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Our lockdown loops: from Leo Varadkar to Dr Ciara Kelly, 15 familiar faces share their 5k favourites

What is your go-to walk, the loop you return to day after day within your 5km? Here, 15 people share their routes, and how they use them for headspace, fitness or just a breath of fresh air

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Derval O'Rourke. Photograph: Joleen Cronin

Derval O'Rourke. Photograph: Joleen Cronin

Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park

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Derval O'Rourke. Photograph: Joleen Cronin

"It's the cure for everything at the moment," says Aoibhín Garrihy.

Long or short, alone or with family, with headphones in or phone left behind for headspace, daily walks are something we can all relate to in lockdown.

Here are how 15 familiar faces make the most of their 5km.

‘I have a playlist of tunes for when I’m exercising’

Leo Varadkar, Dublin - Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment

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Leo Varadkar. Photograph: John Allen

Leo Varadkar. Photograph: John Allen

Leo Varadkar. Photograph: John Allen

“I try to get out for a run at least once a week, especially now that the gyms are closed. There are a few runs I can do within my 5km, and there’s a café I like to stop at where they do really good food. There are a few routes I like to do in my neighbourhood including the Royal Canal, some on paths, and some cross-country when the ground is dry or frozen.

“I sometimes go with my partner, Matt, but if I’m on my own, I like to listen to music. I have a playlist of tunes for when I’m exercising. It’s an eclectic mix that I update every few weeks. At the moment, for running, it’s Shane Codd, Dua Lipa, The Cranberries, Balkan Beat Box and Dizzee Rascal. For walking, it’s Ed Sheeran, Dermot Kennedy and Coldplay.

“I’ve been a huge believer in exercise since I entered politics. It’s something everyone can do. We can all set our own goals and find ways to exercise that we enjoy, even at home. When I was Minister for Health, I did a lot with the Healthy Ireland programme, and with Operation Transformation. Exercise can help you to feel better and it’s great for your mental wellbeing. And at a time like this, when we’re all confined to small areas, it’s really important to be out in the fresh air.”


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‘I like to think that I’m walking into the year in a positive way’
Ciara Kelly, Co Wicklow
Newstalk broadcaster and GP

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Newstalk’s Ciara Kelly. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Newstalk’s Ciara Kelly. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Newstalk’s Ciara Kelly. Photograph: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

“100 Days of Walking is a very simple idea. This is my fourth year doing it, and the basis was that I would go for a walk every day for at least half an hour, and I’d commit to that for 100 days. This year, there are thousands of people doing it. It’s a nice, positive thing for us to do. I like putting my best foot forward by doing it in January. I like to think that I’m walking into the year in a positive way.

“I’m lucky — I live about a three-minute walk from the sea. Greystones has a lovely seafront and nice piers, so that’s probably my go-to walk every day. At the weekends when I’m trying to walk a little longer, I do the Greystones to Bray cliff walk. It’s 6km long, so I’m not allowed to go all the way anymore, but you can still walk along it. The views are beautiful, and it’s a little bit more of a challenge. Another one I really love is South Beach in Greystones. You can get up to the walkway along the train tracks, and there’s nobody down there.

“You can walk for miles; it’s stunning. There’s a bird sanctuary, miles of open beach, and there’s nobody around. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

“Greystones has a beautiful Victorian seafront. It’s still quite rugged, and it’s very lovely. I have been walking it my whole life, and I will probably do it for the rest of my life, too.”


‘It’s known as active recovery, and your body definitely feels better for it’
Robbie Henshaw, Dublin
Leinster and Ireland rugby player

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Rugby player Robbie Henshaw. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rugby player Robbie Henshaw. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rugby player Robbie Henshaw. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“I’ve been doing loads of walking. Myself and my partner, Sophie, got a black Labrador retriever about three months ago, so we’ve been very busy doing a morning walk before work, and an evening one. If you don’t walk the dog in the morning, her energy levels are just through the roof, so it’s a great reason to get up and go.

