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32 winter walks with the wow factor – and a cosy meal or pint at the finishing line

Looking for winter walks with a great pub, restaurant or café nearby? Pól Ó Conghaile, Adrian Hendroff, Helen Fairbairn and David Flanagan have one for every county 

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Bertra Beach

Bertra Beach

The Giant's Causeway in Co Antrim

The Giant's Causeway in Co Antrim

Muckross Lake

Muckross Lake

The Pantry at the Cliff House Hotel

The Pantry at the Cliff House Hotel

The Clare Glens

The Clare Glens

Florence Court Estate

Florence Court Estate

Glencar Waterfall

Glencar Waterfall

PJ O’Hare’s in Carlingford

PJ O’Hare’s in Carlingford

Inistioge

Inistioge

Fore Abbey

Fore Abbey

The Library Bar at Kinnitty Castle

The Library Bar at Kinnitty Castle

Views over the River Barrow

Views over the River Barrow

The Hell Fire Club

The Hell Fire Club

Aherlow House Hotel

Aherlow House Hotel

Diarmaid agus Grainne, Loop Head Project.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Diarmaid agus Grainne, Loop Head Project.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Gortin Glen Forest

Gortin Glen Forest

Roe Valley Country Park

Roe Valley Country Park

Rostrevor

Rostrevor

Walkers at Gortin Glen Forest Park

Walkers at Gortin Glen Forest Park

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Bertra Beach

Winter is a great time for walking in Ireland, all the more so if you have planned a cost meal or pint for the finishing line. Here's an option for every county...

Ulster

1. Antrim

Where: Portballintrae Causeway Loop. Park at the end of Beach Road in Portballintrae.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Coastal loop Distance: 9km Time: 2.5 hours

Why: To explore Ireland’s most celebrated coastal formations without the maddening crowds of the summer. Begin by walking east along the sand of Runkerry Beach, then join a cliff path that deposits you outside the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. Now follow a tarmac lane down to the causeway itself. Return by climbing the Shepherd’s Steps to the clifftop, then head back to the visitor centre. A path alongside the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway, and a final stretch through the sand dunes, deposits you back in Portballintrae.

Finishing line: The Nook; tel: 028 2073 2993. Enjoy a mid-walk fireside lunch in this friendly Victorian pub beside the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre.

2. Armagh

Where: Clare Glen, Tandragee. From Tandragee, take the B3 Markethill Road for 1.5km.

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

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Route type: Woodland river loop Distance: 3.5km Time: 1 hour

Why: To begin a walk of all seasons — visit first in winter, then return throughout the year to watch the scenery change. There are three paths to choose from as you make an out-and-back journey along the charming River Cusher. Glen View Trail, high on the eastern bank, provides a great perspective over the wooded gorge below. The River Trail traces the water’s western edge, it’s flat surface making it accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. The Bluebell Trail explores the hazel woodland higher on the west bank, and is especially beautiful in spring and summer.

Finishing line: Tandra Tea Coffee House; facebook.com/tandrateacoffeehouse. Serving breakfasts, lunches and afternoon tea. Don’t miss their rhubarb and ginger scones.

3. Cavan

Where: Killykeen Forest Park. From Cavan town, take the R198 and head west for 13km.

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Route type: Lakeshore woodland loop Distance: 5km Time: 1.5 hours

Why: To explore the wooded headlands protruding into Lough Oughter. This is a place where you can get back to nature, whatever the season. Resident wildlife is augmented by migrant ducks like wigeon and pochards during the winter. There are four signed walking trails to chose from. Combining the 2km Gartanoul Shore Walk with the 3km family cycle trail around Dernish More peninsula gives a great feel for the area.

Finishing line: Latte Da café in the centre of Cavan town; facebook.com/Latte-Da-273207253115486. A local institution serving fabulous paninis, salads and waffles.

4. Donegal

Where: Urris Lakes, Inishowen. Start from a car park at the southern end of Leenan Strand, in Leenankeel.

