Tuesday 17 September 2019

Ireland's 30 best autumn walks - with a cosy meal or pint at the finish

Autumn is finally here - the leaves have turned, temperatures are dropping and there's no better time to get out walking.

Stock image
Stock image
The view from Howth summit
Wicklow mountains
Curracloe beach. Co Wexford
The Mourne Mountains

Adrian Hendroff and Helen Fairbairn

We've asked experienced hikers Adrian Hendroff and Helen Fairbairn - between them the writers of 17 guidebooks to Ireland - to choose the routes they prefer to explore at this time of year.

Some of the walks they have chosen are in forests where you can still catch the last of the autumn leaves. Others are mountain climbs where you'll be rewarded with big views.

Others are urban routes that most Dubliners will be able to get to easily, and include well-manicured parks, wilder coastal routes and even a cultural outing.

There are walks here for every level or ability - whether you're a buggy-pushing new parent or a serious hiker - and routes have been chosen from all over the country.

There are looped trails and linear walks. And we've included the start and finish point and length of each route so that you can plan your outing. There are also links to downloadable maps or details of Ordnance Survey map numbers or guidebooks that will provide more detail, if necessary.

But all of the routes have one thing in common. They end with an extra lure - a place to refuel with a creamy pint or pot of tea or even a slap-up meal afterwards.

And if you need a bigger reason to step outside, think about this. The Romantic poets of the 18th century knew intuitively something which science is only now rediscovering - that we are part of nature, not separate from it, and that being in the countryside brings benefits way beyond those of exercise and fresh air.

Feeling the earth under our feet is good for our mental health and helps reset the body's stress levels. We need to be outdoors to recharge our batteries. Enough said.

The usual warnings apply - if you're tackling one of the more challenging routes, wrap up, wear good boots, bring waterproofs if the weather looks iffy, carry a charged mobile, a map, a few snacks and a thermos with something warm, and let others know your plans.

So lace up, make some sandwiches and head outdoors, there's a beautiful landscape waiting to be explored.



1. Best for coastal views and sunset

Where: Sutton Martello Tower to Howth Summit Cliff Walk

What: A fine coastal path passes the Martello Tower to reach a rocky foreshore, then continue along a cliff-top path to a sheltered beach flanked by rocky crags at Sheep Hole, where seals and cormorants can be spotted. The path then passes above sheer cliffs at Drumleck Point and the beautiful Doldrum Bay, with fine views of the Baily Lighthouse. Later, cross the lighthouse access road and continue along the cliff-top path until reaching a signpost below the summit. A short ascent brings you back to your car, but stop to look back down to the lighthouse and enjoy a Dublin Bay sunset (timing is everything) backed by the Wicklow hills.

Start: Coastal path at the bend where Strand Road meets Shielmartin Road at Sutton South Finish: The Summit car park

Getting there: If driving, drop your car to the end of the walk at the summit car park. From Sutton crossroads, drive along Greenfield Road/ Carrickbrack Road for about 5.5km. At the top of a rise, turn right then take Bailey Green Road at the Summit Inn to reach the summit car park. Walk back down Bailey Green Road and get the 31A bus (dublinbus.ie) to the start-point at Shielmartin Road.

Level: Moderate

Length/ Time: 4.5km/ 2hr

Pack: Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) Discovery Series Map Sheet 50. A map can also be found on a board at the start of the walk

Refuel: Sit down al fresco at The Summit Inn to enjoy good pub grub— anything from Howth chowder to wild Irish mussels — alongside views of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay islands. Inside the former thatched cottage, you’ll find a real fire.

2 Best for families and children

Where: St Anne’s Park, Raheny, Dublin 5

What: A fun walk complete with a playground, spider-web and rope swing for the kids. Hunt for all the park’s follies such as the Annie Lee Bridge, Herculanean Temple of Isis, St Anne’s Well, Pompeian Water Temple and Clock Tower. From the Red Stables, follow a broad path along Chestnut Walk under the cover of ash, horse chestnut and elm trees; then later on a semi-woodland path along the Naniken River where squirrels, rabbits, hedgehogs and foxes can be spotted if you’re lucky. Finish by walking along the wide tarmac footpath of Main Avenue flanked by Holm oak and Monterey pine trees. Autumn is a great time to visit, when the leaves of many deciduous trees go various shades of yellow, orange, red and brown.

Start and Finish: Red Stables car park

Getting there: By car, turn left on to Mount Prospect Avenue from Clontarf Road. After around 300m, reach the Red Stables car park on the right. By bus, get the 130 (dublinbus.ie) from the city centre.

Level: Easy

Length/ Time: 2.5km/ 1hr but allow time for the kids to explore

Pack: A copy of Adrian Hendroff’s guidebook Family Walks around Dublin which has a detailed route description and map

Refuel: Make a beeline for Olive’s Room at the Red Stables for delicious dishes and home-baked treats. A farmers’ market, complete with amusement rides, also takes  place every Saturday (10am-4pm).

