With the winter storms spring and summer are the best times to explore Ireland’s 7,000km coastline, with its wide beaches, sand dunes, towering cliffs and numerous accessible islands.
Nature is ever-present on the edge of our island, including wildflowers, nesting seabirds and coastal marine life. Rock pools also provide fascinating spots for children to explore underwater life and if you are lucky you may see seals, whales and dolphins offshore. Walks are most enjoyable when you take your time and stop often to enjoy the view.
Here is just a selection of my favourites.
1. Giant’s Causeway to Ballintoy, Co. Antrim
Difficulty: Mild to moderate
Route details: One way (16 km). Take the B62 from Ballymoney and follow the signs to the Giant’s Causeway. Park at the visitor center. This is part of a long distance walking route that could be extended to three days.
Why: Following the cliff path from the famous basalt columns you will come close to the site of a shipwreck of the Spanish Armada ship La Girona off Lacada Point (this wreck’s treasures are now on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast). Keep an eye out for eider ducks in the surf and the wonderful, clear views of Rathlin Island and the Scottish coast. Port Moon has a secluded fisherman’s cottage that once served as a base for salmon fishing, and the ruins of Dunseverick Castle sit on a promontory at an old royal site at Dál Riada. End at the small, sheltered harbor of Ballintoy.
2. Murlough Nature Reserve, Co Down
Route details: loop (10 km). Park in National Trust car park just off the A2 near Dundrum Village. Cross the sand dunes to the beach. Turn east and follow the beach.
Why: This hike offers stunning views of the Morne Mountains stretching down to the sea and beautiful, wild sand dunes with colorful wildflowers in summer. Take a short detour into the dunes where 10 archaeological sites have been recorded showing extensive prehistoric habitation from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and early Christian periods. Stop for a while near the canal and watch seals run out onto the sandbars (watch out for extra soft sand at the canal edge). The Norman castle in the village of Dundrum is visible as you walk into the inner bay. Waders, cormorants and ducks can also be seen in the estuary. Follow the coastal path back to the car park.
3. Howth Head, Co Dublin
Route details: One way (5 km). The Dart from Dublin City takes around 45 minutes. Start at Howth Harbor near the train station. Pass the busy fishing port and yacht club and head east past the Martello Tower.
Why: There are great views north across the islands of Ireland’s Eye and Lambay, occasionally extending to the Morne Mountains. The trail turns south and offers views across Dublin Bay to the Wicklow Mountains. Walk through the heather vegetation with yellow gorse and purple heather where stonechats build their nests. On the cliffs below there is a noisy colony of seabirds, mainly kittiwakes – this is a good vantage point for spotting porpoises. End the tour at the Baily Lighthouse or take an optional loop around the south side of Howth Head and back to the harbour.
4. The Murrough, Co Wicklow
Route details: One way (12 km). The Dart from Dublin to Greystones takes around 50 minutes. Start here at the harbor and stroll along South Beach. Follow the railway line and walk on the sea side.
Why: Kilcoole railway station to the west has clear views inland of the Great Sugarloaf and the Wicklow Mountains. Reeds and wetlands at The Breaches are home to flocks of geese, ducks and shorebirds, but you’ll need binoculars to see them well. Here on the beach there is a large colony of small terns whose keepers declare conservation. From the old train station in Newcastle, take a short detour to the East Coast Nature Reserve, which has bird-watching huts and information boards. Another short detour offers views over Broadlough, the estuary of the River Vartry. End the tour in Wicklow Town, where a train journey can take you back to Greystones or Dublin.
5. Raven Point, Co Wexford
Route details: loop (8 km). From Wexford follow the R741 towards Castlebridge. After 3.5km turn right onto the R742. Park in Raven Nature Reserve, at the entrance to the forest.
Why: Cross the dunes and turn right onto the beach. Follow the shoreline to the end of the forest until you can see the lagoons and sandbars at the end of Raven Point. In summer, a colony of small terns lives here, and gray seals sunbathe on the sandbanks. Views to the south include Rosslare Point and you can look out for shorebirds such as oystercatchers and curlews along the way. On the forest roads back to the parking lot. Corsican pines were planted here in the 1930s – in winter watch out for wild geese grazing in the fields to the west of the forest in the North Slob.
