Monday 25 June 2018

Ireland's Top 20 walks... under 10,000 steps

Take the first steps to a fitter, healthier spring with Nicola Brady's steps to success

Ardmore Cliff Walk in Waterford
Ardmore Cliff Walk in Waterford
A walk through the Dublin Mountains
Glen of Aherlow
Enjoying a spectacular view overlooking Lough Derg
Kilronan Castle
View of Westport house from the lake

Nicola Brady

Walking is good for the soul.

That's what you said in our Reader Travel Awards 2018, voting a simple stretch of the legs as Ireland's Best Adventure.

It's good for your health, too. From mountains to greenways, forest strolls to buggy-friendly paths, the variety of walks on which to ratchet up your step count is growing all the time.

Of course, recognising the lifestyle benefits of walking are one thing. Getting off the couch is another. Ten thousand steps a day isn't an official public health target, but it is a catchy one - boosted by the craze for wearable technologies like FitBits and health apps like MapMyWalk.

That's why we've taken it on ourselves to round up the best of Ireland's short walking trails, mapping out 20 walks that ring in below the magic number.

Fresh air is free, so what are you waiting for?

1. Gleninchaquin Park, Co Kerry

"It's not that well-known, but it's an absolute gem," says Niall O'Callaghan, Health & Wellbeing Consultant (everydaynfw.com) and a camp manager at Pure Results Bootcamps (pureresultsbootcamp.com), brainchild of Kathryn Thomas. Niall often leads bootcampers on a walk around Gleninchaquin Park near Kenmare, he adds. "It looks like a real challenge, but it's manageable." The walk takes you over a waterfall, via a little bridge, with fantastic coastal views.

Length: 6km, 1.5 hours

Step count: 7,500 steps

A sneaky treat: There's a café in the car park, so nab yourself a cuppa afterwards.

2. Lough Derg Blueway

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Enjoying a spectacular view overlooking Lough Derg
 

The newly launched Lough Derg Blueway isn't just for kayakers, you know. Sprawling over three counties, there are also a series of walking routes, most of which take place close to the water. The Millennium Cross Walk is a lovely option a short distance from Nenagh - it takes in open bog land on a rough track. There are a few steep sections, but you can catch your breath at the summit, where there's a bench ready for you to sit and look down at Lough Derg.

Length: 5km, 1 hour

Step count: 6,250 steps

A sneaky treat: Pop into Café Q (cafeq.ie) in Nenagh for a bowl of soup. See also bluewaysireland.org.

More: New Lough Derg Blueway to boost tourism in rural Ireland

3. O'Rourke's Table, Co Leitrim

Noeleen Tyrrell is the founder of Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat (ardnahoo.com) in Dromahair, and always encourages guests to walk up O'Rourke's Table, just a short distance away. "I love this walk, because you get to great heights for relatively little effort. There are steps and a railing that make the climb easier, and children love it. The top is covered in heather and you get glorious views of the whole of Lough Gill, all the way into Sligo Bay." It's around 3km from Ard Nahoo to the start of the climb, or you can park up nearby.

Length: 7km, 1.5 hours

Step count: 8,750 steps

A sneaky treat: Head into Dromahair for a slice of cake in the Village Tea Rooms.

4. Avondale Forest Park, Co Wicklow

The handy loop of the Centenary Trail is only 5km, but it sure packs a punch. You'll walk through the beautiful forest, past trees that are more than 100 years old. In fact, this is the birthplace of Irish forestry, with the trees planted in the early 1900s by the Irish State. There are a few trails to choose from, so you can do a shorter walk if you fancy it - the Tree Trail is only 2km. They all weave through beautiful terrain, and if you pass through the grassy Great Ride you'll get a great vantage point of the Vale of Avoca.

Length: 5km, 1 hour

Step count: 6,250 steps

A sneaky treat: Grab a scone in the Avondale House & Café, which will be reopening for the season at Easter. See also visitwicklow.ie.

5. Foxford Town Loop, Co Mayo

Foxford is a lovely little town - all pretty stone bridges, rushing rivers and gorgeous surrounding countryside. There are actually 33km of Foxford Way trails all together, but the town loop is an ideal one to get you started. Kick things off in the town itself and follow the arrows of the waymarkers, passing under the arch of the bridge, along the River Moy and into the countryside.

Length: 4km, 45 minutes

Step count: 5,000 steps

A sneaky treat: The Visitor Café at the Foxford Woollen Mills (foxfordwoollenmills.com) is divine, with plenty of homemade treats on offer.