Difficulty: Moderate-hard

Route type: Coastal mountain loop Distance: 7km Time: 2.5 hours

Why: To reach two hidden mountain lakes, and enjoy wonderful coastal views across north Donegal. Located on the northern slopes of the Urris Hills, on the Inishowen Peninsula, this route is wild and tough enough to feel like a hillwalk. It involves 340m of vertical ascent, and as you climb toward the twin lakes suspended half-way up a rugged hillside, fabulous views stretch far and wide. Yet there are none of the navigation issues normally associated with hillwalks, as this entire circuit is signed with purple arrows.

Finishing line: The Rusty Nail is 10 minutes away in Clonmany (Friday-Sunday through winter). The Drift Inn in Buncrana (thedriftinn.ie) is another place to complete your trip - with a gastro-pub meal in a former railway station on the shore of Lough Swilly.

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Rostrevor

Rostrevor

Rostrevor

5. Down

Where: Slieve Martin Trail, Rostrevor Forest. Start at the upper car park on the Rostrevor forest drive.

Difficulty: Moderate-hard

Route type: Mountain loop Distance: 3.5km Time: 2 hours

Why: To enjoy all the reward of a hillwalk in the Mourne Mountains without too much of the hard work. Situated above Carlingford Lough on the southern edge of the Mournes, this is the highest and most scenic walking trail in Rostrevor Forest Park. It takes you from the upper car park to the summit of 485m Slieve Martin. There’s 265m of ascent to negotiate, but the climb is steady and the circuit is signed throughout by black arrows. Pick a crisp, clear day to make the most of the wide-ranging views, which encompass both the high Mournes and the Irish Sea.

Finishing line: The Rostrevor Inn; therostrevorinn.com. Warm up after your hike with a fireside steak in this 18th-century pub.

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Florence Court Estate

Florence Court Estate

Florence Court Estate

6. Fermanagh

Where: Florence Court Estate. Follow brown signs from the A4 Enniskillen-Sligo road.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Forest and parkland loop Distance: 9km Time: 2.5 hours

Why: Discover the forest and parkland surrounding one of the most important Georgian manor houses in Ireland. The imposing, 18th-century stately home of Florence Court is a magnet for history buffs, and its grounds are equally as attractive for walkers. Encompassing mixture of formal gardens, parkland and forestry, there are two signed hiking circuits to chose from (as well as Percy the Park Keeper’s winter wander trail, an addition in December). The Blue Trail is 3.5km long, while the 9km Red Trail explores a wider area, and features long-ranging views over the Fermanagh countryside. Many of the trees are evergreen, so retain their character during winter months. There’s a £8/£4 fee to visit.

Finishing line: Florence Court Tearoom; nationaltrust.org.uk/florence-court. Prolong the atmosphere of the estate with an on-site lunch, open weekends only during the winter.

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Roe Valley Country Park

Roe Valley Country Park

Roe Valley Country Park

7. Derry

Where: Roe Valley Country Park, Limavady. Heading south from Limavady, signed from both the B68 Ballyquin Road and B192 Drumrane Road.

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Route type: Riverside loop Distance: 3km-10km Time: 1-3 hours

Why: To soak up the natural energy from the rapids and wiers of the River Roe. Rivers are often at their most impressive in winter, and the chutes and falls that lie at the heart of this country park are no exception. Walking paths run along both banks of the river, and several bridges mean you can devise a circuit that suits your own preferences. The wooded banks, constantly changing river, and several historic landmarks ensure interest throughout.

Finishing line: Ritter Tea Rooms, beside the park visitor centre; facebook.com/ritter.tea.5. Open for riverside cakes and lunches daily throughout the winter.

8. Monaghan

Where: Antrawer Walk, Sliabh Beagh. Start and finish at Sliabh Beagh Hotel in Knockatallon.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Moorland loop Distance: 10km Time: 3 hours

Why: To experience the vast, remote moorland around Sliabh Beagh. Winter emphasises the emptiness of moorland landscapes, and bog trails can leave a big impression at this time of the year. The Antrawer Walk (also known as The Trá Walk) is signed throughout by black discs. It begins along country lanes, but soon diverts on to bog tracks and moorland pads. You join the route of the long-distance Sliabh Beagh Way for a stretch, and delve into the heart of the blanket bog that cloaks these undulating uplands.

Finishing line: Sliabh Beagh Hotel; sliabhbeaghhotel.ie. The hotel offers celebratory pints, bar food, and renowned carvery lunches every Sunday.

