From biking the Westeros Cycle Trail around the grounds of the Old Castle Ward Demesne, more commonly known as Winterfell Castle for Game of Thrones fans, to sea stack climbing with the world’s only professional sea stack climber! People are raving about Europe’s emerging adventure capital, Ireland! If you think seeing is believing, wait until you’ve tried some or all of these unique Irish adventures, from mild to wild!
Our first uniquely Irish adventure is a walk on the mild side in the quiet coastal town of Howth (rhymes with both) which sits on the north side of Dublin Bay. It’s just outside Dublin City and easily reached by car or the DART Train. Once you arrive, you’ll find four marked walks around the Hill of Howth that offer spectacular views of Dublin Bay. Perhaps the most popular route is the 5-mile Cliff Path Loop that runs along the upper and lower cliff paths.
Heading up the coast to Northern Ireland, you reach Strangford Lough, one of the largest sea inlets in the British Isles. It has over 58 sq-mi of water with remarkably idyllic flat-water conditions. It’s also a Marine Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation that protects and preserves over 2000 species of wildlife.
You can check out seals sunning themselves on the shore while you paddle the same waters St Patrick used to make his return to Ireland. If you want to double dip on St Patrick, you can visit his grave in nearby Downpatrick.
The Rougey Cliff Walk in Bundoran is a milder activity to partake in, and an excellent segue for a little Irish history. The Pale was a strip of land centered around Dublin controlled by English kings in the Late Middle Ages that marked the historic edge of English law and cultural subjugation. Hence, the idiom – beyond the pale. Geographically speaking, the Rougey Cliffs are about as far beyond the Pale as you can get. The wilds of western Ireland retained their cultural identity through centuries of English occupation, including preservation of the Irish language and belief in fairies.
It’s not surprising that the Rougey Cliff Walk features two distinctively fairy features – the Fairy Bridges and the Wishing Chair.
In County Mayo along the coast, you’ll find even more Irish adventures. Many people come to explore the bogs and dark skies of Wild Nephin National Park, but if you’re looking to escape into the Irish countryside, consider a ride on the country’s growing network of greenways. We rode the Great Western Greenway, Ireland’s first Greenway, which runs 27 miles around Clew Bay in County Mayo. The first segment opened in 2010, running from Newport to Mulranny. Since then, it has garnered multiple prestigious awards, including being voted one of “the top three cycle trails in the world” by the New York Times!
The Burren is a fascinating karst landscape centered around County Clare, where every rock and blade of grass tells a story. There was always precious little topsoil covering the surface limestone that eroded away completely by the Late Bronze Age due to over farming and environmental changes. One of the largest collections of exposed limestone pavement in Europe is left in its place.
You’ll find oddities like Arctic-alpine and Mediterranean Basin plants living side by side and low-impact herding techniques used to fight the expanse of invasive shrubland. It’s home to Neolithic sites, like the Poulnabrone dolmen and Burren National Park, which is part of a UNESCO Global Geopark along with the nearby Cliffs of Moher.
Clear Sky Adventure Centre runs canyoneering trips featuring up to 25′ cliff jumps, shoreline swims, and aquatic exploration of sea caves. It’s an extreme adventure that is tailorable for any group. Their site states, “Jumping is not compulsory, but most people like to try the smaller ones, and you do not even need to be able to swim under the care of our expert guides, so no excuses!”
If cliff jumping isn’t quite cool enough, the center is located at Old Castle Ward Demesne, more commonly known as Winterfell Castle to Game of Thrones Fans. You take an archery lesson from a costumed instructor in the Winterfell Castle Courtyard or cycle the Westeros Cycle Trail through 20 GOT filming locations around the castle grounds.
Connemara National Park is a free attraction and destination for hikers who want to challenge themselves on the climb up Diamond Hill. The 4.2-mile loop trail is typically hiked clockwise to best manage a steep descent from the summit. There’s some dispute on whether the name Diamond Hill comes from the summit’s shape or the quartzite flakes you’ll see shimmering on the trail.
After crossing over Northern Ireland, you reach the Wild Atlantic Way. Glenveagh National Park is in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains in northwest County Donegal. If you’re feeling mild, you can take a bus from the visitor center to the castle. If you’re feeling a little wild, rent a bike or hike along the length of the lake (Lough Veagh) through Mullangore Wood for views of the towering Astelleen Burn Waterfall.
Cruit Island lies 20 miles due west of Glenveagh National Park, but it feels like it’s a million miles from nowhere. Adventure travelers make the trek to this far northwest corner of Ireland because it’s where granite meets the sea, which means world-class climbing with unbelievable views. 80% of Ireland’s marked climbing routes are in this region, and they’re incredibly underdeveloped and unexplored. Iain Miller, the World’s Only Full-Time Professional Sea Stack Climber and the owner of Unique Ascent, said that if you climb a new route every day, it will take you 15 lifetimes before you run out of first ascents!
This shoreline in Ireland is known as Cold Water Hawaii because they have waves to suit every surfer, from beginner to advanced. James, the owner, and operator of Rossnowlagh Surf School, explained how the slope of Rossnowlagh Beach creates a uniform and consistent wave with minimal rip currents. From October to March, a temperamental big wave forms at nearby Mullaghmore Head that can reach over 60′ tall. There’s something uniquely Irish about surfing where the North Atlantic Current first hits Europe in the shadow of Classiebawn Castle.
Read the full article complete with interactive map here: A Dozen Unique Ireland Adventures From Mild to Wild
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