6. Skerries Slí, Co Dublin

Orla Hopkins (instagram.com/ohsofit.ie) is a fitness guru based in Skerries, and loves getting out on a walk around the head. "The views are just spectacular and it's so peaceful. Because it's not near the main street, you can just be in your own little world. When you get to the top of the head, you could be looking out anywhere in the world. The mountains are to your left, the islands to the right, and it's beautiful."

Length: 4km, 45 minutes

Step count: 5,000 steps

A sneaky treat: You can grab a 3fe coffee in the newly opened café/interiors shop Goat in the Boat (goatintheboat.ie).

7. Slemish Mountain Loop, Co Antrim

It's a short enough route, but a good old climb - you'll definitely be feeling this one the next morning! It's well marked, and there's a car park too, so the only challenge will be the lung-busting ascent. Once you're at the top, however, the views are incredible, and you can see all the way out to the Sperrin Mountains in Tyrone on a good day.

Length: 1.5km, 1 hour

Step count: 1,875 steps

A sneaky treat: Ballymena is about 20 minutes away, so warm up in Middletown Coffee Co (middletowncoffee.co) for a toastie or filled brioche bun.

8. Old Head of Kinsale, Co Cork

The landscape all along this route is so stunning, you'll forget you're even exercising. This narrow promontory juts out into the Atlantic, so the sea surrounds you at every turn as you walk along the grassy cliff tops. The Old Head marks an important historical moment, too - the wreck of the Lusitania rests just 11 miles off the southern coast, after sinking in 1915.

Length: 6km, 1.5 hour

Step count: 7,500 steps

A sneaky treat: The Beach Café is close by, where you can warm up with a cup of tea.

9. Hell Fire Club, Dublin

A great one if you want to get out of the city without going too far, the Hell Fire Club has a variety of short forest walks, all overlooking Dublin city. Get to the top of the hill and you'll be met with a gorgeous outlook over Dublin bay. There are two looped trails - the Montpelier Loop is the slightly shorter (and easier) option, taking you up to the Hell Fire Club house, with those killer views from the top of Montpelier Hill.

Length: 4km, 1 hour

Step count: 5,000 steps

A sneaky treat: There's a wee café in the nearby Timbertrove (timbertrove.com) store, if you need replenishment afterwards.

10. Dun na Rí Forest Park, Co Cavan

This park is a big favourite of fitness and yoga instructor Robyn Fitzsimons (nstagram.com/robyn fitzsimons) "I love this place - each time I go I feel like I've discovered a new secret walk. It's beautiful, secluded and full of hidden routes. There's so much fun and laughter going on in between the quietness. My dog loves it too, it's really dog-friendly and just a lovely walk for anyone who wants to feel like they're lost in a forest."

Length: 2km, 30 minutes

Step count: 2,500 steps

A sneaky treat: This one's a little remote, so make sure you pack a snack.

11. St Catherine's Park, Co Kildare

There are over 200 acres of woodland and grassland at St Catherine's Park, with trails of various lengths through the woods. You can keep things simple with a 2km-loop, or go for a bit more of a challenge with the 5km. A nice one is the Leixlip Slí - it's an easy 4km that weaves through parkland, starting and finishing at the Rye Bank at the end of Main Street.

Length: 4km, 1 hour

Step count: 5,000 steps

A sneaky treat: Castletown House (castletown.ie) is just a 10-minute drive away. You'll find more walks and a cool little Courtyard Cafe (10-5pm).

12. Kilronan Castle, Co Roscommon

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Kilronan Castle

This gorgeous trail loops through Kilronan Forest and along the shores of Lough Meelagh. The lake is glorious on a clear day, with swans flitting along the water. The loop starts and ends in Kilronan Castle, so factor in a pint or cuppa in front of the fire when you're finished - it's one of the cosiest spots in the land.

Length: 4.6km, 1 hour

Step count: 5,750 steps

A sneaky treat: Get a bowl of chowder in the Drawing Room of Kilronan Castle (kilronancastle.ie).

13. Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary

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Glen of Aherlow

There are five routes to choose from here, but the Bianconi loop is your best bet - you'll be walking through woodland, over stiles and forestry tracks on an easy 4km trail. The glen is bordered by the Galtee Mountains, which you'll even be able to see from the car park at Christ the King.

Length: 4km, 1 hour

Step count: 5,000 steps

A sneaky treat: It's probably easiest to head into Tipperary if you're peckish - try the French Quarter Café in Tipperary's Excel Arts and Cultural Centre (tipperary-excel.com).