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Gortin Glen Forest

Gortin Glen Forest

Gortin Glen Forest

9. Tyrone

Where: Gortin Glen Forest Park. Located along the B48, 11km north of Omagh.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Forest loop Distance: 4km Time: 2 hours

Why: To appreciate charming woodland trails in the western foothills of the Sperrin Mountains. A firm favourite among local walkers, Gortin Glen encompasses lakes, forests and mountains. Within the forest park, you’ll find five waymarked trails varying from 1km to 7km long. The best option is the red Ladies View Trail, which passes streams and waterfalls as it climbs 160 vertical metres to a viewpoint over Bessy Bell and Lady Gray mountains. A steady descent through woodland completes the circuit back to the car park.

Finishing line: The Auld Bank Coffee Shop; facebook.com/theauldbankcoffee. Based in the centre of Gortin village, here you will find delectable cakes and tasty paninis as a reward for your exertion.


Connacht

10. Galway

Where: Errisbeg Hill Walk. Park anywhere near the harbour at Roundstone village, located along the R341.

Difficulty: Hard

Route type: Out-and-back Distance: 6km Time: 3-3.5 hours

Why: There’s no better place to admire the wintry wildness of Roundstone Bog than from Errisbeg, a modest 300m hill that rises west of Roundstone village. From its summit, you’ll see the 100-odd lakes that make up its blanket bog complex — a mosaic of heathery knolls. You’ll also get outstanding views toward the Twelve Bens, Dog’s Bay and south Connemara’s offshore islands. With views like these, save this walk for a clear winter’s day, when you might just also see snow on distant mountains. To get there, walk west from O’Dowd’s to the end of the road to access the hillside at a gate by a house. Simply head uphill on sheep paths, later passing two cairns before reaching the summit trig point. You’ll need a pair of good hiking boots for the terrain. errisbeghouse.ie/walking.html

Finishing line: O’Dowd’s bar; odowdsseafoodbar.com. Well worth a visit for a pint of Guinness and fresh seafood or piping-hot chowder on the way back.

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Bertra Beach

Bertra Beach

Bertra Beach

11. Mayo

Where:
Bertra Beach Walk. To get to the Bertra Beach car park, take the R335 out of Westport toward Murrisk, pass the village then turn right into Bertra Road (signed Bertra Strand/Beach) around 2km later.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 4km Time: 1-1.15 hours

Why: With Croagh Patrick looming above and the lapping waters of Clew Bay, there’s something really magical about this beach. Walk in a clockwise direction along its sandy fringes to the end of a narrow peninsula then later cross a split of dunes. From the peninsula’s northeast tip, you’ll get a spectacular view of Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain. At sunset over the winter months, you’ll get vibrant colours in the sky in the direction of Croagh Patrick, even sweeter if it’s sugar-coated with snow. From up on the dunes, you’ll appreciate Clew Bay and its jigsaw of glacial-formed drumlins locals say there are 365 islands, one for every day of the year. mayo.ie; northmayo.ie

Finishing line: The Tavern; tavernmurrisk.com. Located in Murrisk, there’s a cosy fireplace and an excellent menu at The Tavern, which serves the freshest of Atlantic fish. There’s a cracking range of craft beers, ciders, wine and a whiskey tasting menu too.

12. Roscommon

Where:
Boyle to Lough Key. The walk begins from a riverside park in Boyle town centre and ends at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Linear Distance: 8km Time: 2 hours

Why: This is a newly opened and delightfully scenic route serving both walkers and cyclists. It takes you past Boyle Marina, along the Boyle Canal and then through scenic woodlands, later finishing at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park. If you have time, stop by the well-preserved Boyle Abbey, Connacht’s first Cistercian monastery dating back to the 12th century. You can also check out the visitor centre at the King’s House to learn the story of Boyle and its people. visitroscommon.ie/trails

Finishing line:
The Tea Rooms at the King’s House; facebook.com/kinghousetearooms. Perfect for hot soup and a sandwich. Or try the Lakeside Café at Lough Key Forest and Activity Park; loughkey.ie. If this is closed, look out for their food truck.

