This week Emma J King takes to some interesting places to walk around Dublin…
There are some remarkably pleasant walks, both urban and rural, within easy reach of Dublin City Centre and accessible by public transport. I recently had some unexpected free time in Dublin and did each of these walks as a day trip from the city centre for just a few pounds on the bus or train, making it an easy and relatively cheap way to see some of what the local area has to offer.
To find these walks I used the very handy “All Trails” app (a really great guide if you enjoy walking, with trails all over the world) and used some of their suggestions as starting points. I have included links to the page about each walk at the bottom of each description, though I didn’t always stick to the suggested routes. The maps for each trail generally show other footpaths in the area too, so you can easily pick a route that suits you. The “All Trails” app also has some great information about points of interest along the way. I think I’m a little bit in love, and will definitely be using it again in the future!
Inside the city, just a couple of kilometres west of the centre along the Liffey river, lies Phoenix park. At a whopping 1,750 acres in size it is one of the largest recreational spaces that can be found inside any European city. To get to it you can either walk along the river, or hop on the Luas tram to Heuston, less than 20 minutes west from the CCD.
Inside the park there are any number of paths (as well as a few roads – watch out for vehicles!) many of which are tarmacked making them suitable for walkers of all abilities and accessible for those using wheels too. As well as simply soaking up the lovely atmosphere of the park you can: visit the Victorian People’s Flower Garden, admire the Wellington Testimonial (which, at over 60m in height, is the tallest obelisk in Europe), visit a prehistoric burial chamber, check out a powder magazine fort from the 1700s, visit Ashdown Castle (actually a medieval tower house, right next to the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre which is also worth popping into), see the Phoenix Monument and the Papal Cross (erected to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979), and stop off at the very lovely Tea Rooms for lunch. On top of all that, Phoenix Park is also the home of Dublin Zoo, so you can combine a visit there with a walk in the park.
With so many interesting sites only a short trip from the city centre, it’s not surprising that Phoenix Park is a popular destination and can get quite busy when the weather is good. However, Phoenix Park is big enough that you can always find a quiet spot away from the crowds if that’s what you’re looking for. You could easily spend days exploring all that Phoenix Park has to offer, without ever leaving Dublin, but even if you only have a few hours to spare it’s very quick and easy to get to and well worth a visit.
Ruggedness: Not at all – extremely civilised.
Distance: Totally up to you!
Food & Drink: Available in the park at the Tea Rooms near the entrance, or at the café at the visitor’s centre.
More Info: Phoenix Park Website” http://phoenixpark.ie, All Trails Phoenix Park Trail: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/ireland/county-dublin/phoenix-park-trail
Dun Laoghaire Harbour
The Port of Dun Laoghaire (pronounced “Done Leery”) is about half an hour south of the centre of Dublin on the DART train which can be picked up at Connolly Street Station, which itself is just a half mile walk, or 3 stops on the Luas tram, from the CCD (though if you are further south in the city the DART also stops at Tara Street, Pearse, and various other stations on its way through Dublin). The harbour is enclosed by two piers, either of which make a nice walk from where you can admire the sailing boats moored inside the walls, or the views along the coast outside them.
The East pier is more popular for walking and is very close to the Dun Laoghaire DART station, which is easy to find with mostly level concrete underfoot, making it fairly accessible (though if stairs are an issue, do check that the lifts are working at the relevant DART stations – several were out of order the day I went). It is also important to note that the area can get pretty busy during the holidays, especially when the weather is good. If you want a longer walk, or to avoid the worst of the crowds, you can hop off one stop early at Salthill & Monkstown and walk out along the slightly longer West pier before continuing around the harbour to the East pier. From there you can walk the second pier or continue down the coast, past Sandycove (where you’ll find many locals swimming in the sea if the sun is out – join them if you’re feeling brave!), out to the viewpoint at Forty Foot, and potentially on past Dalkey to Killiney Hill Park before getting the DART home again from whichever station you find yourself closest to. I only made it as far as to Forty Foot myself before seeking shelter in a nearby café when the rain came in, but I understand that the views further south are fabulous so I’m very much hoping to go back and find those.
