Irish Walking Festivals: OSi’s Top Picks for 2016
Walking festivals are a great opportunity for new walkers to get involved in outdoor pursuits and for more experienced ramblers to take on more challenging routes with the assistance of a local guide. Here are four of the best walking festivals taking place across the country this year.
The Killarney Walking Festival
Date: Friday 10th June – Sunday 12th June 2016
Location: Killarney, Co. Kerry
Meeting Point: Kate Kearney’s cottage and the Gleneagle Hotel
This two-day walking festival will take in the visual delights of Lough Leane, Killarney National Park and the Ring of Kerry. If ever you needed an excuse to take in some of the country’s most breath-taking scenery, this is it.
Over two days, local tour guides will take groups on a choice of walks ranging from two to seven hours in duration. The trails that make up the Killarney Walking Festival.
Most of the routes vary between moderate to strenuous difficulty, meaning that some walking experience might come in handy but adequate walking gear, including proper walking boots, is essential.
For those experienced walkers looking for a challenge, the Killarney Walking Festival boasts a number of signature walks that offer a mix of scenic viewpoints and features of historical interest. Among these walks is the trek to Caherconree, an ancient ring fort and Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Ireland. Reaching the summit of the latter is a bucket list goal for many Irish walkers.
As the base of the festival is a hotel near both the lake and the park with access to Killarney town, there’s plenty to do if you want to take a morning off from the trails. Although the main walking activities will take place on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th June, there is an easy/moderate charity trail up Strickeen taking place on the Friday. Arrival at the 440m summit is being planned in conjunction with sunset. During the twilight hour, walkers can even enjoy an organised group set dance on the hill.
Featured Walk: Coomloughra Horseshoe Walk
Duration: 7 hours
Distance: 15 km
Co-ordinates: Kate Kearney’s Cottage. 52.043888 -9.632871
The Coomloughra Horseshoe Walk is a winner’s podium of Ireland’s highest peaks, taking in Carrauntoohil (1039m), Beenkeragh (1010m) and Caher (1001m). This is a difficult ridge walk along the glorious Macgillycuddy’s mountain range and at parts should be described as more of a climb than a walk. Walking boots are essential in order to tackle the uneven rocky surfaces underfoot, and extreme caution is required when negotiating the frequent narrow ridges that are surrounded by steep drops. Experienced walkers only!
The Castlebar International 4 Days’ Walks Festival
Date: Thursday 30th June – Sunday 3rd July 2016
Location: Castlebar, Co. Mayo
Meeting Point: Castlebar Tennis Club, near Lough Lannagh Village
2016 marks the 49th Castlebar International 4 Days’ Walks Festival, with the inaugural event having taken place in 1967. This is a great walking event for anyone that might be afraid of heights, as all elevation is generally less than 400m on the walks which are divided up into rambles across bog and moorland or road walks.
The rambles, which promise spectacular scenery across a variety of terrains, are led by tour guides with strong knowledge of the routes’ history and characteristics.
A typical ramble on the programme takes about five hours to complete, giving walkers plenty of time to talk to new friends or quietly take in the scenery.
Each day of the festival also features a pair of 10km and 20km road walks. These routes are made up of tracks running alongside country roads and boreens and are clearly marked for easy self-navigation. Festival organisers insist that walkers wear high visibility jackets and inform the registration desk of their safe return at the end of the walk.
The festivities end with an award ceremony, a buffet and a ‘Blister Ball’ at the festival’s headquarters.
Featured Walk: Letterkeen Loop Walk
Duration: 3.5 hours
Distance: 12 km
Co-ordinates: Castlebar Tennis Club. 53.851121 -9.310634
Organisers of the festival have said that they will take the rambles out of town this year, with the nearby Letterkeen Loop Walk teased as a possible trail.
There are a number of colour coded trails contained in the Letterkeen Walks of Newport Co. Mayo, but the ramble will likely focus on the Purple Route.
Starting at the Brogan Carroll Bothy shelter, the Letterkeen Loop Walk (sometimes written as ‘Lettekeen’ on maps and brochures) crosses riverbanks, mountain tracks, sandy paths and forestry roads and occasionally skirts the Altaconey river.
The trail flirts with old roadways for much of the route, but also features some stream hopping during the trek through as ramblers make their way through lush forestry. There is a steep climb to the highest point of the trail (311m), a spot which offers panoramic views and great photo opportunities before the trail descends steeply again.
Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival
Date: Friday 28th October – Monday 31st October 2016
Location: Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Meeting Point: Brockagh Resource Centre
Some parts of the country are particularly blessed with an abundance of accessible and diverse walking trails that local walking enthusiasts can pick and choose from every weekend. As we brought to you in the blog post Wonderful Wicklow Walks: OSi’s Top Picks, Co. Wicklow is one of these areas.