13. Sligo

Where: Queen Maeve Trail. From Sligo, take the R292 towards Strandhill. After around 6.5km, turn left into the L3503 at St Anne’s Church. At a crossroads around 3km further, turn right into the L3507 signed Knocknarea, then right again after 850m to reach a car park.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Loop Distance: 6km Time: 2-2.5 hours

Why: Formed from limestone over 300 million years ago, Knocknarea’s pudding-shaped mass is crowned by the ancient burial mound of the warrior Queen Maeve, who is supposedly entombed in the large cairn in an upright position and dressed for battle. There are smaller passage tombs also dating back to before 3400BC. Enjoy 360-degree views which sweep from Ben Bulben to the Ox Mountains and as far as Slieve League in Donegal. The trail is waymarked by red arrows to the summit (do not climb the cairn), then descends through a forest and wooden bog bridge — which can be slippery when wet around Knocknarea’s northern end. sligowalks.ie

Finishing line:
The Venue at Strandhill; venuestrandhill.ie. Famous for local mussels, crab claws and seafood chowder. Later, snuggle up by the warm fire.

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Glencar Waterfall

Glencar Waterfall

Glencar Waterfall

14. Leitrim

Where: Glencar Hill Walk. Take the N16 from Manorhamilton. After around 11.5km, turn right into the L4145 signed Glencar Waterfall. Follow this road for another 2.5km, then park opposite the entrance to Glencar Waterfall.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Out-and-back Distance: 7km Time: 2 hours

Why: The Irish poet WB Yeats immortalised the area in his poem The Stolen Child. With its steep escarpments, evergreen conifers, picturesque lake and charming waterfall, Glencar is also known as Ireland’s Swiss Valley... a dusting of winter frost or snow caps it off. This walk is signposted by yellow arrows. From the car park, walk west along the road past the boathouse, then take the first road on the right and ascend steeply up switchbacks through the forest. Once above the tree line, hop over a stile for spectacular views of the area. Continuing on, you’ll reach a junction, signed by Hudson’s Road (left) and The Dooneens (right). Follow either, then loop back to the junction, before retracing your steps. Back at the start, do not miss the 15m-high Glencar Waterfall, which plunges into a deep pool in a white spray. leitrimtourism.com/walks-and-trails

Finishing line: Stop by at OstaW8; facebook.com/OstaW8/. Based in Manorhamiton, try their signature chicken wings, burgers or slow-cooked roast lamb.


Munster

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Aherlow House Hotel

Aherlow House Hotel

Aherlow House Hotel

15. Tipperary

Where: Rock an Thorabh Loop. From Tipperary town, take the R664 south following signs for the Glen of Aherlow. Continue along the R664 for around 6km until you reach parking spaces at the Christ the King statue before a hairpin bend.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Loop Distance: 6.5km Time: 2.5 hours

Why: The view at the trailhead here is absolutely amazing; you might struggle to even get going. During winter, this is best experienced at dawn, and even sweeter if the mountains are coated in snow. The loop is signposted by red arrows and takes you along forestry tracks, woodland trails and across the old red sandstone ridge of Slievenamuck. Look out for rabbits, squirrels and wild birds in the woodlands. The high point is Rock an Thorabh (Rock of the Boar), where you’ll enjoy a superb vista of the Golden Vale and Slieve Felim hills. Legend says that Fionn Mac Cumhaill split the rock into two out of anger at Diarmuid and Gráinne who spent the night here. discoverireland.ie/tipperary

Finishing line: Aherlow House Hotel; aherlowhouse.ie. Here you’ll find tea rooms with views of the Galtees. If you prefer fine dining, book into the Tree Top Restaurant.

16. Waterford

Where: Ardmore Cliff Walk, Co Waterford. Take the R673 off the N25 (Cork/Waterford Road) to Ardmore and park in the town or at the Cliff House Hotel.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 4km Time: 1-1.5 hours

Why: This is just the walk you need to beat those winter blues. Ramble along clifftop paths, minor roads and laneways around Ardmore Head and Rams Head and be rewarded with delightful seaward vistas. It’s a walk rich in heritage too, taking you past the ruins of a 5th-century church and holy well attributed to St Declan, then later a monastic site, which includes a 12th-century round tower. See if you can spot the wreck of the 180ft Maltese-owned Samson Crane Ship, which was driven ashore near Rams Head in December 1987. The Atlantic air is beautifully bracing at this time of year.

