5 walking routes to try this summer

With summer approaching and the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival taking place this weekend, here are some of the walking routes you should try out over the upcoming months, writes Nicholas Kenny

It’s almost May, and with the weather beginning to turn as summer approaches there’s no better time to consider some of the beautiful country walks available across Ireland.

First and foremost, the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival will begin this Friday, running from April 28 – May 1. This will be the 9th year of the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival, which features a variety of walks in the Connemara area. Each day there is a choice of at least three guided walks, with a range to suit both beginners and the more experienced hikers. The featured walks for this year’s festival include: Mweelrea, Ben Gorm, Derryclare Horseshoe, Twelve Bens, Connemara National Park and the Killary Famine Trail.

For more details check out www.leenanevillage.com

However, if you’re not able to make it to the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival, never fear – there are still plenty of walks out there to tackle over the next few months. In fact, there are far too many fantastic walks and trails in Ireland to possibly cover, but here are some of the options available to you across the country:

1. Causeway Coast Way (North Coast, Co. Antrim)

This superb walking route takes you along 53 kilometres of Northern Ireland's most celebrated coastline. Featuring a wide range of terrains to experience, from high cliffs, secluded beaches, and picturesque harbours, the trail largely follows the nature of the coastline, and navigation is fairly straightforward. The trail links the popular tourist towns of Ballycastle and Portstewart, and passes some of the biggest tourist attractions in Northern Ireland including the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and Ballintoy Harbour, where several Game of Thrones scenes were filmed. With frequent access points and terrain suitable for all, the Causeway Coast Way can just as easily be enjoyed by the novice walker as by the more accomplished hiker.

2. The Kerry Way (Co. Kerry)

At over 200km the Kerry Way is one of Ireland's longest signposted walking trails, and also one of the most popular. Beginning and ending in Killarney, the trail loops around the Iveragh Peninsula and passes through some of the starkest and most dramatic countryside in Ireland. While Kerry is known for having the highest mountains in Ireland, the Kerry Way avoids the higher peaks and instead follows the lower reaches of the mountain ridges, resulting in a less intimidating walk. The route is intended to quickly make its way through a variety of different landscapes and experiences, giving the walker a wider appreciation for the county. Given its length, the Kerry Way is one that you can return to again and again, taking the time to appreciate the views it offers as you complete it a little at a time.

3. The Burren (Co. Clare)

The Burren is 803 square kilometres of limestone-layered fields which lie across Co. Clare, and reach up to Co. Galway and over to the Atlantic Ocean. In this singular landscape, the rivers run through a labyrinth of underground caves carved naturally through the soft limestone, and a unique blend of Arctic, Alpine, and Mediterranean plants grow side-by-side that cannot be seen together anywhere else in the world.. The Burren offers a number of scenic shorter looped walks as well as long-distance routes for those seeking more of a challenge, and this is the perfect time to visit, as the wildflowers begin to bloom in earnest, making their annual, all-too-short appearance.

4. The Wicklow Way (Co. Wicklow)

Combining the beauty and tranquillity of the Wicklow Mountains with proximity to Dublin city, the Wicklow Way remains one of the most popular walking routes in Ireland, stretching along 129 kilometres of mountainous terrain. The route passes mountain lakes, ruined buildings and the remains of the early Christian monastic settlement in the beautiful Glendalough valley, weaving its way through the mountains and streams. As with The Kerry Way, it’s a long walk that can be broken down into smaller pieces to come back to, and you’ll want to, once you’ve caught a glimpse of the stunning views of the Wicklow countryside.

5. The Dingle Way (Co. Kerry)

Back to Kerry again, though the Dingle Way is not be for the faint-hearted. It stretches over 179 kilometres and was one of the first national walking routes, starting and finishing in Tralee. The variety of different landscapes is a big reason why the Dingle Way remains such a popular trail, as it never takes too long before a turn in the path reveals a dramatic change in the landscape. The most intimidating part of the hike comes with a 1,200 feet descent crossing the shoulder of Brandon Mountain between Ballydavid and Cloghane, but it also offers some of the best views of the surrounding area. The peninsula is littered with remains from the early Christian period, with standing stones, ogham stones and a multitude of beehive huts visible along the route. You'll walk far longer than normal as you'll be distracted by the stunning scenery.