“We live in Clonskeagh, so we love to do the loop down by Milltown and the Dodder Park. We walk along the water and back up to the house. We’ve overdone that loop a bit now, though, so we’re trying to find another one! I’m into my coffee, so we’d either go to Wilde & Green in Milltown or I’d make a coffee in my machine and bring it along. We’ve gone up to Deer Park in Mount Merrion a fair bit, too. They have a doggy park: an enclosed area where you can let the dogs run around. So we’ve gotten great use out of that.

“I’ve been going for another walk in the evening by myself, too. It’s lovely to get out in the fresh air and unwind after a heavy day. Yesterday, for instance, was probably our toughest day in training. I went out for a walk in the evening with the dog, and it’s a nice way to recover. It’s known as active recovery, and your body definitely feels better for it. I do lie on the couch sometimes! But I’ve been trying to keep a good healthy balance.

“Taking the time to take a break and take a breath is so important. To get out and push the reset button feels like starting again.”

‘You can spot a lot when you just look up or slow down’
The Gastro Gays, Co Louth
Russell James Alford and Patrick Hanlon, gastrogays.com

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The 'GastroGays' Russell James Alford (left) and Patrick Hanlon. Photograph: Gerry Mooney

The 'GastroGays' Russell James Alford (left) and Patrick Hanlon. Photograph: Gerry Mooney

The 'GastroGays' Russell James Alford (left) and Patrick Hanlon. Photograph: Gerry Mooney

“There is a gorgeous route within Drogheda that just extends to the extremity of our limit, down under the stunning Boyne Viaduct on the road towards Baltray. At sunset, it offers the most beautiful, unique vista of the town — we believe it’s the most beautiful approach to Drogheda. You could call it Drogheda’s very own Sydney Harbour Bridge!

“If we’re totally honest, the initial 2km limit was very tough mentally and physically. Our home is just outside the town on a busy 100km/hr road that’s loaded with trucks daily, with no footpaths and barely any streetlights. So realistically, that dangerous road was all we had, surrounded by private lands, farmland and fields, which were a no-go. The 5km gave us at least a degree of variety, but it also gave us a greater appreciation for the things within our local community, as well as seeing many opportunities for positive changes in the area, post-Covid.

“If there is one great thing that has come out of it all, it’s that when we walk, we’re discovering the vastness of the town and the varying architectural styles, as well as some beautiful old features on buildings. You can spot a lot when you just look up or slow down and really take everything in.”

‘I’ve lost about three stone since I started walking’
Jess Murphy, Galway
Chef, Kai Restaurant

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Jess Murphy of Kai Restaurant

Jess Murphy of Kai Restaurant

Jess Murphy of Kai Restaurant

“I started walking in the first lockdown. I do 10km a day now, every morning. I mainly walk along the prom — it’s beautiful. I came back from New Zealand in the spring, and that’s when you notice the primroses, the cowslips, the wild garlic. You notice the seasons more — you’re so in touch with what’s going on.

“I think walking is just so good for you, especially for chefs. One minute, you’re running a restaurant with 24 staff, making decisions on the fly. Then you go from that to nothing. I see loads of people on the walk who have restaurants, all the people whose industries have stopped. Which is great, because we’re all in the same boat. We can stop and have the chat, and connect with each other.

“I do the walk with my partner, David, but we’re together all the time so we both put noise-cancelling earpods in, to have a bit of a break. We’re separate, but together. David listens to Newstalk, and I listen to music, or audiobooks. Some days I don’t even listen to anything, I just watch the sea coming in and out. I find it really hard to sleep, so sometimes tuning everything out and just listening to the waves on a walk is like meditation.

“I’ve lost about three stone since I started walking. It’s pretty mind-blowing. Sometimes I feel like Forrest Gump — he keeps on walking and people keep asking him why… I don’t really have a groundbreaking reason. I just decided to work on myself, rather than working on dishes.”

