Na­ture & Out­doors

The walk­ing fes­tivials tak­ing place in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary.

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Heather Snel­gar

Walk­ing fes­ti­vals are a great way to ex­plore ar­eas of Ire­land that you might not be very fa­mil­iar with. In the hands of an ex­pe­ri­enced guide, you can fo­cus on the views around you as op­posed to bat­tling with a map and com­pass. And in spring, sum­mer and au­tumn, there are mul­ti­ple walk­ing fes­ti­vals to choose from every week­end.

There are fewer on of­fer in the win­ter months, but those that do take place are well worth sign­ing up to. A walk­ing fes­ti­val at this time of year forces you to stretch those legs a lit­tle farther than you might or­di­nar­ily do on those short, dark days.

The only thing to be mind­ful of when head­ing out in win­ter is the ad­di­tional gear you will need to pack. As we are all too aware, the weather can turn from glo­ri­ous to ghastly in a mat­ter of min­utes, so it is vi­tal that you have the right kit to cope with this.

The ma­jor­ity of walk­ing guides will in­sist that you wear a good pair of hik­ing boots for their walks. In ad­di­tion, you will also need plenty of warm lay­ers, a hat, gloves, a full set of wa­ter­proofs and food and wa­ter. It is also a good idea to carry a ba­sic first aid kit and a head-torch (just in case you do find your­self out af­ter the sun goes down).

Walk­ing fes­ti­vals will usu­ally of­fer a choice of walks. Grade A walks are for ex­pe­ri­enced hik­ers with a good level of fit­ness. Grade B are mod­er­ate level walks, while Grade C are per­fect for those look­ing for a re­laxed stroll that is not too tax­ing. The walk­ing fes­ti­vals will al­ways de­part from a cen­tral hub, with some walks re­quir­ing a bus jour­ney to the start­ing point.

Here are four walk­ing fes­ti­vals tak­ing place over the next few months that are guar­an­teed to show you some of the very best scenery that Ire­land has to of­fer.

West­port Christ­mas and New Year Walk­ing Fes­ti­val 2018

De­cem­ber 27th-31st The West­port Christ­mas and New Year Walk­ing Fes­ti­val is the per­fect way to blow away the cob­webs that tend to set­tle over the Christ­mas pe­riod. Of­fer­ing two days of hik­ing in one of Ire­land’s most scenic spots, this walk­ing fes­ti­val is more suited to those with a base level of fit­ness as the walks are fairly chal­leng­ing.

The first day of walk­ing will take you over the high­est moun­tain in Con­naught, Mweel­rea, on a 10km route. Don’t be fooled into think­ing that day two will be less of a chal­lenge, though. De­spite the fact that the route is just 7km and on lower ter­rain, the route can be very muddy and wet in parts. How­ever, the views will make all of the ef­fort worth­while. Both days will de­liver some truly spec­tac­u­lar scenery.

In the evenings you can re­lax and re­store your aching mus­cles in the pubs of West­port, where you’ll hear some of the best tra­di­tional mu­sic avail­able any­where in Ire­land. dochara.com

Glen of Aher­low Win­ter Walk­ing Fes­ti­val

Jan­uary 25th-29th The Glen of Aher­low Win­ter Walk­ing Fes­ti­val is an op­por­tu­nity to take in the beauty of the Gal­tees and Slieve­na­muck in Co Tip­per­ary through a se­ries of guided walks led by the Gal­tee Walk­ing Club.

Kick­ing off in the Aher­low House ho­tel on Fri­day evening, you will have an op­por­tu­nity to meet both your fel­low walk­ers and your guides, as well as en­joy­ing the com­forts of the ho­tel.

Over the Satur­day and the Sun­day there are five guided hikes and walks ranked from A to C. The routes will in­clude the Gal­ty­more Horse­shoe and a walk over Knock­as­ta­keen that takes in both Lake Muskry and Far Breaga. aher­low.com

Sligo Walk­ing Fes­ti­val

Jan­uary 25th-29th The Sligo Walk­ing Fes­ti­val has been gain­ing mo­men­tum over the last few years, and is now a favourite not just with the Irish but with those from fur­ther afield.

Kick­ing off on Fri­day night with a torch-lit hike over the Ox Moun­tains, walk­ers will be treated to hot choco­late un­der the stars as they gaze down at the twin­kling lights of Sligo town below.

Par­tic­i­pants can then choose from A, B or C graded walks on Satur­day and Sun­day. The most ex­pe­ri­enced hik­ers will head out along the Royal Peaks and the Sleep­ing Gi­ant of the Dartry Moun­tains. The B walks will in­clude the iconic Ben­bul­ben Moun­tain and the Clas­sic Sligo Way. The C walk­ers will be brought out to the tombs of Car­rowkeel in the Brick­lieves and to Knocknarea and Queen Maeve’s Trail. The Sun­day C walk will end with some live mu­sic and tasty grub at the fa­mous Strand­hill Peo­ple’s Mar­ket. north­wes­t­ad­ven­ture­tours.ie

Din­gle Walk­ing Fes­ti­val

Fe­bru­ary 16th-18th The Din­gle Walk­ing Fes­ti­val of­fers a great op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore one of the most scenic cor­ners of Ire­land. Kick­ing off on Fri­day night with a leisurely night walk around the town of Din­gle, the fes­ti­val will also host two dif­fer­ent hikes on Satur­day and Sun­day.

Satur­day of­fers a 20km hike to Dunquin on the Din­gle Way for those who want to push them­selves. This route of­fers un­ri­valled views across Din­gle Bay, the Skel­lig Rocks, the Bee­hive Huts and Coumeenoole Beach. Those who want some­thing a lit­tle more re­laxed can opt for a three- hour jaunt along the Slea Head Drive to Team­pall Geall, an early Chris­tian site.

There will also be two route op­tions on the Sun­day. A 17km op­tion will be avail­able from Dunquin to Bal­ly­david which will of­fers stun­ning views of the Blas­ket Is­lands and Sy­bil Head. The easier walk will head along Burn­ham road which looks across Din­gle Har­bour and Din­gle Town. If the weather plays ball the route will also take you up to Eask Tower which was built in 1847 dur­ing the Famine. din­gle­walk­ingfes­ti­val.com

Heather Snel­gar ed­its out­door and ad­ven­ture web­site out­sider.ie

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: JOHN SMYTH/GETTY, CHLOE COLE­MAN/GETTY

Leenane Hill af­ter snow­fall with Kil­lary Fjord and Mweel­rea moun­tain in back­ground; and (below) Slea Head Drive which fea­tures in the Din­gle walk­ing fes­ti­val.

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