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Walk the Ardmore cliff walk in Co Waterford - it only takes an hour

The 4.5km cliff walk in Ardmore, Co Waterford, takes you from beach to coast (with a bonus shipwreck) and back in just around an hour...

I love a coastal walking loop that clicks.

Not every coastal loop does, of course. But when one gets it right, combining wild ocean views, soaring bird life and random heritage husks, there's a salt-on-the-lips immersion that really can be exhilarating.

Ardmore's cliff walk is one of those - a short and sweet 4.5km circuit that dips into into the story of St Declan and throws up a shipwreck, coastal watchtowers and stunning wildlife en route, all in the space of an hour or so.

The Co Waterford walk is one of the simplest and safest I've come across along the southern coast and, as I've gathered on social media, a loop that kept many locals from going loopy during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Starting in the village, take the Cliff Road up past the town pier towards the Cliff House Hotel - walking past the front door towards the stone wall and 'St Declan's Hermitage' sign straight ahead.

It doesn't take long for the time travel to begin - just a few steps, in fact, as you duck under the doorway of an ancient church shell within just a few hundred yards (see video, above).

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

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

Ardmore Cliff Walk in Waterford

Ardmore Cliff Walk in Waterford

Ardmore's monastic site. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Ardmore's monastic site. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

A Napoleonic watchtower in Ardmore, Co Waterford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A Napoleonic watchtower in Ardmore, Co Waterford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

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

St Declan was the fifth century saint said to have brought Christianity to the southern part of Ireland. He set up his monastery in Ardmore - the ruin and well here, traditionally a pilgrimage site on his feast day of July 24, are just a taste of what's to come towards the end of the loop in Ardmore's monastic site.

Continuing on, the elevation slopes gently upwards and you gain sweeping views back across the bay. In summer, keep your eyes peeled for basking sharks; in winter, for whales.

A fading sign near the Cliff House gives an indication of the birdwatching heaven ahead, too. I saw stonechats and kittiwakes, but you can also catch choughs, fulmars and peregrine falcons.

Turning west around the bend, the path steepens slightly - and you'll use its only series of steps - before flattening and dipping again to pass a cinematic spread of cracks and folds in the coast.

Looking down, past the swathes of purple heather and pink sea thrift, watch out for the wreck of the 'Samson' crane barge - which ran aground in a gale in 1988 (en route from Liverpool to Malta), and is now a rusty perching point for seabirds.

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The Cliff House Hotel at Ardmore, Co Waterford.

The Cliff House Hotel at Ardmore, Co Waterford.

The Cliff House Hotel at Ardmore, Co Waterford.

It reminds me a little of the 'Plassey' shipwreck on Inis Oirr.

Further along, you'll come to two watchtowers - a Napoleonic structure prettily sat in a field, and a concrete station used to monitor the coast during World War II. You can step inside for a view through the boxy, rectangular windows - long since bereft of their glass, of course.

Swinging around the coast, the walk passes the remains of another well, before looping back towards the village on a lovely, thin bohereen. When this hits a T-junction, take the left turn down toward the monastic site, steering through a gap in the wall for a closer inspection of the Round Tower and St Declan's oratory.

It's a picture-perfect setting, with crooked gravestones and grassy trails leading from one lichen-splattered heritage site to another, and an easy place to get lost in the moment.

The Romanesque cathedral ruin here dates from the 12th century, and the 29m Round Tower is perfect - a fairytale feature that is easily one of the best-preserved in the country.

The saint's remains are said to lie in the little oratory.

Stepping through a final stile, I tramped back towards the village, passing splashes of colour in gallery windows, flower boxes, and a lady painting the White Horses restaurant sign for the new season.

This loop clicks, all right.

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A Napoleonic watchtower in Ardmore, Co Waterford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A Napoleonic watchtower in Ardmore, Co Waterford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

A Napoleonic watchtower in Ardmore, Co Waterford. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile


Level: Easy. While there are some slopes and one series of steps, the path is clear, safe and should be within range of most fitness levels, as well as younger kids able to walk for an hour.

Distance: 4.5km. Doable in an hour, or a little more with stops.

Tips: If travelling at weekends or during holiday season, arrive early - Ardmore can be a busy little resort, with parking filling up quickly. Pack binoculars for bird-spotting, too.

A bite nearby: A bite or drink on the terrace of the five-star Cliff House Hotel can be bliss in sunny weather, but make sure to call ahead for reservations. In Ardmore itself, White Horses is a local bistro doing a super line in locally-caught seafood (at the mid- to upper price range), or nab an ice cream from Beachcombers.

More info: visitwaterford.com; stdeclansway.ie sportireland.ie

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. 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.
  • Covid-19 measures: 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.
  • Check websites before travelling for the latest opening hours for restaurants and pubs, most require booking ahead, and have a Plan B in case your car park is full.
  • Responsible walkers always respect private property.

For more great walks, visit our Irish walks hub.

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