Janine Kennedy, Swiss Cottage, Cahir, Co Tipperary
Do you have small children? I might have just the walk for you, if so. How many times have I tried to complete a mountainous hike with a stroller and three kids crying about how tired they are (including the one being carted around in the stroller!)? It’s not easy – you have to know the trail and you have to be prepared (and you need to have snacks).
One of my favourite walks in Tipperary involves little to no incline and boasts a well-maintained parking lot (with public loos). The walk from Cahir Castle (which you’ll find just off Cahir’s town centre) to the beautiful Swiss Cottage takes you along the River Suir and through beautiful woodlands where you’ll see birds, flowers and even fish swimming around in the shallower bits of the river. It’s about 5km to get to the cottage and back and very easy to take a buggy the entire way as the path is well-maintained (we’ve had to abandon our buggy on a few hikes in recent years – Devil’s Bit; I’m looking at you!).
The Swiss Cottage is what it says on the tin: a beautifully crafted countryside escape for the Butler family (who inhabited Cahir Castle). The cottage was used as a base for hunting, fishing and picnic parties and was built in the early 1800s. My visit was pre-pandemic and, at that time, you could purchase a ticket to explore the inside of the beautiful cottage, but it is closed to the public at the moment. Still, you can wander the grounds, maybe have a picnic of your own and enjoy the serene beauty of your surroundings (until your kids start complaining about being bored).
Maria Moynihan, Derrynane Mass Path, Co Kerry
One of my favourite discoveries during lockdown was the Derrynane mass path looped walk, just off the Ring of Kerry.
Starting at Derrynane House – the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell – this route follows the mass path taken by locals during penal times, before bringing you onto part of the famous Kerry Way, where you can still see the remains of pre-famine homesteads. But it’s the scenery that is so special, from the bleached white sands of Derrynane Strand to pretty Bealtra Pier and the most amazing views of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Clocking in at just over 6km, this walk is suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness, though the rocks can get slippery after rain, so wear a good pair of walking shoes. There is an excellent guide to this walk at www.kerrygems.com
Derrigimlagh/Marconi Loop, Co Galway
Connemara might be best known for breath-taking hikes like Diamond Hill; but for a gentle stroll, check out the Derrigimlagh/Marconi 5km loop, just outside Clifden.
Made up of bog road, gravel track and boardwalk, this walk is waymarked with interpretive and interactive features that explain the fascinating history of the site.
For example, the world’s first commercial transatlantic message was sent from here to Newfoundland in 1907, while pilots Alcock and Brown crash landed here in 1919 after the world’s first transatlantic flight! And if you are into your Instagram, there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
The family-friendly trail is easy to follow, but you can find further details at www.guidetoconnemara.com
Emily Crowley, Cuilcagh, Co Fermanagh
You may recognise the Cuilcagh (“kweel-cah”) Boardwalk in Fermanagh from your friends’ Facebook posts or Instagram stories, and you may also know it more commonly as the “Stairway to Heaven”.
Located about a 20-minute drive from Enniskillen, once parked up at the foot of the Cuilcagh Mountain, you will follow a gravel trail up to the boardwalk. Once you hit the wooden sleepers, the worst part of your climb is over and you begin your ascent to “heaven”.
At about 11km in length, this trail is a great day out for a walking group of various fitness abilities, but be warned: bring snacks and plenty of fluids, as you’ll be a while trying to find a shop or nearby restaurant. Parking is €5/£5.
Ciara Leahy, Regional Park, Ballincollig, Cork
I must have walked the Regional Park in Ballincollig hundreds of times but I still see something beautiful every time. It stretches the full length of the town of Ballincollig, with pathways running along the River Lee and ducking into the forests around it.
With multiple carparks dotted along the way, you can start your route at multiple points, meaning it’s a collaboration of different walkways. I usually begin in the traditional starting point on Inniscarra Bridge, which with the playground and football pitches is often the busiest part of the park.
