Here’s why Autumn is best on the Wild Atlantic Way

The evenings may be drawing in a little earlier, but Autumn is still the most beautiful time of year, especially on the Wild Atlantic Way

We tend to associate the Wild Atlantic Way with the summertime – long days with the sun bouncing off the wet sand on the miles of empty beaches, barefoot children spending the whole day jumping from rock pool to rock pool, stunning sunsets setting the sky on fire as a prelude to a night sky holding onto the dying embers of the sun before a dawn creeps in almost immediately.

'Embrace the Wild Atlantic Way of Life' campaign

'Embrace the Wild Atlantic Way of Life' campaign

That’s what summer memories are made of on the Wild Atlantic Way, but what we forget too, is that Autumn could be the most beautiful time of the year on the over 2,500 km of incredible coastal route from Malin Head to Kinsale and with a huge range of destinations and activities to choose from.

The west coast of Ireland is a unique place, on the very edge of north-western Europe, it is a world away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, from emails, and conference calls. Head west, put on your Out Of Office auto reply, let your phone power down, and switch off completely. There aren’t that many places left on this continent where you can escape the intensity of modernity and progress. On the Wild Atlantic Way you can step into a place that is both sculpted and shaped by the elements and is also free of time.

The Wild Atlantic Way is always changing with huge weather fronts moving in from the ocean, meaning you get rain, sunshine, wind and blue skies in constant rotation. September brings a mellower sun, for spectacular vistas when trekking during the day, and an evening drawing in earlier inviting you to a fireside pint in the pub or an expertly prepared dish of the very best of nature’s produce from the sea and land.

With the prospect of the Irish winter drawing in, it’s time to book a break on the Wild Atlantic Way. It gives us something to look forward to and allows us to embrace the full beauty of autumn. For those of us with children back at school, while we welcome the return to routine, the mid-term break is coming and we should think ahead about what we’ll do with the little ones at the end of October.

For those of us who aren’t tied to the school calendar, autumn affords the perfect opportunity for a Wild Atlantic Way break away from all the increased traffic of the school runs. There are fewer visitors and you have the chance to have vast expanses of western coastline entirely to yourself.

Walking

Beautiful Glenveagh, Ireland #rs89_ireland

A photo posted by Rachel E Sample (@rachelsample89) on

What better way to enjoy the turning of the season than to walk the hills and trails of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way? Five of Ireland’s six National Parks are found on the Wild Atlantic Way; Glenveagh, Ballycroy, Connemara, the Burren and Killarney can all boast breath-taking scenery, ever-changing skies, bold mountain presences as well as unique micro climates, flora and fauna. The landscape, sculpted by the elements, is the canvas on which Nature paints her palette of autumnal colours.

Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park
Set at the foot of the Glenveagh Mountains in Co. Donegal, there is nowhere in the world quite like the Glenveagh National Park. With over 16,000 hectares of wild bogland, Donegal Mountains, lakes, glens and woods, not to mention the gorgeous Glenveagh Gardens Glenveagh is a rugged paradise for walkers. As the September sun mellows over Glenveagh, the murky, still bog water reflects the ice blue sky above, with the majestic Errigal dominating the landscape. Golden Eagles swoop above their territories and wild deer leap from heather and forest. It’s a magnificent place to get away from it all this autumn.

Ballycroy National Park
Over 11,000 hectares of unspoilt Mayo wilderness, the Ballycroy National Park includes the magnificent Nephin Beg Mountain range, some of the most stunning mountain waling areas in the country. The area includes the site of one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Western Europe; the Owenduff Bog and is of huge natural importance. While walking the trails of Ballycroy you can spot fox, badger, mountain hare, otter, feral American mink,and red deer on the expanses of untouched bog, while the Owenduff and Tarsaghaun rivers teem with salmon and sea trout.

Killarney National Park
Set below the towering Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, Killarney National Park is spectacular in Autumn. The area’s rugged topography paired with it’s unique, lush flora make the turning of the season a particularly magical time in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Gap of Dunloe comes into its own at this time of year, what is more, you’ll find Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction free from the usual hustle and bustle as the off season kicks in.

Food

Autumn is the time of the Harvest, when farmers across Ireland reap the fruits of their labour. It is a time of celebration and a time of plenty. It’s a time when the Wild Atlantic Way presents its bountiful produce for us to enjoy. From the finest oysters and seafood in the world, to the rich and creamy cheese of Connemara grass-fed cattle, the brambles of Donegal and Sligo hang heavy with sweet fruit and the earth gives us vegetables that shine like jewels on our kitchen tables.

