How To Explore Ireland's Natural Beauty On Foot

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Dust off those cobwebs and don those mountain boots; discover the country's spectacular natural beauty with a hike

From Ireland's snow tipped peaks, its mirror like lakes and countryside of many colours and textures, it's little wonder that the country's finest poets have found the land's natural beauty inspirational.

It's not enough, however, to look on these spectacular vistas in a brochure or on a website, you need to get your walking boots on and get out in the open air and experience the landscape in all the elements, whether it's sunny Summer or in the rain lashing Winter.

Hang on a minute, forget that! There's no point in denying that it rains, ahem, in Ireland but once you're out in the open air, the weather, as variable as it is with four seasons in one day frequently, enhances rather than lessens our enjoyment of Ireland's great outdoors.

The landscape also is full of variety - mountains, lakes, valleys, mighty cliffs and sandy beaches - the song is only half true, there are AT LEAST forty shades in Ireland.

As another song almost goes, the beauty is all around you in Ireland. Wherever you go, when you round a turn, be prepared to have your breath taken away by the vista which awaits. That having been said, it's almost impossible to be prepared for the spectacular sights you will encounter during your time here.

Eagles soar overhead

Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way is impossible not to be wowed by with spectacular views such as the majestic scenery of Sheephaven Bay.

Glenveagh National Park includes the beautifully bare Gleann Nimhe/Poison Glen. In Irish, Gleann Nimhe sounds very much like, the Glen of Heaven. Overhead you will see eagle’s soar. When you wake up after a restful night's sleep in Arnolds Hotel, situated in the heart of a Donegal village, you will enjoy a remarkable view as you have breakfast before tackling the day's adventure ahead.

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Magnificent beaches

Tackling Mount Errigal is a rite of passage for many Irish people. It's very doable in a few hours - but best to take your time and enjoy the trip. When you get to the peak, your effort will be rewarded as you see the entire landscape stretch out below. Not a sight for the faint-hearted!

After the day's adventure, it's back to the hotel to rejuvenate those tired muscles, in anticipation of the following day's adventure. Drop into Arnolds Restaurant for a meal featuring the finest local produce from land and sea expertly prepared followed by a relaxing beer or cocktail in Arnold’s beer garden.

An option the next day is an early morning swim at what is one of Ireland's most magnificent beaches, Tamore/Dunfanaghy. As you battle with the waves here, you will see off shore the islands of Toraigh/Tory and, a little bit closer, Gabhla/Gola. Anyone who went to school in Ireland will remember learning by rote the song about Baidín Fheidhlimí - who went sailing in a little boat but hit the rocks of Toraigh!

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Bring your bike

Not all of Ireland's most majestic mountains are by the sea. In the midlands, in Co Tipperary which is described as the home of the world's fastest field game, hurling, you have the Sliabh Bloom range. Rising to a height of 521 metres, these peaks may not be high but the range is extensive and covers portions of nearby counties, Laois and Offaly.

Nestled at the foot of the mountains is the Racket Hall Country House Hotel, a welcoming establishment with plenty of nooks and crannies to snuggle up with a book and a refreshing drink. When you're ready for adventure again, the mountain range awaits but this is one you can enjoy on your bike. Take a trip to Bike Park Ireland where you can warm up on the novice trails before really testing yourself on the pro course.

Sliabh Bloom is located in the heart of Ireland's Ancient East and is famous for a few legends itself. It was here Bladhma came after killing Bregmael, the famous smith of Cuirche, and the mountain was named after him.

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Sweet and Nourishing

Another entirely different but similarly ancient landscape is in north Clare where you will discover the Burren. The name of the Burren derives from the Irish, An Boireann, meaning 'rocky place'. It's rocky, however, in a way which is very unique indeed as what you have here is 1500 hectares of interlocking limestone plates with grass growing in the straight-line cracks between the plates.

In 1651 a Cromwellian Army Officer named Ludlow remarked, “of this barony it is said that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them. This last is so scarce that the inhabitants steal it from one another and yet their cattle are very fat. The grass grows in tufts of earth of two or three-foot square which lies between the limestone rocks and is very sweet and nourishing.”

Cromwell and his forces are long gone and visitors these days get a far less hostile welcome. A 'céad míle fáilte' awaits you in Sheedy's Hotel & Restaurant in the famous match-making seaside town of Lisdoonvarna. Here you're not far from the Cliffs of Moher where you can walk along Ireland's most spectacular cliff face. Being Ireland's traditional music heartland, the west coast of Clare needs exploration by night and by day and a trip to Doolin or Miltown Malbay will reward you with one of our famous 'seisúin ceoil' ( traditional music)

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The Famine Road

Infamous for not having won an All Ireland senior football title since 1951 because of a 'curse', Mayo has a great deal more going for it and is probably Ireland's most wildly beautiful county with mountains like Croagh Patrick to ascend and Killary Harbour is a stunning fjord.

The journey from Galway to Mayo via Leenaune brings you in the most breathtakingly spectacular landscape of lakes and valleys. That road via Doolough and Killary was the same route which a group of tenants travelled during Famine times to seek some relief from their landlord but to no avail. Many of them died on the route - now known as The Famine Road.

On the county's northern coast, overlooking the wild Atlantic, lie the Céide Fields, a site of a neolithic settlement discovered in the 1930s by a farmer out cutting turf. Decades of careful excavation uncovered a vast site which is on the verge of gaining World Heritage status. This settlement shows that there were people in settlements in Ireland more than 3000 years before the Christian era.

Croagh Patrick at 764m is Mayo's highest peak but that doesn't deter thousands of pilgrims from climbing it, some of them do it barefoot, on the last Sunday in July as an homage to Ireland's patron saint. There's discussions at present about a cable car which would bring people to the summit - so get along with your climbing boots to try it before that happens.

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Cultural depth and variety

Westport is the closest town to Croagh Patrick and has its own appeal as a mecca for traditional music fans who flock to the pub owned by Matt Molloy of The Chieftains. The pub is to the Chieftains what the Cavern in Liverpool is to The Beatles.

Here, right in the centre of Westport town, you can also find the Clew Bay Hotel – an ideal base from which to explore the town and the surrounding attractions. A hearty welcome, comfortable surroundings and an opportunity to relax and refresh yourself after days of touring makes this hotel a destination worth including on your itinerary. While Ireland has plenty to offer the avid walker and the stroller, the real beauty of the country is its cultural depth and variety which makes the walking as fascinating as it is spectacular. The real bonus is the people you meet on route or when you finally reach your destination and can relax.

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Original Irish Hotels are a collection of unique, owner-run hotels, located in Ireland’s most outstanding destinations. Open the door to the magic of unmissable moments with Ireland’s leading collection of independent hotels.

Our 56 hotels are dotted around the entire island of Ireland in must-see locations, from the Wild Atlantic Way, to Ireland’s Ancient East, the Causeway Coast, Dublin and the treasured heartland of Ireland’s midlands and lakelands.

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