Wednesday 22 November 2017

Top 10 Wild Atlantic Way walks - a day out for every fitness level!

Get your boots on!

Looking towards Bunglass from the summit of Slieve League. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Looking towards Bunglass from the summit of Slieve League. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Ards Peninsula. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn, published by The Collins Press, 2016
Spectacular cliffs line the promontory of Dún Balair on Tory Island. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
A walker beside the narrow chasm that separates Illandavuck from Erris Head. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Looking across to Mountain Common from the north-eastern part of the route on Inishturk. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
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)
The Sheep's Head. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Mount Eagle. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
Hiker dwarfed by the Cliffs of Moher, with O’Brien’s Tower in the distance. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
The signal tower on Bray Head was used from 1815 until the Second World War. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)

Helen Fairbairn

Looking for a great walk on the Wild Atlantic Way? Helen Fairbairn has the perfect book for the hiker's back pocket.

'Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: A Walking Guide' is published by The Collins Press (collinspress.ie), and here, its author outlines 10 of her favourites.

From golden beaches to thrusting headlands and soaring sea cliffs, it's a selection that makes us want to get the boots on, with photos to match by Gareth McCormack.

1. Ards Peninsula, Co Donegal

1. Ards Peninsula.jpg
Ards Peninsula. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn, published by The Collins Press, 2016

This highly enjoyable, easy route explores a pleasant mixture of woodland and coastline at the tip of Donegal's Ards Peninsula. Highlights include a wooden boardwalk through the dunes, and 4km of sandy bays separated by rocky headlands. Terrain is firm throughout, and it all starts and finishes at historic Ards Friary.

Time: 2-3 hours Distance: 7km Difficulty: Easy

2. Tory Island, Co Donegal

2. Tory Island.jpg
Spectacular cliffs line the promontory of Dún Balair on Tory Island. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

Lying 12km off the northwest coast of Donegal, Tory Island is the most remote place to walk in Ireland. Its unique atmosphere and spectacular coastline make it an evocative and intriguing spot to explore. A 35-minute ferry crossing brings you to the island, then a figure-of-eight circuit carries you past the lighthouse to the sheer cliffs and razor-sharp arêtes of the north-east coast.

Time: 3-3½ hours Distance: 11.5km Difficulty: Easy

More: 7 Amazing Walks in Ireland

3. Slieve League, Co Donegal

3. Slieve League.jpg
Looking towards Bunglass from the summit of Slieve League. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

The hike over Donegal's most majestic sea cliffs is a classic of Irish hillwalking. These are amongst the highest cliffs in Europe, and the scale of the scenery is simply breathtaking. The most popular route to the top is an out-and-back ascent from Bunglass. But beware – 500m of ascent and the sheer drop to ocean mean the trip is not for the fainthearted!

Time: 3½-4½ hours Distance: 10km Difficulty: Hard

More: A Circuit of Donegal: 12 great reasons to visit

4. Erris Head, Co Mayo

4. Erris Head.jpg
A walker beside the narrow chasm that separates Illandavuck from Erris Head. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)

This short trip packs a remarkable punch as it makes its way around the northern tip of Mayo's Belmullet Peninsula.  The cliff-fringed headland feels wild and remote, and is crowned by a First World War lookout post. A series of marker posts make route-finding a simple affair, but the fabulous Atlantic views are nothing short of extraordinary. 

Time: 1½-2 hours Distance: 5km Difficulty: Easy

More: Mayo is making movies, and its first release is mouthwatering

5. Inishturk, Co Mayo

5. Inishturk.jpg
Looking across to Mountain Common from the north-eastern part of the route on Inishturk. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

A picturesque harbour, a modest mountain summit and 130m-high sea cliffs are just some of the highlights of the circumnavigation of this charming Mayo island. The day starts with a 40-minute ferry journey, and continues with the discovery of the Inishturk's finest natural features. The hike fits perfectly into a day-trip, but the welcoming hospitality of the islanders makes it tempting to stay longer.

Time: 3½-4½  hours Distance: 10km Difficulty: Moderate

More: Top 10 Irish Drives: The best scenic road trips in Ireland

6. Omey Island, Co Galway

6. Omey Island.jpg
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)
 

Timing is critical for this walk, because the route starts and finishes by crossing a tidal causeway. Get the tide wrong and you'll be stranded on the island! Once safely across the sand, Omey is all about its history. Millennia of human habitation on this County Galway outpost have left remains including a medieval church, a holy well, and ancient bones protruding from a monastic graveyard.

Time: 2½-3 hours Distance: 8km Difficulty: Easy

More: The Irish Adventure Bucket List: 25 days out to try before you die!

7. Cliffs of Moher, Co Clare

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Hiker dwarfed by the Cliffs of Moher, with O’Brien’s Tower in the distance. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

This linear path carries you above Ireland's most famous sea cliffs. Almost a million people flock to these County Clare cliffs each year, but most never venture beyond the grounds of the visitor centre. This route lets you explore the full 13km of coastline between Doolin and Hag's Head, enjoying magnificent coastal scenery throughout.

Time: 3½-4½ hours Distance: 13km Difficulty: Easy

More: The Irish Foodie Bucket List: 30 dishes worth travelling for

8. Mount Eagle, Co Kerry

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Mount Eagle. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

Ancient ruins, spectacular coastal views and a mountain summit all feature on this highly recommended route at the tip of Kerry's Dingle Peninsula. In fact, it's hard to think of a route that packs more variety into 8km than this one. With clusters of beehive huts on the lower slopes and Great Blasket Island lying just offshore, fond memories are guaranteed.

Time: 3-3½ hours Distance: 8km Difficulty: Moderate

More: 7 Amazing Cycles in Ireland

9. Bray Head, Co Kerry

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The signal tower on Bray Head was used from 1815 until the Second World War. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

This relatively short, signed circuit visits the most dramatic coastal scenery on the famous Ring of Kerry. Lying at the western tip of Valentia Island, Bray Head is wild and rugged, with a Napeoleonic signal tower that perches precariously above 240m-high cliffs. Fabulous coastal views include the twin pyramids of the Skellig Islands.

Time: 2-2½ hours Distance: 6km Difficulty: Easy

10. Sheep's Head, Co Cork

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The Sheep's Head. Photo: Gareth McCormack, from Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn (The Collins Press, 2016)
 

Wild scenery and a rather primeval atmosphere pervade the tip of this remote peninsula in County Cork.  This fully-signed hike lets you explore the final few kilometres of land before the promontory finally concedes to the sea. A cliff-ledge lighthouse and a ridge-top traverse of Ballyroon Mountain are just some of the treats on offer.

Time: 3½-4½ hours Distance: 12.5km  Difficulty: Moderate

More: Secret Ireland: Sheep's Head peninsula

Want to know more?

Find more on Helen Fairbairn at helenfairbairn.com, and on photographer Gareth McCormack on his website at garethmccormack.com.

For full details of these and twenty other walking routes, see Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way – A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn, published by The Collins Press, price €14.99.

For more on the Wild Atlantic Way, see wildatlanticway.com.

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