Tips for hiking, mountain biking or relaxing in Ireland’s forests this summer
You could say that we have diversified. Over the past year, Ireland’s forests have offered us a lease of confined life; infusing a much needed dose of dúlra and comfort into our daily routine. Nature trails with the children or moments of complicity with our dogs, passing by these 5K, the woods of Ireland have become our natural escapes of well-being. We saw red squirrels feeding, saw buzzards soaring and enjoyed the real page-turning of the Irish natural calendar as wild garlic thrived; then bluebells in the woods; and later, conkers. But as we’ve grown to incorporate forests into our daily lives, might these outdoor conveniences become more ingrained in our national getaway psyche. Could forest getaways become the new coastal getaways? And yes, could beech become the new beach?
This week, Coillte revealed that in 2020, 2.2 million of us laid down tracks in one of their 260 recreational woods located across the country. Visitors to Dublin’s mountain forests have doubled, Curraghchase Park in Limerick has seen its numbers triple, while in West Cork, Gougane Barra Forest Park has seen its numbers rise from 19,000 to 36,000. “We are delighted that so many people are using their local forests more during this difficult and prolonged Covid lockdown,” said Imelda Hurley, CEO of Coillte. “Healthy forests are not only beautiful to look at, they also provide a much-needed boost to physical and mental well-being. »
But enjoying some free time (not to mention the idea of spending the night) in an Irish forest might not be as accessible as you think, with Ireland falling far behind our EU neighbors in terms of forest cover and, consequently, tourist facilities. Although historically surrounded by native oak, Ireland fell to just 1% forest in the 1920s; we are up to 11% a century later. This figure still puts us behind on the tree table, with Finland and Sweden at around 70%. However, the Irish government has ambitious plans to plant 440 million trees by 2040; that’s about 8,000 hectares (or 20,000 acres in old money) of timber per year. With both reforestation and afforestation, as well as a focus on adopting native species over more biodiversity-sapping spruce plantations, Ireland’s forestry fortunes now look a little more nascent. .
How can all of this impact the Irish tourism industry? Although there are a few exceptions, such as Lough Key Forest Park in Roscommon and more recently Cabu by the Lakes in Cavan, there has never been a massive cabin culture in Ireland, nor a myriad of options for s fly into the forests for a weekend surrounded by nature. But this new appreciation for our forests along with green initiatives could see Ireland’s forests becoming a sustainable tourism niche for the future. Who knows? Perhaps the next generation of Irish tourists will see a Center Parcs in every county or be able to spot a reintroduced wolf in the oak forests of Kerry? From these small acorns, a new niche of forest tourism can surely develop. But while you wait for those saplings to settle down, here are three all-budget suggestions to inspire you for your forestry solution this summer.
Castlewellan Forest Park in County Down was one of my 2020 travel highlights. postcard lake, as well as one of the most important arboretums in Europe. . And best of all, you can stay overnight at the fully equipped Castlewellan campsite. Once settled in, enjoy a range of outdoor activities such as kayaking and e-biking, with great facilities that give the experience a very well-oiled feel. Pitch rates from €17 per night; book through nidirect.gov.uk
On my list this summer is another trip to Gougane Barra Forest Park – one of Cork’s true wilderness spots, often bypassed by tourists heading to the coast. A hiker’s paradise, the park offers a number of trails, ranging from short walks through the woods to the more strenuous Slí na Sléibhe route, which offers incredible mountain views. To stay, Hotel Gougane Barra, overlooking this beautiful lake and its chapel, offers a feeling of almost monastic retreat – complete with luxury – while the lunch and dinner menus are a tantalizing tip of the hat for local produce. From €150 per night; gougabarrahotel.com
The Ballyhoura region and the valleys of Munster have been emerging tourism brands in recent years, but the wide-open spaces movement could see their popularity kick into high gear this year. Nestled in the foothills and forests of the region, the Ballyhoura Mountain Lodges remain a secret; their highly rated cabins are sensitively designed with above-average interiors and great views framing nature. Beyond that you can enjoy forest loops, Ireland’s longest mountain bike trails and regional attractions, from Ballyhass Lakes to the soon to be launched greenway in Limerick. Also suitable for dogs. Summer rates from around €700 per week; ballyhouramountainlodges.com