3 Best for autumn colours and birds

Where: Glenasmole Reservoir Loop

What: The lower slopes of Glenasmole valley are filled with ash, birch, hazel, larch, fir and Scots pine. It also houses two reservoirs built from 1883-1887 in its valley floor. The reservoirs are stocked every year with trout. The area bursts with colour in the autumn. On calm days a reflection of clouds, sky and trees along the waters of either reservoir is a sight to behold. Follow orange trail markers to reach the lower reservoir, then loop around the upper reservoir before retracing steps back to the start. Keep an eye out for birds such as the heron, dipper and kingfisher.

Start/ Finish: Glenasmole car park

Getting there: Leave the M50 at Junction 12 and head in the Knocklyon/ R113 direction. Keep straight ahead to reach Oldbawn crossroads. Turn left there onto the R114. Ignore a left fork into Piperstown about 500m further, and continue ahead towards Ballinascorney. Just over 1.5km further and after a sharp bend at a narrow bridge, turn left into Glenasmole car park.

Level: Easy to moderate

Length/ Time: 9km/ 3hr

Pack: East West Mapping The Dublin Mountains & North Wicklow or OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 50, or see dublinmountains.ie

Refuel: Great food, such as ‘Steak on a Stone’, served at the Old Mill on Old Bawn Road, Tallaght, makes this a good stop-off post walk.

4 Best for food and heritage

Dalkey Island

Where: Dalkey circuit, South County Dublin

What: From Dalkey Dart station, follow signs to Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre. Enter to view the medieval castle and remains of St Begnet’s 8th Century church. If not, pass Archbold’s Castle before turning right onto Ulverton Road. Continue along this road to reach Bullock Castle before veering right down Harbour Road towards Bullock Harbour — a fine place to take in the expanse of Dublin Bay and see the local fishermen’s catch. If you can, make time to take a guided kayak tour out to Dalkey Island (9.30am and 2.30pm daily; kayaking.ie). Then, continue down to the lovely Coliemore Harbour for views out to sea and Dalkey Island. Next, follow the road down to reach Dillon’s Park and then walk to the top of Sorrento Park, with its panoramic sea views across Dublin and Killiney bays, before returning to Dalkey village via Sorrento Road.

Start/ Finish: Dalkey Dart station

Getting there: By Dart from the city centre to Dalkey station. By car, follow signs into Dalkey via Barnhill Road, then along the main street to park at the Dart station.

Level: Easy

Length/ Time: 4km/ 1½hr

Pack: Dalkey Heritage Town leaflet with map inside available from Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre (dalkeycastle.com) or OSI Official Dublin City and District Street Guide

Refuel: You’re spoilt for choice in this upmarket village. But for a cuppa, try Mugs Cafe or Ouzos for steak and seafood or sit outside the Queen’s (all on Castle Street), for chicken wings and a pint and watch the world go by. You might just spot local man Bono.

5 Best for mountain and moorland views

Where: Prince William’s Seat from Glencullen

What: Prince William’s Seat (555m) is said to be named either after the Fitzwillliam clan, owners of these uplands in the 16th and 17th Centuries, or in commemoration of the visit of the English monarch William III in the 18th Century. Regardless, its summit is classified as an Arderin (from the Irish Ard Eireann) — an Irish mountain over 500m. From Boranaraltry bridge, follow Yellow Man signposts, initially passing above the picturesque Glencullen valley, which is best experienced in the autumn. The trail later leads steeply up and out of a conifer forest to reach a junction with a Wicklow Mountains National Park signpost. Leave the waymarked path here and veer right to ascend a heathery and grassy slope southwest for the summit, marked by a trig pillar.

Start/ Finish: Park at the large car park along Ballybrack Road. Dublin Bus route 44b serves this area. 

Getting there: From Johnnie Fox’s Pub, head west at Glencullen crossroads along Ballybrack Road (R116). After about 1.6km, pass Boranaraltry Lane on the left and then a large car park on the right. Or, take the no 44b bus route which services this area.

Level: Moderate

Length/ Time: 8km/ 3-4hr

Pack: Headtorch, compass, waterproofs, good boots. East West Mapping The Dublin Mountains & North Wicklow or OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 50

Refuel: Food and a pint of ‘the black stuff’ at the famous Johnnie Fox’s, which claims to be the highest pub in Ireland. Their hooley nights are a  big tourist draw, but the place still retains its original charm.

6 Best for autumnal shades

Where: Black Mountain, Ravensdale, Co Louth

What: This walk is ideal to experience the stunning hillside colours in one of the Cooley peninsula’s most beautiful valleys. Follow the lane uphill and veer right following signs for Caraban Mass Rock. Around 350m further at a bend, veer left and cross a small concrete bridge. Follow an old access path used by herring sellers to reach Cadger’s Bridge. A grassy track leads uphill to an area of standing stones on a grassy shoulder. This is where the All-Ireland Poc Fada — a competition where participants puck a sliotar with a hurley over a course of 5km — begins. Continue uphill here to reach Ben Rock and finally the transmission mast-decorated top of Black Mountain (508m).

Start and Finish: At a small lay-by along the L30906 where there is space for four cars

Getting there: Exit the M1 (Junction 18) for Carlingford. At the roundabout, take the fourth exit onto the N52. Take the first exit at the next two roundabouts. After around 4.2km, the road veers right to reach a T-junction. Turn right onto the R174 and after around 1.5km reach the L30906 (a narrow lane) on the left.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 6km/3hr

Pack: Compass, waterproofs and good boots; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 36

Refuel: Pub grub, cuppa or a pintat Lumpers Bar in Ballymakellet (around 2.5km further southeast along the R174).