Finishing line: The Cliff House Hotel; cliffhousehotel.ie. Book ahead for seafood chowder or sandwiches at the bar, or grab a hot pot from The Pantry, its new outlet on the beach.

17. Cork

Where: Three Castle Head. Take the R592/R591 from Schull to Goleen village. Shortly after passing the village, turn right for Barley Cove. Follow this road for around 8km (ignore a left turn signposted Mizen Head) to a cul-de-sac overlooking a bay.

Difficulty: Moderate

Route type: Out-and-back Distance: 4km Time: 2 hours

Why: This walk is signposted and crosses private land, with a donation box at the trailhead asking for a small contribution. Save this for a clear winter’s day as the land and sea views are simply stunning — this is as isolated as it gets in west Cork. The highlight is a 13th-century castle consisting of three towers linked by a rampart wall that runs from the top of dizzying sea cliffs to Dunlough. It is said there is gold and buried treasure in its depths, but beware of the white ghost of the ‘Lady of the Lake’. threecastlehead.ie

Finishing line: Bunratty Inn; schull.ie. Enjoy a creamy pint of Guinness and stock up with award-winning bar food in Schull.

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Muckross Lake

Muckross Lake

Muckross Lake

18. Kerry

Where: Muckross Lake Loop. From Killarney, drive along the Kenmare road (N71) for around 6km before turning right into Muckross House and Gardens via a gated entrance. There’s a large car park within the grounds.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 10km Time: 3.5 hours

Why: Muckross Lake is part of Killarney National Park, which contains the largest area of native woodland in Ireland. This route is signposted from Muckross House the lakeshore trail meanders out to the Muckross Peninsula, which separates Muckross Lake from the larger Lough Leane. Here, you’ll enter Reenadinna Woods, a native yew woodland carpeted by moss and ferns. Look out for red squirrels and the majestic red deer… and snowy peaks in the distance. Onwards to Dinis Cottage and the Meeting of the Waters, where three Killarney lakes converge. Afterwards, lakeside tracks and wooded paths bring you back to Muckross House to complete the loop.

Finishing line: Muckross Park Hotel; muckrosspark.com. Experience fine dining at the Yew Tree Restaurant. There’s also a gastro pub or relax beside the fire in the Monks Lounge.

19. Clare

Where: Mullaghmore Loop. From Corofin, drive northwest for 3.3km along the R476 toward Killinaboy, then turn right onto the L1112. Keep left along this road to reach the trailhead just over 4.5km at Gortlecka Crossroads.

Difficulty: Hard

Route type: Loop Distance: 7.5km Time: 3 hours

Why: The Burren is a fascinating place, with a lunar-like landscape of contorted limestone appearing beautifully desolate in winter. This signposted walk loops around the modest limestone hill of Mullaghmore, skirting along the shores of little Lough Gealáin. The summit gives a good bird’s-eye view of the karst landscape, including nearby Sliabh Rua, which looks like a giant cinnamon bun. You’ll sometimes see peregrine falcons in the air too. Good hiking boots are recommended as underfoot conditions can be rocky and uneven. See burrennationalpark.ie for a trail map or simply follow blue trail markers.

Finishing line: Bofey Quinns; bofeyquinns.weebly.com. A family-owned traditional music bar and restaurant in Corofin. Enjoy a mixed menu with traditional Irish seafood, steaks, burgers, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

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The Clare Glens

The Clare Glens

The Clare Glens

20. Limerick

Where: Clare Glens Loop. Begin from Murroe, located on the R506 between Limerick and Cappamore. From Murroe, head north out of the village following signs for Clare Glens. After around 5km, you’ll reach the trailhead car park.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 4km Time: 1.5 hours

Why: This National Looped Walk is a delightful woodland trail that runs along the banks of the Clare River. The dense oak woods here are listed as a European Special Area of Conservation. There’s also a species of rare fern called Trichomanes speciosum. You’ll find rock pools and waterfalls along a red sandstone gorge through which the river flows — these cascades are a visual treat after some winter rainfall. Follow purple signage throughout, and as the trail takes you over several footbridges, keep in mind you’re also crossing county borders. visitballyhoura.com

Finishing line: For a hot cuppa, try Rua Café; instagram.com/rua_restaurant/. Or for some pub grub, go to The Valley Inn; facebook.com/TheValleyInnpub/. Both are located in Murroe village.


