Unfortunately, the summer is finally over, but just because the good weather is deserting us for a few months doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of things to keep you occupied. There's no better time to hop in the car and set off to see the parts of your country you've never gotten around to.
Now who doesn’t love walking through the countryside while the leaves are falling? Well there’s no better place for it than Wicklow. Head for St Kevin’s Bed in Glendalough, or make a date with the flame-leaved trees at Avondale House & Forest Park in rural Rathdrum where farmers will be hard at work bringing in their bountiful harvest. Don’t forget to visit the arboretum at Kilmaccuragh, part of the National Botanic Gardens, and the romantic Italianate gardens of Powerscourt in Enniskerry.
Or, why not head up to Donegal and explore some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and because you’re not expecting sunshine, you can’t be disappointed. Take the Knockalla coast drive from Portsalon to Rathmullan to see spectacular views of Ballymastocker Bay, on the western side of Lough Swilly. Enjoy the rugged splendours of the Inishowen 100 driving route, named for its length in miles (160km). Starting in Bridgend on the Inishowen Peninsula, stop to enjoy the 5km sandy beach at Buncrana. Then, head over the Mamore Gap for spectacular views out over the northerly coastline, en route to Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point and the perfect place to ‘get away from it all’. At Five Fingers Strand near Malin Head you can see the wreck of the Twilight, a vessel which sank in 1889 having made it all the way from Newfoundland en route for Derry.
If you’re in a particularly romantic mood, have a go of Sligo, home to one of Ireland greatest ever poets, WB Yeats. No visit to the region is complete without a visit to the poet’s final resting place at Drumcliffe Church, in the shadow of mythical Benbulben. Get in your car to follow the path of legendary Irish lovebirds, Diarmuid and Grainne, as they fled through the Darty Mountain Range. Take a hike to find the cave named after them, and then soothe your muscles with a soak in Voya Seaweed Baths at Strandhill, or Kilcullen Seaweeds Baths in Enniscrone.
Watch the sun set – and a harvest moon rise – In Galway. Not all of the year’s festivals are over just yet, as you can savour the aphrodisiacal qualities of luscious oysters at the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival, September 25th – 28th.
No tour of the west is complete without a visit to Ireland’s most famous fjord at Killary Harbour on Galway/Mayo border surrounded by spectacular mountain peaks. Park the car and hike along the old Green Road, a famine relief route with dramatic views over deep waters to mighty Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest mountain. September is a great time to visit the area to take in the Leenane Autumnal Festival, September 27th – 28th, with foraging walks and cookery classes.
But it’s not all about the West, because you can get back to those Irish roots in Kerry. Round up an evening in Dingle with a top notch meal and a great trad session. Visit Valentia Island to see footprints that pre-date even dinosaurs. Take the ferry to the Blasket Islands or explore the monks’ famous beehive huts on Skellig Michael. At Brandon Bay you’ll find the longest beach in the country, Castlegregory, which extends to almost 20 km. Tee it up in Ballybunion for world famous golf. Make the most of starry nights at Waterville, part of the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve, the only Gold Tiered Reserve in the whole of the Northern Hemisphere.
Go off the beaten track to discover the glorious coastline of East Cork. Drive to Ballycotton for a bracing hike along the Cliff Walk, an 8km path leading to the beach at Ballytrasna, with sea on one side and meadows on the other. Stop in the resort towns of Youghal and Kinsale for award winning seafood restaurants and sumptuous hotels. Then head for West Cork’s Beara Peninsula to stretch your legs along the Beara Way. Take a trip by cable car to Dursey island, pop in for a baking lesson at the Firehouse Bakery on nearby Heir Island or hop across on the ferry to see the seabirds at the Cape Clear Bird Observatory on Cape Clear Island.
Explore the sandy beaches and secret coves of Waterford’s Copper Coast, and make time to take the hour-long cliff walk from the village to Portally Cove. In Wexford, drive out to the Hook Lighthouse, the oldest intact operational Lighthouse in the world. Head to the fishing village of Kilmore Quay to savour the fruits of the sea, fresh off the boat and served up at lively local pubs and restaurants. Travel north to the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve just outside Wexford town, to see migratory birds gather before leaving our shores for the winter. Comb Dollar Bay to find Spanish treasure, buried by mutineers in the 1700’s and, reputedly, still there for the taking!
For more great autumn touring suggestions, see www.discoverireland.ie.