As you travel along the Wild Atlantic Way, you can’t help but notice how the countryside changes radically from one region to the next. This small country has an amazing variety of landscapes forged over millennia, and this is especially apparent on the west coast.
The varying geology of the area is outstanding; only 55km northwest of the grey limestone Burren, you’ll find the dramatic quartzite mountains of the Twelve Bens along The Western Way, and a mere 15km north again, you’ve reached the great, gritstone dome of Mweelrea, Connaught’s highest mountain. In between these high peaks lie rich green fields, the Shannon estuary teeming with wildlife, flowering blanket bogs and Killary’s deep fjord. It is this kaleidoscope of scenery that makes walking the Wild Atlantic Way such a rich and exciting experience.
Ireland’s waymarked trails are designed to cater for walkers of all ages of reasonable health and fitness. They are carefully planned so that in good conditions, they can all be enjoyed at each walker’s own pace, and can be completed in a day, or stretched out over a week or more, depending on the route. The trails usually follow woodland paths, grassy boreens and quiet country roads in the lowlands, and forest tracks and mountain paths in the uplands (with occasional short, rugged stretches over mountain passes).
While none of the routes involve severe climbs or dangerous cliff edges – the highest waymarked trail reaches 640m on The Dingle Way in County Kerry – walking the upland routes gives a tangible sense of wilderness, a feeling of being truly up there, experiencing the Wild Atlantic Way from an impressive vantage point.
Ireland’s temperate weather ensures that walking of all types can be enjoyed all year round: in our oceanic climate, even rainy periods rarely last very long. While wet and boggy sections should always be expected, even the worst conditions can be tackled by wearing the correct footwear. Though experienced walkers may wish to walk entire trails over the course of a week or more, all visitors can enjoy sections of each route suitable to their ability and stamina.
Perhaps unique to the Wild Atlantic Way is just how wild its walking trails will feel; apart from some busy routes such as the Kerry Way that loops the Iveragh Peninsula, you can go a whole day without passing another group of hikers on the likes of the Bangor Trail. From the Brogan Carroll bothy (a tent-free trekkers’ base to sleep six – but BYO supplies) at Letterkeen, you’ll have a full 24km of wilderness before you hit the village of Bangor Erris. The Dingle Way has a bit of both, starting in bustling Tralee with its restaurants and nightlife, and passing through the sleepy, Irish-speaking village of Dunquin, known for the traditional music at its only pub.
Comprehensive waymarking with frequent signposts stamped with a bright yellow walking figure and an arrow indicating the way will guide you, but of course some map-reading may be required. After all, walking waymarked trails is not simply about commuting from place to place: part of the enjoyment of a cross-country route is ‘finding your way’ across unfamiliar territory, enjoying the exploration and the feeling of pioneering achievement when you succeed.
1. Never walk alone, and always let someone know where you are going and when you should be expected back.
2. Come prepared with the appropriate Ordnance Survey Map or a Route Guide. Study the route before you set out to get a good idea of where you are going and what to expect.
3. While on the route, keep your eyes peeled for indications that you are on the right path.
4. Consider travelling with one of the excellent hiking tour operators in the area; they’ll take care of the logistics, accommodation and route-mapping for you, and pass on local knowledge about the area.
5. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes or boots that support your ankles and keep your feet dry for at least most of the day.
6. Carry a rucksack with waterproof gear, extra warm layers, extra socks, adequate water and food.
7. Always show respect for the countryside and the people who live on and make their livelihoods from the land you’re visiting: follow the principles of Leave No Trace.
Read about hiker Declan Cunningham's trip across the Wild Atlantic Way here, or want to read more about Wild Atlantic Way's walk? Here is some looped, gentle and coastal walks.