Winter walks to cosy, firelit pubs around Ireland

Hot toddies and warm fires await after a bracing winter hike on one of these routes, from Donegal to Tipperary

Man relaxing with a glass of red wine by the fireplace after a long hike; his boots off, next to him, warming up

Unless you spent the year attending staff empowerment seminars, team-building exercises or other imaginative work avoidance schemes, you will doubtless be glad of a yuletide escape from the demands of the workplace. A few days cooped up en famille, however, and cabin fever can triumph over camaraderie. Many of us will then fantasise about escaping the claustrophobic clutches of domesticity and dyspeptic overindulgence.

A great way to relieve festive confinement is by wrapping up and heading into the outdoors for a bracing winter walk. If your pleasure is a ramble that conveniently comes oven-ready and fully basted, set off on one of the ready-made circuits listed below, and finish in the very best way – in an unpretentious pub, with an open fire and hot toddies waiting for you.

The Éamonn an Chnoic Loop, Upperchurch, Co Tipperary

A moderately challenging but deeply rural 8km circuit that begins from outside the community centre in Upperchurch. Following walking arrows that meander through fields and lanes, the route celebrates the eponymous, Robin Hood-style outlaw who once roamed these hills. From the high point of the walk, you are rewarded with magnificent views of the Comeragh, Galtee, Knockmealdown and Devil’s Bit mountains before descending to the village. This walk can be wet underfoot, so wear appropriate footwear.

Kinnane’s of Upperchurch village ticks all the boxes for a welcoming hostelry in an upland community. Try to get near the open fire and then forget time as you chat and gaze into the flickering flames. Food must be pre-ordered; call 0504-54284.


The Tramline Loop, Howth, Co Dublin

Howth – part of Dublin, yet removed from it – offers a fine selection of accessible walks. For a bracing ramble, follow the blue arrows for the Tramline Loop, from Howth Dart station to Kilrock car park, and then along the renowned Cliff Path offering spectacular coastal views of Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye. After 3km, you ascend to the Summit Carpark and join the Bailey Green Road. Next, the route enters a disused tramline opposite the Summit Inn. Follow this, with a couple of short excursions through housing estates, to exit opposite the Dart station, having enjoyed an invigorating 7km outing.

The Bloody Stream pub beside Howth Dart Station is relatively new, but offers an old world feel. With the relaxed ambience of a rural establishment, it has all the prerequisites for a walker’s rest, with an open fire and delicious food.

The Flaggy Shore, New Quay, Co Clare

From New Quay, keep the coastline on your right for a short distance to gain the Flaggy Shore, which is famous for its fossil-rich limestone pavements. On your left, Mount Vernon house was the summer home of playwright and folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory. But it was Seamus Heaney who famously observed “a slate-grey lake lit by the earthed light of flock of swans”. This is Lough Muree, still home to a bevy of swans. Swing left along the southern shore of Lough Muree and continue to a T-junction where a left turn takes you back to New Quay, having enjoyed a 6km outing.

Just beyond New Quay, the open fire in Linnane’s Pub will beckon irresistibly. Dive inside and for some refreshments while, with any luck, gazing through the panoramic windows at the sun going down on Galway Bay. Note: Linnanes is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout winter.

Slieve League, Co Donegal

One of Ireland’s finest coastal trails, topping some of Europe’s mightiest sea cliffs, begins from the Slieve League Cliff Experience Centre in Teelin. A shuttle bus will then convey you to the spectacular car park at Bunglass, where a steep track traverses above vertiginous cliffs tumbling to the ocean. The ascent is straightforward, apart from a short airy rib, known as One Man’s Pass. Such excitement is easily avoided by traversing inland. Soon you will gain the east summit of Slieve League where, on a clear day, the views are awe-inspiring. To the northeast, Errigal stands sentinel, while to the south the sweep of the Sligo-Mayo coast fills the horizon. Create a circuit by following the cairned Pilgrim’s Path from the east summit by a steepish descent to reach a car park and pick up the minor road leading back to Teelin. Be aware that this walk, which traverses highly exposed mountain terrain, can take up to five hours and is suitable only for experienced hillwalkers.

Only a few hundred metres from the Visitor Centre, the renowned Rusty Mackerel ticks all the boxes for a traditional local hostelry. The pub is renowned for Irish music, good food and its open fire, and also offers excellent good-value accommodation on site.

