Taking the Road Less Travelled

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by Isabel Conway

Distant Fields may not be all that greener as everyone bitten by the ‘walking bug’ during Ireland’s outdoor revolution since our first COVID -19 pandemic lockdown discovered. Over a year on, our wings may still be clipped, but bookings for organized hikes and more leisurely meanders through the country’s history, taking forgotten paths and walkways, are tipped to enjoy even greater popularity heading into our second ‘staycation’ summer.

According to Irish based specialists in guided group holidays TD active Holidays, its walking holiday packages are out performing all other bookings for 2021 so far.

The ‘outdoor revolution’ has continued to bloom during successive lockdowns since March 2020 as we take solace from the outdoors, enjoying nature, bird song and unexpected sights whilst getting daily exercise within the restricted movement regulations.

Those who have enjoyed walking within their 5km limit in recent months ,can look forward to exploring more of Ireland, and perhaps further afield in Europe on foot in 2021.TD active Holidays report Spain as the top destination for bookings so far, with Ireland a close second.

The Camino de Santiago, at the time of writing still a far off dream, tops the list of walking holidays on offer, with the added appeal of 2021 being a Holy Year. There are two choices: The last 100k for the more experienced walkers and the Footsteps of the Camino, for those who prefer shorter, less challenging walks.

The Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) is the world’s most famous walk, a trek that everyone, young and old, can do making it as easy or arduous as they choose. No real experience is necessary, apart from enough common sense to prepare with a proper walk a couple of times a week in the build-up, wearing the comfortable footwear that will see you through the journey. I did my first Camino in July 2018 and completed the 118 km stage of the Portuguese route comfortably over 5 days, proudly collecting my official certificate of completion with tens of thousands more gathered in the golden square of Santiago de Compostela’s old town.

Isabel Conway with her Camino passport stamped along the route.

A life affirming experience ,walking this Camino pilgrim path, taught me how to cope with physical challenge, hear my own thoughts more clearly, embrace some mindfulness along the way and it also demonstrated the importance of preparedness – proper shoes, quality socks and barley sugar sweets for an energy lift. Irish born John Brierley’s Pilgrim guides to all the Camino routes are a must carry, available online or in bookstores. The Camino Society of Ireland www.caminosociety.com shares useful tips and experiences about different routes spanning Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. I travelled the Portuguese Camino with small groups specialist www.customisedwalkingtrips.com.

In TD Active’s Homegrown Adventures range, Donegal is the most popular Irish destination followed by the unique beauty of the Burren in Co Clare on foot and hikes through scenic Cork and Kerry. They offer a range of walking levels, from leisurely to challenging, to suit those who are starting out, as well as experienced walkers used to long and sometimes challenging trails. Experienced walking guides accompany every tour and ensure that walkers get the most of out of their outdoor adventures.

TD active Holidays “Moderate” walking level has the highest number of bookings so far, with an average distance between 6km and 16km per day and daily ascents likely to be between 200m and 700m. All walking holidays typically include flights, accommodation and an expert walking guide throughout the entire holiday.

Ireland’s best known Camino specialist www.caminoways.com offer a large variety of routes and combinations of journeys, difficult and easy, whilst www.canariaways.com showcases some of the best hiking in the world to be found on each of the Canary Islands. Challenging steep La Gomera, ancient pathways in northern Tenerife featuring spectacular coastal cliff walks and trails for all abilities on Gran Canaria are equally praised by ‘Sunday’ walkers and hardcore enthusiasts alike.

Yvonne Boyle, Commercial Director of TD active Holidays explains: ” exploring a destination on foot is a very special experience and the trails around Ireland and Europe bring people off the beaten track to places that cannot be discovered by road”.

“People are embracing the outdoors on a grand scale since the pandemic began and this new-found interest has increased demand for our walking holidays”. www.tdactiveholidays.com/walking-holidays Flights (from Dublin and Belfast) transfers and accommodation, with guided excursions are included. Every holiday is accompanied by a local guide and trips are designed to offer authentic, unique experiences.

TD active Holidays has launched its Wicklow Walking Holiday with a 9th of August departure featuring some of Ireland’s most beautiful hiking trails and scenery framed by mountains, through the Wicklow gap among the iconic landscapes of the garden county. A three night stay in the village of Laragh takes walkers in the footsteps of pilgrims on ancient hiking trails, including St Kevins Way stopping at the cave where the saint sheltered according to legend.

Harry Dillane founder of Customised Walking Trips has led groups on private adventures from the US to South East Asia over many years and is one our most experienced walking guides. He sees Ireland’s staycation summer as full of potential for Irish tourism in rural and remote areas that were long overlooked in the past concerning infrastructure and appreciation of their history.

The successful development of the award winning Sheep’s Head route in west Cork was a great example of local initiative, he points out. Another walk which has great potential for Irish and foreign walkers is the “National Famine Route”.

Leaving Strokestown in Co Roscommon back in 1847 nearly 1,200 desperate souls began a 165 km agonising walk to Dublin’s North Wall. There they boarded famine ships for England, many journeying onward to America. The route follows the Royal Canal, a purpose built waterway system used to export goods from regions in the Midlands of old.

“Walking this route myself in preparation for taking groups later this year I made a fascinating journey, one full of surprises through places and countryside ,steeped in Ireland’s history” explains Harry Dillane.  One of Ireland’s roads less travelled awaiting discovery.

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