7 Best for views of Carlingford Lough

The Mourne Mountains

Where: Slieve Foye, Co Louth

What: Weave through the medieval streetscape of Carlingford, characterised by Taaffe’s Castle, narrow lanes and old buildings. A lane passes a craft shop and leads steeply uphill to reach a track with blue/red trail markers. Follow this northwest through a pine plantation and cross Golden River bridge to soon emerge out of the woods and reach a car park/picnic area. From here, strike southward and boldly uphill for the ridge top. The rest of the route traverses the length of the hummocky ridge to reach its 588m summit. Here, treat yourself to spectacular views of Carlingford Lough and its majestic backdrop of mountains.

Start and Finish: Car park at Carlingford Tourist Office.

Getting there: Carlingford can be reached via the R173/R175 (leave the M1 at Junction 18) or the Newry-Omeath road. The tourist office is signposted once you arrive at Carlingford town.

Level: Difficult

Length/Time: 10.5km/5hr

Pack: Headtorch, compass, snacks, waterproofs, sturdy boots; copy of Adrian Hendroff's The Mourne and Cooley Mountains; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 36

Refuel: At Ruby Ellen’s TeaRooms; fish and chips at Ma Baker’sTakeaway (on Old Quay Lane and to the rear of Ma Baker’s pub); pub grub and a pint at Carlingford Arms; or upscale dining at The BayTree Restaurant on Newry Street.

8 Best for leaves of beech turned gold

Where: Mullaghmeen Forest, Co Westmeath

What: As the largest area of planted beech wood in Ireland, Mullaghmeen has two standout seasons in the year. First is late spring, when bluebells carpet the forest floor. Second is autumn, when the trees wear a cloak of rich golden leaves. There are three signed walking trails within the wood, and the most interesting route is found by combining the red and white trails. This takes you through the most scenic woodland and alongside reminders of the past such as old famine walls, a booley hut and flax ponds. Don’t miss the short climb to the 261m summit of Mullaghmeen Hill, where the trees give way to heather and views stretch from Wicklow to Fermanagh.

Start and Finish: Mullaghmeen Forest car park

Getting there: The forest entrance is signed off the R394 between Castlepollard and Finnea

Level: Easy — marked forest trails

Length/Time: 8km /2½ hr

Pack: A walking map downloaded from coillte.ie/site/mullaghmeen-forest

Refuel: Hotel Castlepollard, beside the square in the heart of Castlepollard village, where food isserved in the cosy bar.

9 Best for bog regeneration

Lough Boora_Man on Pyramid_DC.jpg
Lough Boora, Co. Offaly. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Where: Lough Boora, Co Offaly

What: Emerging from a landscape that until very recently was devastated by industrial peat harvesting, the area around Lough Boora has been transformed into a recreational parkland. Nature has reclaimed the upper hand remarkably quickly, and witnessing the regeneration first hand is a heart-warming experience. There’s a choice of five official walking trails, ranging from 3km to 15km long. The 9km Mesolithic Route is perhaps the best, taking you to a buried beach once dotted with stone-age hearths. Another highlight is a grassland conservation area that is a stronghold of the grey partridge, Ireland’s rarest resident breeding bird.

Start and Finish: Lough Boora Discovery Park car park

Getting there: The park is located 20km west of Tullamore, and is signed off the R357 beyond Blue Ball

Level: Easy — firm, flat peatland trails; buggy friendly

Length/Time: 9km /2½ hr

Pack: A bit of advance knowledge from loughboora.com, and €4 for the car park fee

Refuel: The visitor centre cafe (open11am-4pm in winter) is good, or drive 5km to a wonderful old style pub, Dan and Molly’s in Ballyboy. If you’re looking for a good feed, especially with kids, point for the Black Boot Inn in Ferbane.

10 Best for riverside forest

Where: Brittas Forest Loop,  Co Laois

What: This charming circuit explores a river bank, lake and mature woodland on the northern edge of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. It’s particularly beautiful with the trees in autumn foliage, and open sections allow pastoral views across the Laois countryside. From the bridge over the Clodiagh River in the centre of Clonaslee, follow the signpost for Glenkeen and Brittas Lake. The forest entrance is 200m later on the left. Three marked walking trails start here; this circuit follows the blue arrows. The first 3km is spent following the river upstream before you divert right and make a loop around Brittas Lake. Forest tracks and grassy boreens then lead back into Clonaslee. As you walk, keep watch for signs of wild boar, which have apparently re-established themselves in this area in recent years.

Start and Finish: Clonaslee village centre

Getting there: Clonaslee is located along the R422, around 15km west of Mountmellick

Level: Easy to moderate — signed woodland paths, grassy lanes and forest tracks

Length/Time: 6.5km /2hr

Pack: Lenny Antonelli’s East of Ireland Walks, or a map downloaded from coillte.ie/media/2017/01/Laois-Brittas.pdf

Refuel: It’s a step down the road (well, 24km) but Sheeran’s thatched pub in Coolrain serves food as well as a good pint — book ahead if you want a meal.