Leinster

21. Wexford

Where: Raven Point Wood. From Curracloe, follow the R743 towards the beach, turning right/south past the Tuskar and Raven holiday parks to park at the nature reserve.

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Route type: Loop Distance: 9km Time: 2.5 hours

Why: This magical trail has a little bit of everything — woodlands spiked with Corsican pines, a lengthy stretch along the white sands of Curracloe, and the wildlife of the North Slob lands, where you can see migrating wild geese in winter. The views of Wexford Harbour are bracing, with a wind that would slice you at this time of year, so wrap up warm, or do a shorter loop if you’re not feeling like the full thing (the soft sands can be tough going underfoot). The geese can be seen from October to March. Watch out for seals bobbing in the water and pine martins in the woods, too. wexfordtrail.ie

Finishing line: The Surf Shack; surfshackireland.com. Located at Curracloe beach, it is the place to revive with coffees, hot chocolates and stone-baked pizza. It opens on weekends off-season.

22. Wicklow

Where:
Spinc and Glenealo Valley, Glendalough. From Glendalough village, continue on to the Upper Lake car park (you will need coins to enter).

Difficulty: Moderate-hard

Route type: Loop Distance: 10km Time: 3.5 hours

Why: The Wicklow Mountains are regularly dusted with snow and frost through winter, offering gorgeously atmospheric views — but hikers need to be aware that higher access roads (such as the Sally Gap) can get treacherous in bad weather, and the hills are very exposed. Glendalough is a good option as it has safe parking, trails of varying lengths and lots of casual food options. You can see the wintry flow of Poulanass and its plunge pools in as little as 30 minutes, for example, while the 10km Spinc and Glenealo Valley Loop (white arrows) involves a tough ascent, bringing you up over the lake to some of the most spectacular winter scenery in the whole county. visitwicklow.ie

Finishing line:
Wicklow Heather; wicklowheather.ie. Based in Laragh, this is a good option for indoor or sit-down dining. There are also two food trucks in the Upper Lake car park — one doing chips, burgers, hot dogs and coffees; the other, ice cream and treats.

23. Longford

Where:
The Royal Canal Greenway. Park at Abbeyshrule along the route.

Difficulty: Easy/accessible

Route type: Linear Distance: Up to 9km Time: 2 hours

Why: The 130km Royal Canal Way got its official launch this year, following the canal towpaths through Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Longford. Abbeyshrule is one of several access points, and a winter stretch of the legs (or wheels) towards Ballynacargy or Ballymahon is a lovely way to dip your toe in the waters, so to speak. In winter, the crisp air, glistening ice and off-road wildlife is gorgeous — you’ll also see locks, arched bridges, a Cistercian abbey and barges. Go out and back on the bikes, have a second car waiting at one end for a walk, or simply turn around when you feel like it. Derrycassin Wood, with views over Lough Gowna, is another lovely winter option in Longford. longford.ie

Finishing Line: The Rustic Inn; rusticinn.ie. Located at Abbeyshrule, this is the place to go for good bar food and an open fire (the homemade soup and Guinness bread is a favourite). It opens evenings only from 5.45pm, but for Sunday lunch from noon to 8pm.

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PJ O’Hare’s in Carlingford

PJ O’Hare’s in Carlingford

PJ O’Hare’s in Carlingford

24. Louth

Where:
Slieve Foye Loop, Carlingford. The trailhead is at the tourist office car park in Carlingford town.

Difficulty: Hard

Route type: Loop Distance: 8km Time: 3 hours

Why: Follow the blue arrows from the medieval town of Carlingford on to the lower slopes of Slieve Foye for spectacular winter views over counties Louth and Down, the Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough. The trails take in roads, forest paths, boggy sections and various gates and stiles (dogs are not allowed as it crosses farmland), with a steep initial ascent — overall, you’ll gain about 270m. A highlight along the way is King John’s Castle and, on a suitably seasonal note, the mountain is said to have been the site of an epic battle between Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the ice giant, Ruscaire. You can also do a shorter Commons Loop (green arrows). carlingford.ie; visitlouth.ie

Finishing line: There are lots of cosy options in Carlingford, including Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms; rubyellens.com. Or warm up at the blazing fire at PJ O’Hare’s; pjoharescarlingford.ie.

