Ireland’s Ancient East has got everything the outdoor enthusiast could possibly want: forests, lakes, mountains, valleys, cycle tracks and walking routes, spectacular caves and of course miles and miles and miles of magnificent coastline, dotted with bays, inlets, harbours, beaches, cliffs, dunes and more.
There’s no better way to appreciate Ireland’s unique ecology and ecosystem than by getting out into it, and whether your idea of “the great outdoors” is lazing on a broad beach for a day, hiking along the top of a mountain ridge, or exploring ancient valleys peppered with history and archaeology, the island’s compact size means you’re never more than a short journey away from an incredible natural experience. Here are some of the best!
- Hiking Trails
Nearly every county in Ireland’s Ancient East has clearly marked hiking trails, optimised to showcase the beauty and diversity of Ireland’s scenery and wildlife. From the Táin Way in County Louth, retracing the footsteps of the warriors of one of Ireland’s greatest legends, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, in County Louth, right the way around to the challenging Allihies Loop in the far west of County Cork, dozens of well-signposted, popular hiking trails offer something to appeal to everyone, whether novice hiker or dedicated hillwalker. See www.irishtrails.ie for maps, tips and routes. You can choose your route to suit your needs: some are a pleasant stroll for a few hours, whereas some, such as the epic trek from the breathtaking Rock of Cashel in Tipperary to the round tower and ancient ruins at Ardmore in Waterford, will take days to cover.
2. Cycling Tours
Bike hire is ubiquitous in Ireland, and with good reason! Cycling is one of the most popular options for visitors who want to experience the as much of natural Ireland as possible and provides a great way to really get up close and personal with the countryside. The truly hard-core cyclist will delight in veering off the main road and tackling the more isolated spots before enjoying a spot of camping (use official sites or make sure you have the landowner’s permission first), but even inexperienced cyclists can make the most of it, and with the nation’s network of dedicated cycle routes, such as the magnificent Waterford Greenway, it’s easyto
enjoy that distinctive feeling of freedom that only cycling can bring. Your hotel will usually have information about local bike-hire opportunities, and some shops even have deals with their counterparts elsewhere, making it possible to book a bike for a one-way trip before dropping it off for someone else to bring back.
3. Horseback Riding
Some country house hotels offer special deals for guests who feel like saddling up for a trot through the countryside, but even if that’s not the case, most areas are near enough to a stable or riding school which will offer special deals on riding lessons or a horseback trek. Irish people love horses, and the quality of instruction for beginners is generally very high. More experienced riders can hire a guide and see the countryside from a whole new perspective. Make sure you check online before you get there, as you might have to book well in advance…as popular as they are, horses take a lot of space to look after and demand may be significant, especially in Spring, Summer and Autumn.
4. Take To The Sea!
With 5000km of coastline, the island of Ireland is well served by a opportunities to hire boats, yachts, sea kayaks, canoes and more…and that’s without even mentioning inland lakes and waterways. Coastline tours are a fantastic way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the land and see Ireland from a whole new perspective. Sailing and sea kayaking lessons are available all down the east coast in the summer months, as are surfing and bodyboarding lessons; it’s usually possible to hire surfboards, kayaks, bodyboards and wetsuits too but as always, it’s a good idea to check in advance. If you’re planning on heading out for a day of surfing, it’s a good idea to carefully check the weather first: Irish weather is famously changeable, and you may end up missing out on your chosen activity due to unfavourable conditions. Some locations offer scuba diving excursions and beginner’s scuba lessons too.
Beachgoers who intend to take a dip in the sea should keep an eye out for Blue Flag beaches. These are beaches which have passed rigorous standards for safety, cleanliness and water quality. The Blue Flag award is also granted to marinas with exceptional water quality.
Of course, whether you’re surfing, kayaking, diving or even just swimming, you must always be sure that you’re in a safe spot: pay close attention to warning signs and obey them to the letter, and take advice from locals before you set out. Swimmers should stick to spots with on-duty lifeguards, and must obey their instructions at all times. Beaches with red flags or without a flag are not safe for swimming.
BOX: Always remember, no matter what outdoor activity you choose, to help protect Ireland’s delicate ecosystem by ensuring that you leave an area exactly as you found it: bag your litter, clean your campsite, ensure that you campfires are fully extinguished, and if you open a gate, be sure to close it again!