Introducing four Wild Atlantic Walks that show off the spectacular Irish coast with helpful tips to ensure you make the most of your days out west.
Liscanoor to Doolin: Making the Most of the Cliffs of Moher
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Type: Point to Point
Distance: 12 km
Duration: 3 hr 30 mins
Start Location: Liscanoor Harbour Car Park, Co. Clare
End Location: Cliffs of Moher visitor experience Car Park, Co. Clare
Parking: Liscanoor Harbour Car Park / Cliffs of Moher visitor experience Car Park, Co. Clare
Co-ordinates: 506411.833, 688408.253
It doesn’t matter if you’re on a surf holiday in nearby Lahinch, or if you’re stopping by Co. Clare on a detour from Galway to Limerick, there’s always time to see the Cliffs of Moher. This trail, that starts in nearby Liscanoor, skirts the cliffs and offers walkers sensational views of the crashing waves below.
Allow three hours or more to travel point to point as the trail ascends and descends throughout and isn’t as quick to conquer as a flat trail of the same distance. There are also so many sights to take in that you might miss out on if you’re doing a powerwalk. Bird watchers keep an eye out for a visit from the Atlantic Puffin between spring and summer and folklore enthusiasts be sure brush up on your tales of Cú Chulainn jumping between the headlands and sea stacks to impress your fellow walkers.
It all starts in Liscanoor, just west of the always popular Lahinch beach. Take the R478 Northwest for 1 km until you reach a left turn heading southeast. Continue down this road for 1.6 km until you reach the sea. From here follow the road as it runs north. For the first few hundred metres it will skirt the coast.
When you reach, the junction take the left turn and continue along the road for another 1.6 km, taking the second right turn that you come across. Follow this road for the next 600 metres and then take the first left. After a short while down this road you will see the car park for the Cliffs of Moher walk and a few hundred metres further, the entrance to the walking trail.
500 metres along this walk known as the Burren Way, the path veers north and the walk runs parallel along the cliff edge for the remainder of the route, a total of 5 km. Here the trail ends at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre.
If you still have a spring in your step, walk out to the O’Brien’s Tower from the visitor’s centre and head north to Doolin. This adds 6 km onto the journey, but takes place along an easy to follow marked walking trail.
The tower was built by a local landowner (O’Brien) from Clare in the 19th century. He intended it to serve as one of the best viewpoints of the Cliffs of Moher. The tribute is fitting as it is said that the name ‘Moher’ derives from the Irish word ‘Mothar’ which means fort. A fort is believed to have once existed on the cliffs centuries ago.
Discovery Sheets 51 and 57 covers Liscanoor to Doolin area.
Slievebawn to Ballyhillin: Northern Lights and Sunsets at Ireland’s most Northerly Point
Distance: 10.6 km
Duration: 2 hr 30 mins
Start Location: Slievebawn, Malin Head, Donegal
End Location: Slievebawn, Malin Head, Donegal
Co-ordinates: 641890.677, 958403.517
Which one of the stunning views that you can take in at Malin Head all depends on the time of year you make the trek to Ireland’s most northerly point. From January to March you might be fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights, while in June and July you could witness some of the most incredible sunsets you’re ever likely to see in the long evenings.
The beautiful coastline was formed by the turbulent seas which has claimed many a vessel over the decades, so many, in fact that there is even a dedicated website: Malin Head Wrecks.
On very clear days, the coast of Scotland is visible from the Irish shores, revealing how close we are to our Celtic neighbours — just 65 km.
Starting at Slievebawn beach walk south past the holiday homes, passing Farren’s Bar on your left, continuing until you join the main road (the R242). Head north along this road and you will soon see the Malin Head Weather Station. This automatic weather station has been operational since January 2010 and records some of the highest windspeeds in the country. The last human meteorologists shipped out on 31st December 2009, so don’t be upset if any of your favourite Met Éireann stars aren’t to be found.
For the next 1.5 km, this road carries you to the country’s most northerly tip. Follow the road as it curves to the east, ignoring the right turn as this is the entrance to a farm.
Pass the series of cottages on the right-hand side of the road and then take the right turn at the junction. Our looping route involves staying on the road as it veers left but, if you’re curious you can take a right turn after 400 metres and walk up the hill for an elevated view of the cliffs. In the summer season, you might see tourists trying to find the Café Banba that’s marked on the map. The café is actually a mobile coffee station that’s mounted on the back of a commercial van and is usually parked at the end of this road.
To re-join the looped circuit come back down the way you came. Turn right and head east once you hit the junction and then continue for 500 metres. Here you have the choice to take the right turn and visit the cliffs once more before looping back to the circuit or continuing down the road. Stay on the main stretch of road as it loops back south to return to the start.
After 2.6 km the beach of Portronan comes into view on your right, while the road continues east to Middletown. Stay on the road for another 1.5 km until you reach the junction at Ballygorman. A left turn here takes you back up north towards Slievebawn for the final 1 km.