Otherwise, head 15km southwest to sup at Giltraps pub in Kinnitty, where you can also book a night of glamping if the fancy takes you.

11 Best for mountain views

Wicklow mountains

Where: The Spinc, Glendalough, Co Wicklow

What: This route is the most popular of nine waymarked walking trails in the Glendalough valley, and rightly so. It climbs through a forest to the top of a high cliff overlooking the Upper Lake, where the exposure and views take your breath away. Such lofty vantage points are normally the preserve of experienced hillwalkers, but this route is signed by white arrows and follows maintained paths throughout, so is suitable for fit leisure walkers too. You’ll need to take care near the cliff edge however, and carry full mountain gear for the open upland slopes. It’s a particularly good route for autumn, when the wooded valley is at its best, and the mountain boardwalk allows you to stride across terrain that would otherwise be boggy underfoot.

Start and Finish: Glendalough Visitor Centre car park

Getting there: Glendalough Visitor Centre is located along the R757, roughly 3km west of Laragh.

Level: Moderate to difficult — fully signed paths, but 400m ascent and a mountain environment.

Length/Time: 11.5km /4hr

Pack: Full mountain clothing and a copy of Dublin and Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Refuel: The Glendalough Hotel, 200m from the visitor centre,offers a full, all-day menu but can get busy. Try Laragh village for afternoon tea at The Conservatory at The Old School House, where food is delicious, home cooked andimpossible to resist (weekends only) or the Glenmalure Lodge, where The Stag was filmed — an old style pub and hearty food, plus they will make you a packed lunch to take on your hike.

12 Best for a Sunday stroll

Powerscourt, Wicklow

Where: Powerscourt Gardens, Co Wicklow

What:  Step out of the House and straight into the beautiful Italian Garden, set against the backdrop of the Great Sugar Loaf. Admire the sculptures including statues of Apollo and Diana. It is recommended to loop around the gardens anti-clockwise, starting with the Walled Gardens. Here, explore fascinating plants, but don’t miss out on Julia’s Memorial and the 240-year old Bamberg Gate. Step through The English Gate, pass the Dolphin’s Pond to reach the Pet Cemetery. Then follow a path to reach Triton Lake, complete with its fountain and silver-winged horses. Next, follow signs to the Japanese Gardens and enjoy the vibrant autumn colours of its Japanese maples. Finally, wander over to Tower Valley and climb Pepperpot Tower for a bird’s-eye view of the gardens.

Start and Finish: Powerscourt House — for ticket prices and opening times see powerscourt.com

Getting there: From Enniskerry Village square, take the R760 and drive up a rise for 600m. The Powerscourt House and Gardens entrance is on the right opposite St Patrick’s church. By bus (dublinbus.ie) to Enniskerry — take the 185 from Bray train station, or No 44 from the city centre.

Level: Easy — buggy friendly

Length/Time: 2km/1hr but might take longer as you will no doubt stop to admire the gardens!

Pack: Powerscourt Estate leaflet which has a park map inside. Also pick up an audio-guide.

Refuel: Enjoy freshly made salads,gourmet sandwiches, homemade meals and mouth-watering desserts at Avoca Terrace Cafe.

13 Best for a wild and secluded gorge

Where: The Devil’s Glen, Co Wicklow

What: A 100m-deep wooded gorge, the Devil’s Glen was formed during the Ice Age by glacial meltwater from the mountains. Follow a path down a steep wooded slope following white arrows on posts — the sound of rapids at the Vartry River below grow louder as you approach. The birch and oak woodland are particularly impressive in the autumn as they turn yellow, orange, copper and red. The highlight of the walk is a lookout point for the Devil’s Glen waterfall and lower cascades, best viewed after long rainy spells. The return is along an upper path that contours along the glen’s southern rim and provides spectacular views across the woodland canopy.

Start and Finish: The Devil’s Glen waterfall walk car park

Getting there: From Ashford, follow the R763 west for around 3.5km. The entrance to the Devil’s Glen is an access road to the right (Note closing times on the display board) when the R763 climbs steeply through a series of sharp bends. Follow the access road for around 2km to reach the car park at a cul-de-sac.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 5km/2hr

Pack: Good boots as the trail can be muddy after rain; a copy of Helen Fairbairn’s guidebook Dublin & Wicklow; EastWest Mapping Wicklow East or download a trail map from coillte.ie/site/the-devils-glen

Refuel: Great food at The Chester Beatty Inn, or step back in time at Hunter’s Hotel for a pint at the fireside in the bar or slap-up afternoon tea.

14 Best for big views

Where: Brandon Hill, Co Kilkenny

What: The 515m summit of Brandon Hill is the county high point of Kilkenny. Its summit decorations include a large cross, an orientation panel and a concrete building. On a clear day the summit offers uninterrupted views of the Blackstairs Mountains to the east and the fertile plains fed by the River Barrow and River Nore — these can be great on misty mornings when the sun breaks through. From the start, follow the forest track southeast and pass a barrier to reach a junction. Veer right and reach a gate with a concrete stile. Now turn left to follow the forest boundary and later swing uphill to reach the summit.

Start and Finish: Park at a lay-by (limited spaces) on a track at the entrance of a Coillte forest

Getting there: From Graiguenamanagh, head southwest along the L4209 toward Inishtioge. After around 3km, turn left into the track leading into the Coillte forest.