The High Kings Loop, Cashel, Co Tipperary

Redolent of a time when Cashel was the seat of the Irish high kings, this easy, 8km walk (denoted by red arrows) sets out from below the renowned Rock of Cashel. Passing by the ruins of 13th-century Hore Abbey, it follows a route known locally as the Bóithrín Bocht before entering a serene forest. Afterwards, return to Cashel by an off-road path that hugs the R74 while enjoying magnificent views of the Rock of Cashel.

Only a couple of hundred metres off the trail, TJ Ryan’s on Main Street is one of the longest-established pubs in Cashel. Once a watering hole for farmers on market day, it has retained its traditional charm, while the best place to relax is in the cosy

Bonaveen Trail, Portumna, Co Galway

If you love walking but hate hills, Portumna Forest Park is the place for you. There are various rambles here, of which the longest is a 10km circuit, while the shortest is a 2km multi-access trail suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. Park inside the gates of 17th-century Portumna Castle. Then follow the perimeter wall of Portumna Demesne past a monastic site and picturesque marina before entering the forest park.

At a fork in the track, go right and walk through a cleared forest area to a T-junction. Go left and soon you are at Portumna Forest trailhead, where you will find maps outlining circular walks through the Shannon Callows. After following one of the suggested rambles, return to Portumna by the same route.

The Ferry Inn, just across the river Shannon, certainly doesn’t lack atmosphere. An open fire, diffused lighting and tasty food makes it a lovely winter retreat in which to linger and let your cares just fall away.

The Lettermaghera Loop, Newport, Co Mayo

Traversing the Mayo Lakelands, this 7km Loop starts from Derrada Community Centre, signposted off the N59 beyond Newport. Follow the green arrows to cross the Great Western Greenway and continue along a trail that seems to float above a lake and island-strewn landscape. At Salmon Leap Bridge, go left and later left again at a T-junction to reach a gate accessing open moorland. Continue to follow the green arrows past several more sublime lakes until they return you to Derrada.

Just 6km along the N59 towards Mulranny lies Nevin’s Newfield Inn offering an ambience that is welcoming, relaxed and firelit. The inn, established more than two centuries ago, is renowned for its home-made food and cosy atmosphere.

The Derrynaflan Trail, Co Tipperary

Derrynaflan, cloaked by the mists of time, is an isolated monastic site in Lurgoe Bog that was almost forgotten until Michael Webb and his son visited in 1980. Here they discovered the priceless Derrynaflan Hoard: a chalice, silver paten and liturgical strainer that represented the highest expression of early Irish medieval art. Since then the once-difficult-to-find island has been made accessible as part one of the Littleton Labyrinth project. To visit, park at the Horse and Jockey (just off the M8) and follow signs for Derrynaflan Walk from just beyond the ball alley at the rear of the hotel. You go left and right and then left along a gravel path before swinging left again on a rustic track to reach mystical Derrynaflan. By the monastic remains is a beguiling place to linger and absorb the big, lonesome sky before returning to your start point after walking for about two hours.

The Horse and Jockey Inn, once an 18th-century stop for mail coaches on the Dublin/Cork route, has been serving customers for almost 250 years. It is still a firm favourite with those travelling the M8. Its large Enclosure Bar offers two open fires with food all day to a great mixture of locals and visitors.

The Leafy Loop, Durrow, Co Laois

The Leafy Loop is a wonderfully varied 23km Loop that entirely encircles Durrow. To experience a nice introduction to this fine walk, follow the R434 Ballacolla Road for about 1km from Durrow to join the purple arrows for the Leafy Loop. Follow these into the sylvan Dunmore Estate and continue across the N77 to traverse beside the picturesque river Nore. Here it is on through Knockatrina Wood to again cross the N77. Now it is just a question of continuing through Clonagera Woodlands before going right and following the quiet Derry Road back to Durrow after a walk of about 8km.

You won’t experience the glow of firelight in Bob’s Bar, but this authentic pub is hard to beat for atmosphere. It is known as the museum pub for the vast memorabilia on display and was voted Laois Pub of the Year in 2022. Try to lay claim to Frank’s Snug, cosy up beside the traditional Aga cooker and let time drift idly by.