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The Hell Fire Club

The Hell Fire Club

The Hell Fire Club

25. Dublin

Where: Nature Trail, Massey’s Estate, on the Military Road, Dublin. Use the Hell Fire Club car park, situated on the R115 road to Kilakee, about 6.5km south of Rathfarnham.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 1.5km Time: 45 mins

Why: This wooded valley in the Dublin Mountains is at its best in early winter when the leaves have dropped and sun can penetrate the thick canopy. The 1.5km Nature Trail (orange arrows) tours the grounds of the estate, which was owned in the 1930s by the director of forestry in Ireland, who planted many exotic trees from across the world. If you have energy left at the end, you could climb to the top of Montpelier Hill, site of the infamous Hell Fire Club, which has one of the best views over Dublin.

Finishing line: Timbetrove Café; timbertrovecafe.com. Just a few meters down the Military Road from the entrance to the woods, you can pick up a coffee and well-earned light lunch or sweet treat.

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Views over the River Barrow

Views over the River Barrow

Views over the River Barrow

26. Carlow

Where: Barrow Slí na Sláinte, St Mullins, Carlow. There is a car park at the trailhead.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 6.3km Time: 2 hours

Why: This walk along the River Barrow is a great alternative to a more mountainous route when the weather closes in. From the car park in St Mullins, follow the towpath upstream through the densely wooded valley. At the 18th century lime-kiln, you turn right, leaving the river behind and climbing through Bahana Wood to the road. As you descend, you can take in the view of Brandon Hill to the northeast. Look out for the grassy mound, the remains of a 12th-century motte and bailey, on the right just before the final steep section down to the river.

Finishing Line: The Mullicháin Café; themullichaincafe.ie. This is a restored four-storey storehouse where you can look out over the water while enjoying a hearty lunch and a glass of wine.

27. Kildare

Where: Pollardstown Fen National Nature Reserve is located on the Curragh, 3km west of Newbridge in Co Kildare.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 1.2km Time: 45 minutes

Why: Just north of the Curragh Racecourse is Pollardstown Fen, a nature reserve that is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including migrating birds during winter. Fens, areas of alkaline peatland that are fed by calcium-rich springs, are rare and delicate ecosystems. Thanks to Pollardstown’s 1.2km circuit of paths and wooden boardwalks, it’s possible to explore it without damaging the sodden, marshy ground. However, make sure you stick to the trail. It’s a magic place to wander around as the sun sets on a damp, wintry afternoon. Remember to keep your dog on the lead and take care on the boardwalk if it’s icy.

Finishing line: Hanged Man’s Pub and Restaurant; hangedmans.ie. You’ll find it downstream of the fen, in a beautiful setting right beside a branch of the Grand Canal. Apparently one of Pollardstown’s seven springs supplied the Guinness brewery, so where better to enjoy a point of the black stuff;

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Inistioge

Inistioge

Inistioge

28. Kilkenny

Where:
Nore Valley Walk, Inistioge. Park in the town, where the walk begins.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Linear Distance: 10.9km Time: 3 hours

Why: This enchanting walk starts in the picture-perfect village of Inistioge and follows narrow footpaths upstream along the River Nore’s west bank and through wonderful woodland with two brief sections on quiet roads before finishing in the equally pretty village of Thomastown. Note that dogs aren’t allowed and some sections of the path can get muddy after rain, so wellies or boots might be a good idea, particularly in winter months. For a map and more information, see trailkilkenny.ie.

Finishing line: The Blackberry Café; theblackberrycafe.ie. Located on Market Street in Thomastown, this is a restored cobbler’s workshop serving light lunches and baked goods with a strong emphasis on local produce.

29. Laois

Where: The Leafy Loop in Durrow starts in the town centre. You can park and walk from The Square or Dunmore Wood.

Difficulty: Hard

Route type: Loop Distance: 22km Time: 5 hours

Why: This diverse trail links quiet laneways, forest tracks and riverside paths into a 22km circuit around the village of Durrow in the southeast corner of Laois. Heading north from the village, you pass through Dunmore Wood(NB. as we published, this section was closed, but you can rejoin the trail from the wood) before meeting the River Nore and following it south as far as Knockatrim Wood. A narrow corridor of pretty deciduous woodland leads west then north to the Erkina River which you follow downstream back to the village square.