Autumn is the time of some of the best food festivals on the Wild Atlantic Way:

We're one day away! #galwayoysterfestival #BIM #wildatlanticway #kellysoysters

A photo posted by Galway Oyster Festival (@galwayoysterfestival) on

Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival
23rd - 25th September, 2016
Travel to Galway this September to sample the region’s native seafood. The Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival is a great opportunity to explore the city while feasting on some very tasty local produce. There’ll be a food trail, parades through the town and of course, the annual World Oyster Opening Championships!

Bia Bó Finne
Inishbofin, 3rd September to 2nd October, 2016
Next on our list is a very special event that allows participants to immerse themselves completely in rural Irish culture. Food festival Bia Bó Finne takes place in October on the intimate surrounds of Inishbofin, an island off the coast of Galway. In this idyllic seclusion, local food producers share their artisan goods as guests reconnect with nature.

Burren Winterage Weekend
The Burren, 27th-30th October, 2016
For hundreds of years, farmers in The Burren in County Clare have marked the end of summer by herding their cattle onto ‘winterage’ pastures in the limestone uplands where they then spend the winter grazing. This ancient tradition is honoured during the Burren Winterage Weekend, a vibrant four-day celebration of Irish heritage and culture and of course the best food from the region.

Art & Culture

Throughout the Harvest season and towards Samhain or the traditional beginning of the winter period or darker half of the year, there is a rich tapestry of cultural events all along the Wild Atlantic Way. Autumn in the west of Ireland is traditionally a time to celebrate, to eat, drink and be merry and there are a myriad of cultural events to choose from, from traditional Celtic celebrations to the vibrant contemporary arts scene, and even matchmaking. Take a trip to the west coast of Ireland, in the wonderful window, when the busy season is slowing down and the locals let their hair down before the winter.

The Waterboys - Sligo Live. #vsco #vscocam #thewaterboys #sligolive

A photo posted by Jack Taheny (@jack_taheny) on

Sligo Live
October from the 28th – 31st
Music fans meanwhile should check out Sligo Live, an annual folk, roots and indie extravaganza that descends on the town of Sligo. The 2015 event saw the likes of Jools Holland, Rufus Wainwright and The Waterboys take to stages around the town that inspired much of iconic writer WB Yeats’ poetry.

Henry Girls, McIntyre's Bar #BlueStacksFestival #Donegal

A photo posted by Michael Beattie (@anothermikeyb) on

Donegal Bay and Blue Stacks Festival
30th September – 9th October 2016
Arts and culture will be highlighted in abundance at the annual Donegal Bay and Blue Stacks Festival with events taking place in a variety of County Donegal locations including Ballyshannon, Bundoran and Donegal Town. A lively mix of music, theatre, visual arts, comedy, dance, literature and more, the festival celebrates its 16th year in 2016 with another compelling programme full of local and nationwide talent.

Celtic Fringe Festival
22nd - 25th September
Celebrating artists from the Celtic regions of Spain, England, Ireland and Scotland whose traditions share a link with the Emerald Isle through the voyage of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Celtic Fringe Festival which takes place in County Sligo is one of the most arresting history lessons imaginable.

Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival & The Outing
September 2nd – October 9th
A quaint and romantic Irish tradition, the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival promises an experience unlike any other. Led by the charismatic Willie Daly –the only true matchmaker left in the country! – the festival has evolved from acute union of singletons of all nationalities and ages to Europe’s largest and most revered event of its kind. Despite being just a few years young, the LBGT offshoot The Outing continues to grow in popularity and is endorsed by the Queen of Ireland herself, Panti Bliss.

Adventure

Equestrian

Beach Riding
Taking a horse to a full gallop on a beach in the west of Ireland is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If you’ve never done it then you need to experience it to fully appreciate it - one for the bucket list.

Take your pick of the many west coast beaches that offer this unique riding experience, from horse riding in Inishowen, County Donegal,to pony trekking on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Beach riding is widely available throughout the region, including beaches in Galway, Mayo and Sligo too.

Surfing

You can surf almost the entire western seaboard on the Wild Atlantic Way. With waves and facilities to suit all levels of the sport, from the little budding wave riders to the pro prowler hunters. The stretch including Bundoran and nearby Mullaghmore Head is renowned for drawing surfers (and those who simply love to observe the best in the game) from the far corners of the world.

An oldie of @tommybutts #Mullaghmore #ireland Feb 2014 🍀 #bigwaves #surfer #kaboom

A photo posted by Emily Winch 🌴 (@emilywinch) on

The red-gold beach of Strandhill has become a mecca for those who simply want to feel the reinvigoration of the saltwater spray.

VR image of Mullaghmore Head

At the end of September, the Battle for the Lake Kitesurfing & Music Festival takes place from 30th of September to 2nd of October on gorgeous Achill Island, home to Keel, one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most breathtaking beaches. And if you’d rather not kitesurf, no problem! You can simply kick back and enjoy the selection of live bands, workshops, tours and races set to take place in this simply stunning part of the country.