‘My new rule is to make sure the phone is not with me’

Catherine Martin, Dublin - Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

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Catherine Martin and her husband, Francis Noel Duffy, at Leinster House. Photograph: Mark Condren

Catherine Martin and her husband, Francis Noel Duffy, at Leinster House. Photograph: Mark Condren

Catherine Martin and her husband, Francis Noel Duffy, at Leinster House. Photograph: Mark Condren

“I absolutely love walking. I’ve done the Dublin City Marathon; I’ve done the Connemarathon. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a loop that I do. It’s about four miles and I try to fit it in most days. And at no stage would I be more than the 5km from my home, so it actually works well during the restrictions.

“My new rule is to make sure the phone is not with me. I either take the time out if I am on my own or use the time to be with my family. If I am on my own, I don’t listen to music or podcasts.

“I take the time to completely relax, without my phone. I just look around, admire what I see and take full advantage of the time out and the fresh air, which I think is fantastic for anyone’s mental health. Or if I’m with my husband and our three children, it is lovely to just catch up and chat about family issues. So I find the walk a complete break from work.

“We have been walking and hillwalking since the kids were in double buggies. We used to take a single buggy and double buggy with us when they were much smaller, so it is just something that they are used to doing. They wouldn’t blink an eye if we said we were doing a 12-mile walk in the hills. It is something they have grown up doing.”

‘For your peace of mind, it’s so important…’

Neven Maguire, Co Cavan - Chef, MacNean House & Restaurant

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Chef Neven Maguire. Photograph ©Fran Veale

Chef Neven Maguire. Photograph ©Fran Veale

Chef Neven Maguire. Photograph ©Fran Veale

“The four of us get out for a walk every day with our wee dogs, which we’ve had a year now. We just go a couple of kilometres up the road to a forest where it’s nice and peaceful. You would hardly meet anyone. It’s a lovely walk by Lough MacNean, near where we live. It’s where we all learned to swim, and the twins learned there too. We’re obviously right on the Border, and there’s an upper and lower lake, one in the North and one in the South. It’s just heavenly. Peaceful, quiet and unspoilt. My parents named MacNean House after the lake. It really is so beautiful.

“We’re very lucky where we live. It’s nice and quiet, and there are lots of walks around. We try to get out in the afternoon. Some days you go a little longer than others. The dogs need it as much as us, and they’re great motivation.

“I love doing the walks, to get fresh air into your lungs and into your head. For your peace of mind, it’s so important.”

‘Simply walking our dogs down this quiet lane actually delivers its own form of meditation’

Imen McDonnell, Co Limerick - Author, food stylist, photographer at imenmcdonnell.com

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Imen McDonnell

Imen McDonnell

Imen McDonnell

“I have been walking the narrow farm boreen, with its bikini-wax strip of grass growing down the middle, once, maybe twice a day, for as long as I’ve lived in the Irish countryside. During lockdown, however, this routine meander within the 5km limit has taken on a more profound raison d’être. For me, the greatest challenge in adhering to the Covid restrictions has been about letting go of things I can’t control. And yet, in that spirit of letting go, I have discovered new freedoms and gifts to cherish.

“I’ve realised that simply walking our dogs down this quiet lane actually delivers its own form of meditation. As someone who has tried every meditation method, I simply could not get into it. Then, one early dewy morning, it instinctively came to me. As I strolled the boreen, noticing the sounds of leaves on swaying trees, the birds circling in perfect patterns overhead... I realised this daily sacred time of introspection is my very own meditation. I guess it was always as effortless as that.”

‘For moms, there’s a bit of guilt about getting out’

Derval O’Rourke, Co Cork - Creator of health website derval.ie

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Derval O'Rourke. Photograph: Joleen Cronin

Derval O'Rourke. Photograph: Joleen Cronin

Derval O'Rourke. Photograph: Joleen Cronin

“I wasn’t a huge walker before. But in the first lockdown, I thought, ‘God, if I don’t start walking, I’m going to lose my mind.’ So I didn’t do it from an exercise perspective — I did it for my headspace. Now I’m obsessed with walking every day.

“For moms, there’s a bit of guilt about getting out. I have to train my brain to say, ‘It’s OK if I want to get out for a walk by myself.’ The kids are very young — nearly two and five — so they want to be wherever I am. They’re at that legwarmer stage. They want mummy to do everything!

