kingdom. It also has a splendid network of nature and walking trails, including a section of the Miners' Way, the historical route passing through Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo. Follow the yellow markers from the car park, into the heart of the forest park and along the lake shoreline.
Rossmore Forest Park
Rossmore Forest Park in Monaghan is home to some of Ireland's most challenging, but most enjoyable walks. The Lake Trail is the longest trail here – a tough little route following along woodland paths and various lakes in the park. Highlights include the remains of a castle dating from 1827, native oak, ash and beech trees, and the display of Rhododendron seen at its finest at Castle Lake. An easier, equally scenic option is the three-mile 'Priestfield' walk that leads past the old family crypt.
Kilbrannish Loop Trail
Kilbrannish is a working forest in the Blackstairs Mountains in County Carlow and is home to a host of walks including two national looped walks and is part of the South Leinster Way. The Kilbrannish Loop follows the latter on a gentle climb up to a fine view of the wind farm on the summit of nearby Greenoge Hill, before turning left up Kilbrannish hill towards Croaghaun. From the summit here there is a magnificent panoramic view of Mount Leinster, and you can continue towards a fine view northwards over the plains of Carlow. From here, look out for the large pillar of Schist, a standing stone of unknown age.
For more information, visit: www.Discoverireland.ie/walking
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