14. Ardmore Cliff Walk, Co Waterford

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St Declan's Way in Ardmore, Co. Waterford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Starting off at the Cliff House Hotel, this short walk brings you over the cliffs and along peaceful laneways. History fans will be kept happy - the route takes you past Ardmore Round Tower (one of the best preserved in the country), the Early Christian St Declan's Well and a 12th-century cathedral. It's also a dream for bird lovers - keep an eagle eye out and you might just spot kestrels and falcons zipping around the coastline.

Length: 4km, 1 hour

Step count: 5,000 steps

A sneaky treat: Bar food at The Cliff House Hotel (cliffhousehotel.ie) is a beaut - or try The White Horses in the village (024 94040).

More: New 'Celtic Camino' spurs second coming for Irish pilgrim trails

15. Bearna Pier to Silverstrand beach, Galway

There's nothing quite like a seaside walk, and for fitness entrepreneur Pat Divilly (patdivilly.com) nothing will beat his home of Galway. "I've got an affinity with the beaches in Bearna. I like being beside the water. On this walk, you're going along a main road, but you're close to the beach the whole time. Next to the Silverstrand beach you've got Bearna Woods, so there are a couple of different terrains there, which is nice."

Length: 5km there and back, 1 hour

Step count: 6,250 steps

A sneaky treat: Make the most of the seafood restaurants around Bearna Pier.

16. Slish Wood, Co Sligo

Lough Gill always packs a punch in the looks department, but it's far more impressive to see it on foot, rather than through a car window. The Slish Wood trail follows the lakeshore, with huge trees hugging the path as the lake glitters on the other side. There's a fair climb towards the end, but it's worth the effort. Just make sure you don't miss the turn to loop back to the car park or you'll end up in another county.

Length: 3km, 1 hour

Step count: 3,750 steps

A sneaky treat: Head into Sligo and pick up a French pastry or handmade chocolate in Le Fournil (2 Tobergal Lane; 071 914-9807).

17. Clashganny Loop, Co Carlow

This easy, ambling walk will take you along the Barrow Way, through a wood which has had forestry cover since the 1800s. You'll get great views of the River Barrow and Clashganny Lock, over flat terrain. The Clashganny Lock Loop is the better one for those starting out, as it's only 3.5km. You'll have it conquered in a good hour.

Length: 3.5km, 50 mins

Step count: 4,375 steps

A sneaky treat: If you're walking on a Sunday, factor in lunch at Clashganny House (clashgannyhouse.com).

18. Westport House, Co Mayo

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View of Westport house from the lake
 

Sometimes you don't want to head out for a huge walk, but more of a potter around. The grounds at Westport House (left) always make for a rewarding stroll, and the Looped Riverside walk is an easy one to get you started. You'll make your way along the river from the front lawn of the house, crossing pretty bridges and getting a great glimpse of the house with Croagh Patrick in the background. Westport House has invested heavily in the grounds recently, which are now free for people to walk around.

Length: 1.5km, 15 mins

Step count: 1,875 steps

A sneaky treat: Enjoy a scone in Wesport House's Old Kitchen Café (westporthouse.ie).

19. Galway Canals, Galway

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Galway at dusk. Photo: Deposit

"Having a dog means I'm walking three to four times a day," says Lisa Regan (lisareganpr.ie), PR guru and fitness fanatic from Galway. "Our favourite walk starts and finishes in Galway's West End - we walk down the canals and around the Claddagh. We head back up the canals and onto NUIG, and there's a trail walk by the river, which leads to Dangan."

Length: 8km, 90 minutes

Step count: 10,000 steps

A sneaky treat: "When we land back there's always time for a coffee in Kai (kaicaferestaurant.com), and their cakes are out of this world," Lisa says.

More: Galway like a local: Inside Ireland's No.1 home holiday destination

20. Bellanaleck Loughshore Walk, Co Fermanagh

Lough Erne is one of the finest bodies of water in the land, with sweeping rushes and tiny islands dotted throughout. This walk is short and easy, but gives you that all-important lookout over the lake. A small stretch of it is next to a busy road, but otherwise it's nice and peaceful, passing the community sensory garden and wide-open fields.

Length: 2.5km, 30 minutes

Step count: 3,125 steps

A sneaky treat: The Sheelin Kitchen (+44 28 6634 8219) is nearby - you can't miss its gorgeous thatched roof.

Read more:

Top 20 family walks in Ireland: Get kids of all ages into the outdoors! 

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