Saturday 19 January 2019

5 stunning autumnal walks on the Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way boasts some of Ireland's most impressive beauty spots and autumn is the perfect time to explore its coastal trails and see the rugged landscape in all its glory.

The route has more than its fair share of amazing drives but the real hidden gems can be found off the beaten track. At this time of year, mountains can change colour with each passing cloud and the rich autumnal colours transform the valleys, hills and soaring sea cliffs.

There’s nothing like putting on your walking boots and getting out in the fresh air before winter kicks in and the days get shorter. It’s a chance to get away from the hustle of modern life, to enjoy spectacular vistas and to breathe in some of that fresh, salty Atlantic sea air.

If you’re looking for some special walks this autumn, these five options certainly won’t disappoint.

Pilgrim’s Path, Sliabh Liag, Co Donegal

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The Cliffs of Moher may be Ireland’s most famous cliffs but Sliabh Liag has the highest sea cliffs in Europe and it’s every bit as spectacular. This corner of South West Donegal has a wild and remote beauty that makes it a unique place to visit.

As the name of this route suggests, Sliabh Liag was once a Christian pilgrim site and you can still see the old monastic sites on the upper slopes. Before that, it was a sacred mountain and it’s easy to see why this stunning location has been a place of reflection and worship for over a thousand years.

The ancient path sweeps up the hillside, taking in a waterfall and the monastic ruins as you ascend. Visitors can enjoy a view of seven counties from the vantage point at the top of Sliabh Liag, a Signature Discovery Point on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Experienced walkers can take on a more challenging route along the One Man’s Pass, which loops up to the Pilgrim’s Path. This narrow walkway is not for the faint-hearted but it will give you access to unrivalled views from the highest point of Sliabh Liag.

Carrowteigue Loop Walk, Co Mayo

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Lonely Planet described this as “the finest sustained coastal walk in Western Ireland, with a profusion of precipitous cliffs, crags, caves, chasms and islands along the remote North Mayo coast.”

The 14km cliff-edge walk starts at the Gaeltacht village of Carrowteigue and it offers spectacular views of Broadhaven Bay, the Mullet Peninsula and the Stags of Broadhaven. These sea stacks rise up to 100m above sea level and it’s hard not to feel insignificant when looking down on these rocky giants.

There are shorter routes, such as the Children of Lir Loop, but any of the three loops will offer fantastic views of this hidden corner of Mayo. The combination of boggy valleys and towering cliffs give this part of the world a wild charm that makes it a great place to get away from it all. The nearby village of Durris is a handy place to recharge the batteries afterwards with a cuppa or a hearty meal.

Sheep’s Head Way, Co Cork

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This is a series of walks that total 175km so don’t expect to finish it over a weekend! However, this beautiful section of West Cork between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay will pull you back again and again with its Instagram-ready views.

Not only does the landscape change from heather to grass and from rock to beach. It also transforms into an entirely different place depending on whether you go there on a sunny day or a blustery autumn afternoon, so you’ll never get tired of visiting.

The route takes in everything from an old copper mine and standing stones to a blow hole and Sheep’s Head Lighthouse. If you’re lucky, you might even catch sight of the dolphins and whales that also frequent this part of the world.

Claggan Mountain Coastal Trail, Co Mayo

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This is the only coastal route within Ballycroy National Park, with a multi-access walkway running across the bog that straddles the stony coastal shores. This walking route lets you take in the National Park mountains to the east and Claggan Mountain and Achill Island to the west.   

The 2km boardwalk makes it easily accessible for anyone from small children to seasoned walkers at any time of year. It’s opened up a spectacular corner of Ireland to everyone and turned a remote but beautiful part of Mayo into an easy route to explore.

The lack of light pollution in this area also makes it the perfect place for a spot of stargazing, with Ballycroy National Park home to Ireland’s first International Dark Sky Park. You can enjoy the view from the nearby carpark or walk further over to see the stars above Bellacrogher Bay.

The Ballybunion Beach Walk, Co Kerry

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This two-hour walk in North Kerry takes in sandy, blue flag beaches, rocky headlands, high cliff walks and the ruins of Ballybunion Castle. This 14th century castle was built within an even older promontory fort that has underground passages dating back to the early Christian period. The ancient home of the Fitzmaurices is now a shadow of its former self but it remains a striking landmark along the route.

It’s a great walk in one of the most popular destinations of Ireland, with the nearby Ballybunion Golf Links offering visitors two links courses to choose from. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, the charming village of Ballybunion has plenty of gourmet establishments to grab some refreshments or try out the amazing local seafood. Make a weekend of it with a trip to the Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry, which offers everything from great views and fine dining to surfing and seaweed bath treatments.

The evenings may be drawing in a little earlier but autumn is still the most beautiful time of the year, especially on the Wild Atlantic Way.

For more information, check out the Wild Atlantic Way website.

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