Level: Moderate

Length/Time: 5km/2½hr

Pack: A compass, waterproofs, good boots; a copy of Kieron Gribbon’s guidebook Ireland’s County High Points; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 68

Refuel: Don’t miss Mick Doyle’s — part shop, part pub, and sometimes music too — for a reviving pint post-walk, or enjoy a coffee and healthy dessert at Pomegranate Cafe, both in Graiguenamanagh. The  Blackberry Cafe in nearby Thomastown is also worth a visit.

15 Best for coastal birds

Curracloe beach. Co Wexford

Where: Raven Point Loop, Co Wexford

What: Raven Wood is a strip of mature pine woodland that has been planted at the back of Curracloe Beach to prevent coastal erosion and to secure the slob lands behind it. The slob lands provide a winter habitat for more than a third of the world’s population of Greenland white-fronted geese, so now is a good time to walk, when you should see large flocks of these birds pecking at the grass in the fields. From the parking area, follow the blue markers south onto a forest track. After 3km, the signed route loops round and returns the way it came. A more interesting variation is to divert east here onto a smaller trail that runs through the dunes to the 11km long, blue flag beach. Turn left here and follow the sand back to the start.

Start  and Finish: Raven Wood car park

Getting there: From Curracloe village, take the R743 towards Curracloe Beach. One km later, turn right and follow signs to Ravens Wood Nature Reserve.

Level: Easy — a signed woodland trail returning along a sandy beach; one for baby in a carrier

Length/Time: 7km /2hr

Pack: Binoculars, for getting a closer look at the geese

Refuel: Furlong’s Bar in Curracloe — a local institution that incorporates both the Omaha Beach Restaurant and Nellies Take Away.

16 Best for magic and waterfalls

Overlooking the Comeragh Mountains from Mahon Falls, Co. Waterford

Where: Mahon Falls, Co Waterford

What: Switch off your car engine and put it into neutral at the ‘fairy tree’ — as if by magic you will find your car reversing uphill! Later, follow a surfaced path leading to the base of the falls from the top car park. The valley and its impressive cliffs light up during the morning when the sun hits it from the east. The Falls is at its ferocious best after a night of heavy rain, resulting in subsidiary waterfalls and cascades to tumble down the crags and cliffs.

Start and Finish: Car park at the top of the ‘magic road’

Getting there: From Carrick-on-Suir, take the R676 towards Dungarvan for around 18km until reaching Mahon Bridge. Turn right here following a signpost for Mahon Falls and immediately right again. Drive along this road for just over 2km then turn right through an entrance with a cattle grid. This is known as the ‘magic road’ — there is a solitary favour-adorned ‘fairy tree’ about 150m further. Beyond the tree, continue for another 2km uphill into Coum Mahon and stop at a large car park near the top of the road.

Level: Easy

Length/ Time: 2.5km/ 1hr plus time at the waterfalls

Pack: A copy of John G O’Dwyer’s guidebook The Comeragh, Galtee, Knockmealdown & Slieve Bloom Mountains; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 75.

Refuel: A popular spot for Waterford Greenway cyclists, Kiersey’s Bar & Tearoom in Kilmacthomas does a fine tea with a lot of locally sourced foods — bread and blaas from Barron’s bakery — and the lure of a pint after.

17 Best for deep corries

Where: Galtymore circuit, Co Tipperary

What: The queen of the Galtee Mountains bears the accolade of being Ireland’s highest inland peak (919m). It rises proudly above the Glen of Aherlow, whose autumn foliage can be particularly pretty. Standing regal like an overturned ark above the blue waters of Lough Curra, Galtymore begs to be climbed. This connoisseur’s route takes in three other tops, from clockwise: Cush (639m), Galtybeg (799m) and Slievecushnabinnia (766m). Look out for impressive corries housing Borheen Lough, Lough Diheen and Lough Curra en-route. The top of Galtymore is crowned by a white Celtic cross near its summit cairn.

Start and Finish: Forest entrance near Clydagh Bridge in the Glen of Aherlow

Getting there: From Lisvarrinane village, head east along the R663 for 1km, then turn right. Next, turn left at a T-junction around another 1km later. Drive for another 1km to a junction east of Clydagh Bridge, then turn right into a lane to reach the forest entrance around 300m further.

Level: Difficult

Length/ Time: 12km/ 5-6hr

Pack: Headtorch, compass, waterproofs, good boots; a copy of Helen Fairbairn’s guidebook Ireland’s Best Walks; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 74.

Refuel: Dine at Ballinacourty House restaurant or tea at Aherlow House Hotel withgreat views over the mountains.

18 Best for a wild woodland walk

Where: Glengarriff Nature Reserve, Co Cork

What: Glengarriff (An Gleann Garbh, ‘the rough glen’) is a 300ha nature reserve in a semi-natural oceanic woodland. Its woods are nestled in a sheltered, steep-sided glen on the foothills of the Caha Mountains on the Beara Peninsula. Sessile oak, birch, holly, rowan, Scots pine and strawberry trees make up the foliage. Bats, red squirrels, feral goats, Sika deer, hares, badgers, the Kerry slug and birds such as the long-eared owl, chaffinch, chiffchaff, dipper, robin and willow-warbler live in these woods. A variety of trails are available: gently ramble along the River Walk or make the steep but rewarding ascent to Lady Bantry’s Lookout. Longer options include the Big Meadow circuit, encompassing woodlands and old grassland, or the rugged Esknamucky Trail, giving spectacular views over the trees to the mountains beyond.