Whether it’s the popular Bray to Greystones cliff walk, the Sugar Loaf or the Derrybawn Woodland Trail at Glendalough, Wicklow’s quality trails are by no means a secret.
The Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival, is an opportunity for new and seasoned walkers to benefit from an enhanced walking adventure across a mixture of moderate and difficult trails, thanks to the experience of the festival’s knowledgeable guides.
With the guides leading the way, walkers will also be able to safely try activities that they couldn’t normally tackle on their own. One example of this is the Friday night hike, a moderate 11km trek that incorporates the green road, Trooperstown and Ballylug Forest.
Another incentive to join the festival is the chance to take on the challenging Lugnaquilla Saturday morning climb. This strenuous trail brings you to one of the highest points in Wicklow (925m) but rewards challengers with some of the most spectacular views of Glendalough available. Even with the assistance of guides, this trail is only suitable for experienced walkers.
The four-day festival rounds off with a celebratory, moderate difficulty walk on bank holiday Monday, 31st October.
Featured Walk: The Spinc and the Wicklow Way
Duration: 4 hours
Co-ordinates: Sugar Loaf car park. 53.144701 -6.154530
As well as a brilliant way to stretch your legs, this route is also an ideal trail for spotting native flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for deer and a variety of different species of birds.
Kestrels, Merlins and Peregrine Falcons are some of the most famous visitors, but as the extensive Glendalough bird checklist shows, there’s no shortage of foul friends in the area.
This walk features a number of Wicklow’s most popular natural landmarks such as the valley of Glendalough and the Lower Lake and Lugduff Forest.
The route also takes in the heights of the Spinc and Lugduff mountain. If you’re practicing some photography on your journey, be sure to get a snap of the picturesque Poulanass Waterfall in all its glory.
Slieve Bloom Eco Walking Festival
Date: Friday 9th July – Saturday 10th July 2016
Location: Co. Laois and Co. Offaly
Meeting Point: Glenbarrow Car Park / Kinnitty Community Centre
Year round, the Slieve Bloom Mountains enjoy a packed calendar of walking activities organised in conjunction with the Slieve Bloom Rural Development Co-operative Society, the tourism boards of Co. Offaly and Co. Laois, Coillte and Fáilte Ireland. In July, a weekend is dedicated to the Slieve Bloom Eco Walking Festival each year.
This mini-walking festival consists of two guided walks in the remote wilderness areas of Slieve Bloom. Both of these walks, the Glenbarrow Walk on Saturday and the Glenafelly Walk on Sunday, are moderate to difficult routes that are only accessible on foot and are “rarely frequented by hill walkers”.
Local guide John Scully will draw walkers’ attention to the geology of Slieve Bloom while stopping to admire native vegetation and wildlife.
The Slieve Bloom Eco Walking Festival is like an off-piste version of the popular Slieve Bloom Walking Festival that takes place in May each year, and is a ’must do’ experience for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a new challenge.
Featured Walk: Glenbarrow (Old Mill Loop)
Duration: 3.5 hours
Distance: 10 km
Co-ordinates: Glenbarrow car park. 53.121208 -7.455212
This loop trail starts at the Glenbarrow Car Park and quickly enters a downhill track into Glenbarrow woods. For the first quarter of the journey walkers will travel parallel to the Barrow river.
Shortly after passing the Clamp Hole Waterfall, the route joins the Slieve Bloom way. Just before hitting the half way mark, the trail bypasses the Old Mill before heading past the ruins of the old Clear House, the ruins of a small cottage that belonged to the last family to vacate a settlement in the area in the 1900s.
Further along the loop, walkers will reach a viewpoint where more of the trail’s landmarks can be seen, before the route once again heads for the Barrow woods.
The Glenbarrow Walk is bursting with hidden history, all of which can come alive when in the company of the right guide.
Walking Festivals: Additional Information
- Unless otherwise stated, walking festivals usually involve fees. It’s common that fees for guided tours and registration are required.
- Some walking festivals can be located in remote areas that require you to book additional accommodation, transport or meals so be sure to ask all the questions you need to of the organisers before signing up for an activity.
- Not all routes are suitable for children and some routes are not suitable for adults that lack prior walking experience. It’s important to inquire whether not the walks are suitable for your party before you attend a festival.
- Routes and trails can be subject to change at the organisers’ discretion and it’s possible that experienced local guides could take small detours from the advertised routes or the routes marked above.
On some routes equipment such as walking boots, torches or other supplies may be mandatory, so check any relevant festival literature that may indicate this before setting off.
Whatever your level of experience, make sure that you know how to stay safe. Read our Essential Guide To Walking Safety before you head off on your next walk.
Disclaimer: Walkers use these tips entirely at their own risk. No responsibility can be accepted by landowners or by Ordnance Survey Ireland, for any loss, damage or injury caused or sustained during walks.