Hidden Gems on the Wild Atlantic Way

Northern Headlands

So much fun yesterday at #glenveigh #donegal #grassroutes

A photo posted by Iesha (@insta_iesha) on

Cycle to one of the world’s most beautiful lighthouses
No matter where you are in Donegal, Grassroutes will deliver you a bike along with a fully mapped route that travels on and off the main roads. One of the most memorable bike trips in the area is no doubt a cycle to Fanad Head Lighthouse,
renowned as one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world. Picnics can be arranged, as can the provision of protective equipment, and buggies and bikes for children. All you need to bring is your sense of curiosity.

Go coastal for adventure
See the Wild Atlantic Way from a completely new perspective with adventure company Unique Ascent in Dungloe. Expert guides will take you on a tailor-made adventure that can include everything from climbing and coasteering to abseiling and wild camping. All levels of experience are catered for so, outdoor novices can opt for more relaxed walking, hiking or climbing excursions. Out and out thrill seekers can sign up for a day of daring, including the ascent of a 120m high sea stack in one of Ireland’s most remote locations.

Surf Coast

Bike to a seaweed bath in Strandhill
Take a bike tour from the seaside village of Strandhill around beautiful Knocknarea Mountain and through the striking lowlands and coastal roads with stunning views of Sligo Bay, the Dartry Mountain Range and Coney Island. Stop off to see the megalithic tombs at Carramore, picnic in the giant sand dunes south of Strandhill and , if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the local seal population. Finish up at Strandhill Village with a relaxing soak in the famous Voya Seaweed baths.

Bay Coast

Follow the Greenway to the Seaway
For a truly memorable trip, discover the Wild Atlantic Way by land and sea. After cycling 30km from Westport to Mulranny on the stunning Great Western Greenway route, you then board a local fishing boat which takes you on a scenic tour of
breathtaking Clew Bay. Spot the dolphins and seals, enjoy a little sea angling or just sit back and take in the unrivalled view of Croagh Patrick, before the boat delivers you back to Westport Quay with a lifetime of memories.

Get Galwegian at the Galway City Museum
Galway City Museum is a terrific place to spend an afternoon, not least for its incredible views of the Claddagh, where the River Corrib’s waters meet Galway Bay. With a full-sized Galway hooker sailboat suspended from the museum’s atrium, it makes quite the impression. The boat was custom-made by traditional craftsmen from An Cheathrú Rua (Carraroe) and was named in honour of the last King of Claddagh village, Máirtín Oliver.

The Cliff Coast

The Burren Nature Sanctuary
Discover a place where rare orchids, Alpine, Mediterranean and Arctic plants flower side by side, at the Burren Nature Sanctuary. With idyllic Burren walks leading you through unique limestone terrain, past the rare turlough or ‘disappearing lake’ that fills and empties twice a day, and an array of beautiful botany.

Meet the Music Makers of West Clare
Discover the magic of traditional Irish music, song and dance in the home of renowned uilleann piper Willie Clancy, at The Music Makers of west Clare Visitor Centre. Read first-hand accounts of the area’s renowned musicians and watch a
specially commissioned film showcasing the locality’s most accomplished musicians playing the tunes most beloved by Clare’s great musical masters. Nestled between Loop Head and the Cliffs of Moher, you’re also guaranteed some wonderful
sounds and scenery.

Haven Coast

Kayak under the stars on Lough Hyne
As dusk fades to darkness, kayaks are launched onto Lough Hyne, the only inland saltwater lake in Europe. This marine nature reserve is beloved by kayaker Jim Kennedy, who leads the evening excursions. If you close your eyes and listen, you’ll hear the splash of jumping fish, the lowing of nearby cattle and the hoot of owls. As you kayak through the lake, the waters come alive with bioluminescence, creating a magical experience that feels as if you’re paddling through the star

Southern Peninsulas

Kerry Dark-Sky Reserve…see the Stars!
Kerry Dark Sky Reserve is the only International Dark Sky Association Gold Tier Reserve in the Northern Hemisphere and it is located right here on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Gold Tier designation recognises the Reserve’s exceptional starry skies, the lack of light pollution and commitment at community and local government level to improve the Dark Sky experience for all.

Lose yourself among the ferns
Covering more than 17 hectares of varying terrain, Kells Bay Gardens are home to one of the finest collections of southern hemisphere plants in Europe. They include species from Australia, New Zealand and South America, which thrive here due to the warming influences of the Gulf Stream. You can extend your visit to the gardens by exploring more than 3km of graded walking routes on site and taking in beautiful views of the Atlantic.