“There’s a point on my walk where, if you get into Crosshaven village and keep going, you get to the Point Road. You can see Cork Harbour and out to Roches Point. You can keep going to the top of Camden Fort, and it is spectacular.

“It’s honestly breathtaking. No matter what mood you’re in, you’re standing up there and you can see the sea, the massive ships coming in, and you’re just there going, ‘There’s a whole other world out there!’ Escapism is the key for me.”

‘It’s the cure to almost everything at the moment’
Aoibhín Garrihy, Co Clare - Actor, presenter and co-founder of beowellness.ie

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Aoibhín Garrihy pictured at home in Co Clare. Photograph: Don Moloney

Aoibhín Garrihy pictured at home in Co Clare. Photograph: Don Moloney

Aoibhín Garrihy pictured at home in Co Clare. Photograph: Don Moloney

“I have walked most days in lockdown, as I firmly believe it is the cure to almost everything at the moment. Online workouts, yoga sessions, meditation and hobbies are also great to keep the body, mind and soul well right now, but I am a strong believer in the therapy of nature and the outdoors. Getting 20 or 30 minutes of fresh air, exercise and some headspace has been a saviour during this time.

“My favourite walk within my 5km is a stroll in the Ballybeg Woods in Ennis. It’s beautifully scenic woodland. I love being surrounded by all the lush trees and it’s incredibly peaceful. There is one long, narrow section, completely sheltered by the trees. On a sunny day the sun barely peeps through, but on a wet day you almost stay dry, as it feels totally enclosed. There’s something magical about its privacy. There are fairy doors on many of the trees left by local children and my girls love discovering them on their excursions. It’s a favourite for the whole family.

“It’s when I feel like getting outside the least, I know I need it the most. I never regret going out in the fresh air for a walk and instantly feel a lift in my mood. It gives me the energy I need with the kids and a chance to appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature on our doorstep.”

‘The time to walk is nearly more important than the walk itself…’

John Brennan, Co Kerry - Hotelier, Park Hotel Kenmare and Dromquinna Manor

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Hotelier brothers Francis and John Brennan (right) from RTÉ's At Your Service

Hotelier brothers Francis and John Brennan (right) from RTÉ's At Your Service

Hotelier brothers Francis and John Brennan (right) from RTÉ's At Your Service

“We live 5km from Kenmare. We have a walk called Dromore Wood that’s absolutely glorious. It goes down along Kenmare Bay, and it has a planted forest with lovely walks. We go down there for a walk once a day. We also live on a lovely country lane, and there are very few cars going up and down the road. All the neighbours are out walking, too. We’re exchanging heads of lettuce for eggs — there are all sorts of black-market economies along the back roads of Kerry! It’s a result of meeting people on the road, and not knowing that they had hens, and you grew lettuce. It’s a lovely thing.

“Walking gets you outside and puts you in a good frame of mind, but I think it’s not necessarily the walking. What’s lovely is that you have the time to walk, which is nearly more important than the walk itself. It’s the guilt-free ability to enjoy where we live. There are other times when life might be going at a more hectic pace, where you probably could go for a walk but don’t feel you can, as business and life are so busy.

“In the hotel industry, we never close. So you’re never fully relaxed... But we had none of that stress in the first lockdown. To have that peace of mind — that’s more important than the actual walk itself. It’s the comfort in going and not worrying.”

‘Inis Meáin is about 5km by 3km, so the 5km limit makes no difference to us’

Marie-Thérèse de Blacam, Inis Meáin, Co Galway - Co-owner, Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites

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Marie-Thérèse de Blacam

Marie-Thérèse de Blacam

Marie-Thérèse de Blacam

“It’s mostly daily sea swimming that’s keeping me sane, but I do get out for family walks with our two girls as often as possible. Inis Meáin is about 5km by 3km, so the 5km limit makes no difference to us. We took a map of the island when the lockdowns started last year, with the objective of walking every road, boreen and piece of coastline on our family walks. That wouldn’t be too difficult for two adults, but our girls are 10 and seven, so there’s a bit of coaxing involved. We still have a small amount left to mark off on the map. The girls usually run or cycle ahead, which gives my husband Ruairí and I quiet time to talk and discuss our business — something we don’t have too much opportunity to do otherwise, since school has stopped.