Ruggedness: Pretty civilised if you stay around the towns, potentially a bit more of a moderate hike if you make it as far as Killiney Hill Park.
Distance: About 1.6 miles if you just go out along the East Pier and back, but you can easily extend the walk down the coast all the way to Bray and still get the DART home again if you don’t fancy walking back.
Food & Drink: Easily available in various cafes in Dun Laoghaire, Sandycover, and other small towns as you head South.
More Info: All Trails Dun Laoghaire East Pier: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/ireland/county-dublin/east-pier-dun-laoghaire, All Trails Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey & Killiney: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/ireland/county-dublin/dun-laoghaire-dalkey-and-killiney-loop-walk
Hellfire Club & Massey Woods
Set in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains to the south of the city, the ruins of Montpelier Lodge (which later became home to the notorious Hellfire Club, the name by which it is now better known) can be found atop Montpelier Hill. This is a little harder to reach by public transport than the other walks I did, but manageable by taking the number 15 bus from the city to the end of the line at Hunters Wood, then walking ~1.5 miles along country roads to the car park where the walk really starts. It’s all uphill on the way from the bus stop, but thankfully that means it’s all downhill on the way home! Although you do need to watch out for fast-moving cars on the windy country lanes, which are not paved. Alternatively, if you have use of a car there is a very convenient car park right at the bottom of the hill.
From the car park you can choose whether to take the longer, windier but less-steep path up the hill, which is well maintained, wide and gravelled, or to scramble more directly up one of the various goat-trail-like footpaths to the top. At the top you can explore the ruined building, said to be haunted by the ghost of an enormous black cat, or just admire the stunning views back towards the city.
The weather was somewhat blustery the day I went, and other than a few families making their way to the top at lunch time, I pretty much had the hill to myself. Having made my way more or less straight up to have a well-earned picnic lunch at the top, I then explored a few of the other footpaths which criss-cross the hill, enjoying the views all around on my way down again.
Just across the road from the car park you can find the entrance to Massey Woods, which were once part of the grounds of the estate and which are a very lovely (and much flatter!) addition to the walk, and very much worth including if you’ve made it all the way out there. The paths of Massey Woods are also a lot more sheltered, so a great option when the wind picks up!
The main path leads through the woodland and around on a circular trail which takes you gently down to, across and along the very pretty river, past the ruins of some old out-buildings, and through the ruins of the old formal walled gardens, before making its way back up to the entrance. Though much of this path is wide and well maintained with gravel underfoot, it does become considerably narrower and harder to navigate as it passes through the ruins.
As an added bonus, a small detour off the main path leads to a Bronze Age wedge tomb. The path isn’t well marked or maintained, and there are no signs to tell you what you’re looking at, but I think I found the remains of the tomb and stopped there to eat my packed lunch under the tree which stood over it, which was quite delightful. In the couple of hours I spent exploring the woodland I saw two or three dog walkers and a couple of people out riding, but the woodland was very quiet and extremely peaceful, a great get-away from the city!
Ruggedness: Not too bad if you stick to the main paths, but reasonable footwear advised, and can get very rugged and if you stray off path!
Length: Monpelier Hill Loop ~3 miles, Massey Woods Loop ~2.3 miles, plus an extra 3 miles (1.5 miles each way) if you also walk to/from the bus stop.
Food & Drink: There is a café a short distance along the road at the Timbertrove Country Store, but I didn’t try it.
More Info: All Trails Hellfire Club & Massey Woods: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/ireland/dublin-city/hell-fire-club-and-massey-woods-loop
Howth Cliff Loop
At the opposite end of the DART train line to Dun Laoghaire, about half an hour North of the city centre, lies Howth (pronounced ‘Hoath’), a charming little seaside spot where you will find a very quaint railway station, lots of lovely pubs and cafés, a pier that makes for a nice short walk, and the beginning of the Howth Cliff Loop.