If you’ve hit Malin Head early in the day, why not detour to the Doagh Famine Village in Lagacurry. As well as portraying an authentic view of what a rural Irish village would have gone through in one of Ireland’s most infamous periods in history, there are also exhibitions depicting eviction scenes, republican safe houses and the scenes of a typical Irish wake house amongst others.
Discovery Sheet 3 covers Slievebawn to Ballyhillin area.
Beentee Loop: Well-Trodden Paths and Unforgettable Views in Cahirciveen
Distance: 10 km
Duration: 3 hrs
Start Location: Cahirciveen Garda Station, Co. Kerry
End Location: Cahirciveen Garda Station, Co. Kerry
Parking: Fairgreen public car park
Co-ordinates: 447323.642, 579647.749
If you’re seeking out your starting point for this trail, the seaside town that sits at the foot of a mountain, beware that road signs and maps may jump between a few different spellings: Cahirsiveen, Cahirciveen or Caherciveen. Whichever your preference, something that remains consistent is the spectacular view that rewards climbers who successfully reach the summit of Beentee. It’s not just ramblers and outdoor enthusiasts that flock to Cahirciveen, the town’s reputation as a haven for deep sea angling also brings in hobby fishermen from all over Europe.
Steeped in tradition, the walking trail that runs up the mountain lies on a route pilgrims would have used to get to church in the town from the mountain. The mountain reaches an elevation of 376 metres, making it best suited for those with some hill walking experience and a reasonable level of fitness. The climb is especially worth it on a bright day, when Valentia and the Skellig Islands are in view.
Just beside the Cahirciveen Garda Station you will see a map that lays out the route for you. There is a colour coding system on the board that will also be marked along the road.
Head straight along the trail and head 300 metres down the road and take the right turn as the road starts to climb. You’ll reach a reservoir building which you can bypass and then follow the trail and keep going until the forest clears on your right.
Here you will come across a trail in the grass that heads south and runs parallel to the Carhan Road. On wet days, it might be best to travel on this road if the grassy terrain is unmanageable.
After 2 km, the route stops just before the forest at Gurteen and the veers southwest. And walk parallel to the forest for 300 metres.
Keep an eye out for the Irish mountain hare as you border the woodlands, they’ve been known to jump out and say hello from time to time.
This part of the trail throws quite a steep ascension at you, but at the end of your climb you will join the ridge walk that will offer spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and the headlands of the Irish coast.
The trail along the ridge is intuitive and well-trodden paths and way markers will guide your descent to Garranebane, before you return to Cahirciveen via the Old Road.
If for some reason, you don’t feel up to climbing Beentee, pay a visit to The Old Barracks Heritage Centre exhibition. This attraction of Cahirciveen displays items of local history, archaeology, flora and fauna of the local area.
Discovery Sheets 78 and 83 covers Beentee Loop area.
Árainn Mhór Loop: A Whirlwind Island Tour in a Day
Distance: 20 km
Duration: 3 hrs 30 mins
Start Location: Árainn Mhór Pier
End Location: Árainn Mhór Pier
Parking: Árainn Mhór Pier
Co-ordinates: 568223.915, 915924.578
Never has there been an easier way to squeeze in a lap of an entire island before lunch. Árainn Mhór/Arranmore lies just off the coast of Donegal and is accessible by a ferry that lets you bring your car onto the island.
What’s Mhór, (pun intended) you can now hire electric bikes to make your way around the Island.
The island is twinned with Beaver Island in Lake Michigan in the United States. According to research, many diaspora from Donegal and Árainn Mhór reached the American island in the 19th century during the famine and started a new life there.
A lot of the structures on Árainn Mhór are the residential property of the islands 500 or so inhabitants, so remember to be mindful when it comes to crossing fields or opening gates.
Once you get off the boat and walk to the end of the pier, join the road and head south. Keep going for 2 km until the road turns into a green space. Walk across this field heading west until you reach the road that sits on top of the beach area.
Keep going straight for 800 metres and then at the junction take a left and continue straight, parallel to the Island’s southern coastline for 2 km.
When you reach the next junction, take a right and then follow the road north for 3km. To visit the Old Coast Guard Station and walk towards the lighthouse (one of Ireland’s most coveted Airbnbs), take a left turn, then keep left for another 1 km, until you see the lake on your left. The next 2 km down this road, heading west will feel like you’re walking to the ends of the Earth as you see water on both sides. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic but beware of the sheep that freely roam the island.
After you’ve taken your photos, track back to just before the lake you passed earlier and the take the left turn north. Follow the road as it curves from west to east for 3 km. When you reach the next junction, take a right and you will re-join the pier after 1.5 km.
Check out the full ferry timetable to help plan your journey.
Discovery Sheet 1 covers Árainn Mhór Loop area.