“Inis Meáin is essentially a concentrated patch of the Burren, surrounded by sea and criss-crossed by hundreds of miles of dry stone walls and archaeological treasures. Our appreciation of living amid such special and beautiful geology, biodiversity and culture has helped us hugely during these challenging times.”

‘It’s almost like medicine…’

Donal Skehan, Co Dublin - Food writer and TV presenter

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Donal Skehan. Photograph: Victoria Wall Harris for Weekend magazine

Donal Skehan. Photograph: Victoria Wall Harris for Weekend magazine

Donal Skehan. Photograph: Victoria Wall Harris for Weekend magazine

“We’re in Howth, so we’re lucky to be surrounded by water. The only problem is a lot of our 5km radius is in the sea! The Cliff Path has always been a big part of our routine. The grounds of Howth Castle are incredible as well. You have the best of both worlds here.

“We tend to treat a walk as a little escape and try to do it on our own. If you don’t take that chance to carve out a bit of time alone for yourself, it just slips away from you.

“I do Saturday mornings and my wife, Sofie, does Sunday mornings. She’ll go off and do a hike, or I’ll go off to the beach. You come back with a fresh mind — you’ve had time to clear the head. You come back stronger. It’s almost like medicine.”

‘Over the last few weeks, it feels like we’re in the Alps’

Mary White, Co Carlow - Owner of Blackstairs Eco Trails, blackstairsecotrails.ie

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Mary White hiking on the Barrow Track in Co Carlow. Photograph: Tony Maher

Mary White hiking on the Barrow Track in Co Carlow. Photograph: Tony Maher

Mary White hiking on the Barrow Track in Co Carlow. Photograph: Tony Maher

“I have so many lovely walks in my area but, in order to be compliant with the regulations, I stick to one lovely 5km route. We live in the foothills of the Blackstairs Mountains, and this walk takes me towards the foot of Mount Leinster, the big mountain at the bottom of which we live. Over the last few weeks, with the snow on it, it feels like we’re in the Alps. It’s the scale of the mountain that’s so impressive, and the views are spectacular. It’s beautiful.

“We have a great community here (in Borris) and so many people are out walking. If one good thing has come out of this very tough time, it’s that we’re walking, meeting one another out on the road and exchanging what little news we have. We’re glad to see each other. We’re starved of conversation, we’re starved of good news, and we’re starved of our community. That’s what we’re missing — the connection, the hugging, the feeling of being close to our friends and families. We’ve just got to remain positive, support each other, and keep walking.”

‘My mind just shuts off and I’m really present in the moment’

Shawna Scott, Sligo - Owner of sexsiopa.ie

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Shawna Scott

Shawna Scott

Shawna Scott

“The move from Dublin has been brilliant for my headspace. Sligo is so beautiful, and there are so many opportunities for walking and outdoorsy stuff, whether that’s hiking or beach walking. I’m sad that being in lockdown means we’re so limited in those opportunities for now, but I’m really looking forward to being able to take advantage of everything my new home has to offer when spring and summer come again.

“I definitely walked a lot more during the first lockdown and over the summer. I loved taking little strolls around Sligo town and Strandhill, just to explore the area and get to know the place.

“But as winter set in and everywhere closed, I’m walking less than I normally would. It’s really hard to get motivated right now.

“My partner and I recently adopted an ex-coursing greyhound from HUG who is a big, nervous boy, so most of our walks are based on what he’s comfortable with.

“I love coming into trails when there’s absolutely no one around — just me, my dog and a few birds. I love the quiet. My mind just shuts off and I’m really present in the moment.

“Getting outside and being in nature has helped my mental health so much. I felt so cramped and like everyone was on top of everyone else in Dublin. It was incredibly stressful. Being able to have that extra bit of space and carve an hour out of my day where I don’t see anyone, hear any news, read any tweets and I can just focus on asking my dog about the things he’s sniffing on the trail is really special to me.”


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