In fact there are several loop walk options that begin in Howth, all very clearly signposted. There is a handy map just as you come out of the station that gives details of each option so you can decide what you fancy tackling, but if you plan to leave the area around the harbour and head along the cliffs at all, be advised that it gets pretty steep and pretty rugged very quickly.
The effort is well worth it, though, as the views from the cliff path are quite stunning. At times the cliff walks take you up for wonderful views, while at others, they take you all the way down to the water’s edge where some people were brave enough to take a dip (not me – the Irish Sea is cold!), so there is quite a bit of up-and-down involved.
I followed the longer, purple-signed “Bog of the Frogs” loop, which a chap at the station had informed me was closed, but I’m not one to let that sort of thing stop me! Sure enough, the usual purple-signed route back around the side of Shielmartin Hill was shut for maintenance, but there was a clearly signposted diversion in place going up and over the summit, which was closer to the All Trails suggested route which is slightly different to the signposted route in several places. At 163 meters high it was quite a climb, but the views at the top can not be beaten, and made it more than worth the effort. The diversion signs suggested that the works on the route around the hill will be complete on August 16th, just in time for WorldCon, but if you’re planning on doing the “Bog of the Frogs” loop and don’t want to include the climb to the summit I would double check that the main path is open again before departing!
On the way back down towards the station was the first time I lost track of the otherwise very clearly signposted path, and ended up wandering too far towards town rather than staying out towards the countryside. Though, signs towards the station were plentiful so it would be a gross exaggeration to say that I was lost. It was at this point that I also realised that the signposted purple route differs quite significantly here from the All Trails route, and that the latter was the one that went past Howth Castle, which I had seen in the distance from the summit and was keen to get a closer look at. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard to find a footpath that cut back towards the castle without adding too much distance (or climbing anymore hills!), so I included that as a little diversion and was pleased that I did. Part of the castle is a private residence so you can’t go in, but it’s lovely from the outside and several people were picnicking on the grass opposite. There is also a transport museum here which I didn’t go into, but which might be of interest.
Overall Howth was absolutely gorgeous, and if I had to pick one place out of town to visit while I was in Dublin this would be it. Though, I would say wait for good weather and go on a fine day if you plan on hiking, rather than just enjoying the town, as most of the route is pretty exposed to the elements. However, Howth was extremely busy, particularly close to the station – not surprising as it’s a very popular destination that’s easy to reach. Most of the tourists either turned back after a short distance along the cliff path, or took one of the shorter loop walk options, so it quietened down somewhat after those paths diverged. I still passed, or was passed by, other walkers fairly often, but spent at least some of the time walking alone and enjoying the peace and quiet. The “Frog of the Bogs” loop also passes through a golf course at one point, and crosses a fairway where you need to pay close attention to flying golf balls as they whizz across the path!
Ruggedness: Very Rugged! Lots of up and down on narrow rocky paths along the cliffs if you leave the area around the station – wear decent walking boots and bring a wind & water-proof jacket in case the weather changes on you as the path is pretty exposed.
Length: Between 3.5 & 7.5 miles for the cliff path, depending on the loop you pick, or just enjoy the town & pier near the station.
Food & Drink: Plenty of options in Howth itself, but nothing once you get out of town, so if you’re doing the longer loop walk take snacks & drinks!
More Info: All Trails Howth Loop Trail: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/ireland/dublin/howth-loop-trail
Dr Emma J King has a PhD in cosmology and has delivered science shows for the Royal Institution, before hanging up her lab coat to tour the world and save turtles. Next year she’s returning to university to turn her hand to Space Engineering. She’s been an irregular at conventions since the Glasgow WorldCon in 1995, and can occasionally be found at cons blowing things up, for science.