Start and Finish: Glengarriff Nature Reserve car park

Getting there: From Glengarriff, take the N71 toward Kenmare. After around 800m, turn left into the Nature Reserve. Follow the narrow road for around 200m to reach a car park with picnic tables.

Level: Easy to moderate

Length/ Time: 1-10km/ ½-3½hr

Pack: Good boots. Download a copy of the trails leaflet and map on glengarriffnaturereserve.ie/activities; for a longer walk, get a copy of Adrian Hendroff’s guidebook The Beara & Sheeps Head Peninsulas; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 85.

Refuel: In Glengarriff at Eccles Hotel for the best views over the bay, or The Blue Loo for a bit of trad music. Ice cream or cake? Has to be the Sugarloaf Cafe.

19 Best for island sightings

Where: Bray Head, Co Kerry

What: This route follows National Loop markers throughout. Highlights include a 19th Century signal tower on the edge of the sea and the towering cliffs of Dromgour and Foiltagarriff. Foilhomurrin Bay is a pretty alcove giving fine views of Horse Island and Long Island. Three-quarters of the way up to the signal tower, on grassy slopes to the south of the broad access track, are the remains of drystone buildings from early Christian times. The most spectacular views are from the signal tower: this includes the length of Valentia Island, out towards Portmagee and of Puffin Island and the Skelligs, used recently as a film location for Star Wars, episodes VII and VIII.

Start and Finish: Trailhead car park

Getting there: Best approached from the Maurice O’Neill Memorial bridge at Portmagee. Turn left at the top of the road after the bridge. Continue for about 1.6km and turn left at a junction by Foilhomurrin Bay. Continue for another 400m to reach a large car park.

Level: Moderate

Length/ Time: 6km/2½hr

Pack: Waterproofs, good boots; a copy of Adrian Hendroff’s guidebook Killarney to Valentia Island – The Iveragh Peninsula; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 83 or download the trail map from irishtrails.ie

Refuel: In Portmagee, go for seafood and a pint at The Moorings — where Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill poured his pint of Guinness — or Fisherman’s Bar & Skellig Restaurant. For desserts and a cup of tea, try Smuggler’s Cafe.

20 Best for mountain ridges and cloud inversions

Where: Brandon Mountain via Stations of the Cross, Co Kerry

What: At 952m, Brandon Mountain is the highest point in Ireland outside the chain of peaks in the MacGillycuddy Reeks. There is an unearthly quality both powerful and uplifting on Brandon’s lofty heights. Magical cloud inversions are elusive, but quite common in autumn when the summit rises into the sunshine like an island in a sea of cloud. The view from the summit is a dreamland of mountain panoramas: the imposing Faha ridge, the main Brandon ridge and the intricate coastline, islands and bay. This route follows the signposts of Cosan na Naomh, ‘Path of the Saints’, to the summit via the Stations of the Cross. It is by far the easiest route up this iconic mountain, where St Brendan meditated in the 6th Century before leaving on his epic voyage to Greenland and America.

Start and Finish: An Baile Breac ‘Stations of the Cross’ car park

Getting there: The car park is located at the end of a cul-de-sac signposted ‘Mt Brandon’ on the western side of the mountain in An Baile Breac, off the R549.

Level: Difficult

Length/ Time: 7km/ 4hr

Pack: Headtorch, compass, waterproofs, good boots; a copy of Adrian Hendroff’s guidebook The Dingle Peninsula; OSI Discovery Series Map Sheet 70 or OSI Brandon Mountain.

Refuel: Best to head into Dingle — for seafood lovers, check out Out Of The Blue or Dingle Sushi; coffee fans have to go to Bean.

21 Best for Atlantic views

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Keem Bay, Achill Island. One of the new Blueway trails.

Where: Achill Head and Croaghaun, Co Mayo

What: The Atlantic Ocean has an entirely different character in winter to the summer months. Huge swells start to arrive in autumn, and the energy produced by the swirling currents and crashing waves is quite awe-inspiring. No better place to appreciate it than from the massive cliffs that grace the western tip of Achill Island. Make sure the swell coincides with calm, dry conditions though, because the ground here is exposed. Starting at beautiful Keem Strand, walk northwest along a seaward ridge to Achill Head, then turn east and scale the mighty slopes of Croaghaun (688m). Finish with a descent back to Keem. It’s an impressive but challenging route, so best left to experienced hillwalkers.

Start and Finish: Keem Strand

Getting there: Follow the R319 all the way across Achill Island to the car park at its western end

Level: Difficult — open mountainside above steep cliffs

Length/Time: 13km / 5½hr

Pack: OSi Discovery Series map 30, and a copy of Ireland’s Best Walks by Helen Fairbairn

Refuel: Head to surfer’s heaven at Pure Magic for pints, music and good food. Or Gielty’s in Dooagh.

22 Best for waterside trees

Where: Clonbur Wood Loop, Co Galway/Mayo.