I love starting the walk here along the river, watching the birds perched on the edge of the Lee. One summer evening, I even saw a salmon jumping out of the river in glee. But those in the know are aware that there is a special wooded pathway that runs parallel through the trees. Even as a child, I remember it having a special mystique to it which in recent years has been complimented by a little fairy trail with fairy houses to keep little ones entertained.
This part of the park is suitable for a quick lap if you’re short on time. However, for those looking for a substantial walk, this is the starting point of the 1.6 mile trail which when completed back and forth is a round trip walk of over 3 miles.
Along it you’ll pass its famous landmark, the weirs as well as allotments which are cared for by the locals, nature trails and native woodlands as well as a plethora of landmarks which celebrate the Gunpowder Mills. The retired mills which manufactured gunpowder from the 18th to 20th century is an integral part of the history of Ballincollig and 52 structures surviving from the gunpowder manufacturing process are now part of the park making it both a historical and cultural experience.
The type of terrain a person likes to hike is quite specific to that person. I get bored easily so I like variety both on the ascent and descent.
This to me is a few steady inclines to warm up and to recover between sharp inclines that make you feel a burn in the legs, punctuated by some rock clambering to make you think about the best way to move forward.
Most importantly of course is to round a turn or mount a summit to a stunning panoramic view that takes your breath away.
The two climbs that I have picked, although very different, I believe hit all of these parameters.
Hen Mountain, Mournes, Co Down
Hen Mountain at 354m, is the first peak in a bird series (followed by Cock, Pigeon and Eagle) but – and this is why I picked it – if walking with children, you can climb just one and return. The route is circular and the panoramic views from the top are stunning.
There is a free carpark. A clean relatively flat lane leads to the base, but from there you ascend pretty quickly. The fact that the top is very visible all the way gives kids a great competitive boost to beat their parents to get to the top. It takes approximately one and a half hours.
Coumshingaun, Comeragh Mountains, Co Waterford
My second pick is the Coumshingaun Lake Walk (365m). This in my view is the best hike in the Comeragh Mountains for all the aforementioned reasons.
Entering through a forest, the incline gradually welcomes you onto the mountain. As you rise, to the edge of the magnificent amphitheatre, the beautiful Coumshingaun Lake comes into view.
You walk the three unique sides around the lake along the cliff edge before descending to her clear waters, which on a warm day provide cooling relief for tired feet. Please note though that there is clambering in this climb which is not marked so it is not exactly straightforward. It takes roughly four to five hours.
Anne O’Donoghue, Hook Head Walk, Co Wexford
This walk is located along the famous Hook Head in the most southern point of Co Wexford. It is a beautiful walk by the sea, suitable for all the family, with just a couple of walls to be hopped over along the way.
Parking is free down by the lighthouse on Hook Head, but it can get busy as it is a popular tourist spot. You’ll likely see plenty of camper vans parked up along by the coast.
Starting at the lighthouse and going behind it, follow the grassy trail along the shore. It is about 3km long and is an out and back trail. So 6km all-in-all. The walk is gentle and relaxing. As you walk you will have stunning sea views. At the end of the path is Slade, a small village with a harbour. There are bathroom facilities there.
On the way back stop in nearby Fethard-on-Sea for an ice-cream.
Glendalough, Co Wicklow
For many avid walkers, Glendalough will need no introduction. When it comes to tracks and trails for walking and hiking, it really does have something for all abilities, alongside plenty of facilities to boot.
I had been to Glendalough for just a couple of leisurely strolls by the monastic settlement and lake before I attempted one of the trails, and I only wish that I had taken to them sooner.
Firstly there are two car parks, the lower and the upper. The lower is free but over a kilometre from your starting point. The upper costs a couple of euro. This is your warning: on a nice day they fill up fast, so it is best to get there early.
Most of the trails start from the upper car park, a short distance away from which there is an information centre. Get a map here, choose your trail and all set. I would recommend the 11km Spinc trail, which gives a panoramic view of the valley and is a thoroughly enjoyable three hour hike.