6. Cape Clear Island, County Cork
Route details: loop (7km). Take the R595 from Skibbereen to Baltimore, where there is a daily ferry service to the island. Start at the North Harbor and walk east along narrow streets.
Why: This is Ireland’s southernmost island. Residents include an Irish speaking community who practice farming in a traditional way. Cross the island for a good view of the south of the famous Fastnet lighthouse and return along the cliff to reach the south harbor where there is a glamping site. This is a good place to stop and watch passing seabirds and maybe dolphins or large whales surfacing. While you wait for the return ferry, visit Ireland’s longest-standing bird observatory at North Harbor – which has records of migratory birds for over 60 years.
7. Castlegregory, County Kerry
Route details: One way (19 km). Take the N86 from Tralee and the R560 past Castlegregory. Start in Fermoyle and head back east. The aisle is level.
Why: This is part of the long distance Dingle Way. Follow one of Ireland’s longest beaches east for 11km. Keep an eye out for interesting shells and jellyfish along the beach line (there’s also a great view back west to Brandon Mountain). Take a short detour through the sand dunes to Lough Gill, Ireland’s most important stronghold for the rare natterjack toad. From the end of the peninsula there are good views of the Magharee Islands to the north and Banna Strand to the east, where Roger Casement attempted to take arms at gunpoint before the Easter Rising of 1916. Return to Castlegregory via local roads.
8. Inishbofin, County Galway
Difficulty: Moderate, with rough grasslands on cliffs and rocks
Route details: Westviertel loop (8 km). Take the N59 north of Clifden in Connemara and follow the signs to Cleggan. Catch the daily ferry from the port.
Why: If you walk west along the road from the pier, you’ll get a good view of Bosco Castle across the harbor. This was once occupied by a pirate and later was a garrison for Cromwell’s soldiers. The footpath passes a lake, blowholes, a sea arch and cliffs where gray seals can be seen. Listen to the call of the rare corncrake on summer evenings. In Dún Mór there are ruins of an Iron Age rock fortress, in Trá Gheal a picturesque beach and a hunger road. Enjoy views of the uninhabited island of Inishark to the west and the Twelve Bens Mountains to the east, and return via the local road to the port where refreshments are available.
9. Doogort, Achill Island, County Mayo
Difficulty: Easy, partly on quiet roads
Route details: loop (8 km). From Mulranny, take the R319 to Achill Sound where a road bridge allows for easy access. Alternatively, you can travel via the Westport Greenway.
Why: Turn north from Keel and stop by the side of Slievemore en route for a walk through the deserted pre-famine village. The northeast of the island near Doogort is a nice, quiet place. Park at Golden Strand Beach. Head northeast on two sandy beaches separated by Corraun Point. The flat, sandy area behind the beaches is a unique machair habitat rich in wildflowers. There is a good chance of seeing basking sharks or dolphins offshore and you have great views of the Mullet Peninsula and the Inishkea Islands to the north. Return past Lough Doo over the moor to the starting point.
10. Sheskinmore, Co Donegal
Route details: Loop (5km). From Ardara take the R261 north and turn off at the signs for Rosbeg. After about 4 km turn left at the Trá Mór sign. Park at the entrance of the caravan park.
Why: Walk down to the beach through low sand dunes, all formed in the last 30 years. There are sweeping views across the bay to Slieve Tuaidh cliffs and Inishbarnog island. The beach often has a flock of sanderlings – small white shorebirds that glide near the waves. At the other end, turn east through the high dunes and pass several pools full of aquatic plants, including rockworms. There are flat, grassy areas rich in wildflowers, including orchids, and the dunes are used by flocks of choughs (red-legged members of the crow family). The lake at Sheskinmore is surrounded by marshes where lapwings nest in summer. Exit the reserve via a gate opposite Kiltooris Lough and back on a quiet road to the car park.
Richard Nairn is an ecologist and author. Wild Shores, his book about Ireland’s coastline and coastal waters, is available from Gil Books (€14.99) and is also available as an audio book from audible.co.uk
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/ireland/10-of-the-best-coastal-walks-in-ireland-a-7000km-coastline-with-a-trek-for-everyone-41503736.html 10 Best Coastal Walks in Ireland – 7,000km of coastline with a walk for everyone