What: Bordering the southern shore of Lough Mask, Clonbur Wood combines autumn trees with fine views across the lake. Formally part of the Ashford Estate, the remains of Ballykine Castle lie hidden amongst the trees. The highlights, though, are the sections along water’s edge; the route circumnavigates White Island, which protrudes into the lough, and passes limestone formations that demand further exploration. If any of your party want to extend the route, a linear side-trail also runs to Cong, 5km away, passing Pigeon Hole Cave along the way. The side-trip finishes by crossing a footbridge onto Abbey Street in the centre of Cong.

Start and Finish: At Clonbur Wood car park

Getting there: Head to the village of Clonbur, known locally by its Irish name ‘An Fhairche’. The forest entrance is off the R354, beside Burke’s Garage.

Level: Easy — a signed trail along flat forest tracks

Length/Time: 7.5km /2½hr.

Pack: A copy of the trail map downloaded from coillte.ie/site/clonbur-wood

Refuel: Burke’s Bar, in the centre of Clonbur, is a local institution — hearty meals, a creamy pint and you might even catch a bit of a seisiun, if you’re lucky.

23 Best for rugged ridges

Where: The central Maumturk Mountains, Co Galway

What: Renowned amongst hillwalkers for their rugged terrain and fabulous views, the central Maumturks are a series of quartzite peaks that rear up in frost-shattered crowns. This circuit begins by heading to the outdoor altar at Maumeen, before climbing onto the ridgetop and heading northwest across a succession of summits, including Binn Idir an Da Log, the highest point of the range at 702m. Descend through Maumahoge, then complete 3km of country road to return to the start. Clear winter weather enhances the scenery, but wait for good conditions because the ground is intricate and navigation notoriously tricky in poor visibility.

Start and Finish: Maumeen car park

Getting there: Take the N59 to Caher, 2km east of Recess. Now follow the signs to Maumeen, some 3.5km further on.

Level: Difficult — a rugged and open mountain ridge

Length/ Time: 13km/5hr

Pack: Harvey Superwalker map Connemara, and Paul Phelan’s Connemara & Mayo: A Walking Guide

Refuel: Joyce’s Bar, along the N59, 2km west of the Maumeen turn. Good pub grub.

24 Best for winter islands

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View towards Cruagh Island from the cairn on the tidal islet of Illaunakeegher on Omey Island. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)

Where: Omey Island, Co Galway

What: Island trips can be hard to schedule during winter months, given the unreliability of ferry services. But fear not — here’s an island walk you can complete all year round. That’s because Omey is connected to the mainland via a sandy causeway, which is exposed at each low tide. Leave the mainland 2-2½ hours before low tide, and you’ll be back well before your exit route is swallowed again. Once on the island, an anti-clockwise circumnavigation is the best option. Along the way you’ll pass several sites connected to the island’s 7th Century monastery, as well as enjoying fabulous coastal views.

Start and Finish: at Claddaghduff Quay car park

Getting there: Take the N59 to a junction around 3km north of Clifden, then follow signs to Omey Island. In the village of Claddaghduff, turn left beside the church to reach the quay.

Level: Easy to moderate — flat but open coastline

Length/ Time: 8km /2hr

Pack: A note of the tide times, and more detailed route notes from Helen Fairbairn’s Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: A Walking Guide

Refuel: Clifden, where there’s a host of bars that do good food — Lowry’s Bar on Market Street or Kings on the Square; Steam Cafe in Station Yard serves cracking food.

25 Best for prehistoric cairns

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Knocknarea, Sligo. Photo: Alison Crummy/Fáilte Ireland

Where: Queen Maeve Trail, Knocknarea, Co Sligo

What: Rising in isolation from the tip of the Coolera Peninsula, 327m Knocknarea is one of Sligo’s most popular natural landmarks. The massive megalithic cairn at the summit dates back over 5,000 years, and is said to be the grave of legendary warrior Queen Maeve. A new circular trail offers the best option for walkers. From the start of the main trail, turn immediately right onto a gravel path. Contour around the eastern base of the mountain, passing in and out of forest. Then join a flight of steep timber steps and climb to open moorland at the top of the hill. Continue straight across the summit, then follow a steep descent trail back to the start.

Start and Finish: Glen Road car park

Getting there: Knocknarea is signed from the N4, just south of Sligo town

Level: Moderate — firm trails and 300m ascent

Length /Time: 5.5km /2hr

Pack: A snack so you can linger at the summit and really appreciate the 360° views

Refuel: Shells on the seafront in Strandhill is such a legend it even has its own cookbook. Offering coffee and cake, lunch and dinner, this friendly café makes for a perfect return to sea level.

26 Best for varied coastline

Where: Ards Peninsula, Co Donegal

What: This circuit explores the northern tip of the Ards Peninsula, a small, quiet, but immensely scenic headland in north Donegal. You begin by following woodland tracks across the spine of the peninsula, passing mature beech trees that glow with autumn colour. This brings you to a forest service car park and children’s playground, then a coastal path that returns via a series of beautiful sandy bays. Ascent is modest and the terrain firm underfoot, so it’s a perfect route for fit families. Allow plenty of extra time if you’re bringing the kids, because they’ll find so much to explore among all the different habitats around the peninsula.