Finishing line:
Bowe’s Foodhall & Café; bowescafe.ie. Located in Durrow’s picturesque square, try here for a gourmet sandwich and a seriously good, freshly baked dessert. It closes on Sundays and bank holidays.

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The Library Bar at Kinnitty Castle

The Library Bar at Kinnitty Castle

The Library Bar at Kinnitty Castle

30. Offaly

Where:
Giant’s Grave Loop, Cadamstown. The trailhead is at the town car park.

Difficulty:
Moderate

Route type: Loop Distance: 11km Time: 3 hours

Why: This excellent hike starts from the tiny village of Cadamstown following a quiet lane up through farmland into the foothills of the Slieve Blooms. A network of forest tracks leads past the Giant’s Grave, the remains of a megalithic tomb, to the viewing point on top of Spink Mountain. You then start to descend to a tricky path alongside the rushing waters of the Silver River, which brings you back to the village. If you are tight on time, then there is a shorter variation: the 8km Paul’s Lane Loop, that is marked with blue arrows. Dogs are not permitted.

Finishing line:
Kinnitty Castle; kinnittycastlehotel.com. The castle offers a number of options, including a drink in the Library Bar, a coffee and a cake in the Antisocial Café, or if you want to treat yourself, afternoon tea in the drawing room.

31. Meath

Where:
Balrath Wood is just off the N2 from Ashbourne. The trailheads are at the wood car park.

Difficulty:
Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 1.3km Time: 1 hour

Why:
This tiny broadleaf woodland just off the N2 between Slane and Ashbourne was once part of a larger estate, and a few original trees remain. However, most of the forest was replanted in 1969 with a mix of oak, beech, ash and spruce. The Nature Walk follows the blue arrows through the woods passing a number of play areas, perfect for burning off the kids’ excess energy and cracking frosty puddles in winter. The highlight is a huge beech known as the Great Beech of Balrath Wood. Its gnarled roots and twisted branches are an eerie sight, particularly on a misty winter’s morning.

Finishing line: The Snailbox; snailbox.ie. A few kilometres south on the N2 is this traditional pub and restaurant, where you can enjoy a pint of stout by the stove while admiring the impressive collection of more than 6,000 baseball caps — the largest in Europe — that hang from the ceiling.

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Fore Abbey

Fore Abbey

Fore Abbey

32. Westmeath

Where: St Fechin’s Way, Fore. Car parking is available near the abbey.

Difficulty: Easy

Route type: Loop Distance: 3km Time: 1 hours

Why: The quiet village of Fore near Castlepollard was, during the Dark Ages, home to one of the most important monastic communities in Europe. An easy 3km stroll, St Fechin’s Way explores the valley’s past. Along the way, it takes in a collection of mysterious phenomenon, the Seven Wonders of Fore, that include ‘the tree that will not burn’ and ‘water which flows uphill’ as well as the well-preserved ruins of Fore Abbey, which was founded by St Fechin in the 7th century.

Finishing line: The Barrel and Bean Café; facebook.com/BarrelnBean. Just up the road is this café, part of the newly opened Fore Distillery. From the upper floor, you can enjoy a coffee and the views over the surrounding countryside.

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Walkers at Gortin Glen Forest Park

Walkers at Gortin Glen Forest Park

Walkers at Gortin Glen Forest Park

Your walking checklist

⬤ Safety comes first on a walk, no matter how easy. Check the weather, leave word of where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and pack smart (especially in winter). And remember, never leave valuables visible inside parked cars.

⬤ A fully charged phone, water and snacks, layers of appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear are essential for most walks. Bring a bag for rubbish, and clean shoes and socks in the boot for afterwards… you’ll thank us later.

⬤ Avoid peak times at busy spots (going early, late or midweek), don’t arrange to meet in large groups, observe social distancing, and park considerately — leave room for farmers, locals and emergency services to pass. Have a Plan B in case your car park is full.

⬤ Responsible walkers always respect private property.

NB: This article has been updated since it was first published on 06/11/2021.


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