Start and Finish: Ards Friary

Getting there: Follow the N56 to 1km north of Creeslough village, then turn east and follow signs to the friary

Level: Easy to moderate — suitable for babies in carriers — largely flat woodland tracks and coastal paths

Length/ Time: 7km/ 2½ hours

Pack: A copy of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: A Walking Guide, by Helen Fairbairn

Refuel: Rose’s on Creeslough main street has a buzzy old bar in the front and a more modern area behind, and good fish and chips too.

27 Best for mountain lakes

Glenveagh National Park. Photo: Getty

Where: Glenveagh and Farscallop, Co Donegal

What: Exploring the heart of Glenveagh National Park, this route has options for hillwalkers and those who prefer lower, easier terrain. Both routes begin at 19th Century Glenveagh Castle, on the shore of beautiful Lough Veagh. From here, follow a firm track southwest, passing along the lake shore and continuing to the head of a glacial valley. Near the start, Mullangore Wood is a valuable remnant of ancient oak wood that’s particularly pretty in autumn. The easy option is to turn around whenever you want and retrace your steps to the castle. To add a mountain variation, turn east at the head of the valley and return via 423m Farscallop. Either way, keep your eyes peeled for golden eagles, reintroduced here in 2001.

Start and Finish: Glenveagh Castle

Getting there: Head to Glenveagh National Park, well signed off the R251. From the car park, take the shuttle bus to Glenveagh Castle (€3 return). The park is open from 9am-5pm during winter months.

Level: Easy to difficult; choose the easy option above for buggies

Length/ Time: 15km/ 5hr for the longest route

Pack: Full mountain gear, including OSi Discovery Series map 6, if you’re returning via Farscallop

Refuel: Glenveagh Castle tearooms in the castle courtyard is a cut above the usual tourist cafe and perfect for lunch and afternoon tea.

28 Best for upland summits

Where: Sawell and Dart mountains, Co Derry/ Tyrone

What: This is the classic hillwalk in the Sperrin Mountains, Northern Ireland’s second highest mountain group. It takes you across Sawel Mountain, the highest point of the range at 678m, then over neighbouring Dart Mountain (619m), whose exposed rock outcrops make it the most distinctive summit in the chain. Between the two peaks the terrain can be boggy, however, so a clear, cold day in late autumn or winter is an ideal time to walk, when the ground is frozen underfoot. Tracks ease your progress on the ascent and descent, while 3.5km of road links the two arms of the circuit.

Start and Finish: At a lay-by along the B47 road

Getting there: Follow the B47 through the Glenelly Valley to Sperrin village, then park in a large lay-by 500m east of the village crossroads.

Level: Difficult — a hillwalk crossing open mountain terrain

Length/ Time: 14km/ 5½ hours

Pack: A compass, OSi Discovery Series map 13, and Helen Fairbairn’s Northern Ireland: A Walking Guide

Refuel: The Hidden Pearl restaurant and wine bar in Gortin, where you can chose between burgers and pints or fancier cuisine.

29 Best for autumn woodland

Where: Tollymore Forest Park, Co Down

What: The swathes of mixed woodland in Tollymore make it a perfect place to appreciate the varied colours of autumn. Majestic beech trees line the banks of fast-flowing rivers, while mushrooms of all shapes and sizes poke through the leaf litter below. This is also a place where there’s a walk to suit everyone. Choose between four waymarked trails between 1km and 9km long, or mix and match the paths to devise a route of your own making. The best option is a combination of the Rivers Trail and Mountain Trail, which features an 18th Century hermitage, the rapids and falls of the Shimna River and great views across the adjacent Mourne Mountains.

Start and Finish: The main parking area for Tollymore Forest Park

Getting there: Tollymore is signed from the town of Newcastle. After passing through the park’s ornate entrance gate, continue for 1km to reach the main car park.

Level: Easy to moderate — signed woodland paths of various lengths

Length/ Time: 9km/ 3hr

Pack: A free trail map, which can be collected from the park information kiosk

Refuel: At Newcastle town, where there’s a wide selection of eateries. Try Hugh McCann’s at the southern end of the Central Promenade for a warming fire and good pub grub.

30 Best for forest history

Where: Rossmore Forest Park, Co Monaghan

What: Another magical place to appreciate the changing seasons, Rossmore lies on the outskirts of Monaghan town. As well as mixed deciduous woodland, lakes are a big theme here: five fishing loughs can be found within the boundaries. Historic sites abound too, with the remains of an old castle, ice house and mausoleum all hidden among the trees. The three marked walks follow firm surfaces, and extend from 2km to 8km. A circuit mixing the Lake Walk and Castle Trail provides the most varied route; don’t miss the 500m avenue of yew trees that runs from the walled garden.

Start and Finish: Rossmore Forest car park

Getting there: The park is located 3.5km southwest of Monaghan town, off the R189 to Newbliss

Level: Easy — signposted forest paths; suited to babies in carriers

Length/ Time: Up to 8km /2½hr

Pack: A route map downloaded from coillte.ie/site/rossmore-forest-park

Refuel: Andy’s, one of many stops in nearby Monaghan town. It’s a traditional steakhouse on Market Street and combines old-fashioned atmosphere with craft ale and great food.

Sunday Independent

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