While our forests remain open to the public we ask that all users obey best practice as given by the HSE on social distancing. Please consider walking where possible and DO NOT park in front of gates or block access for the emergency services. pic.twitter.com/QfqAxEt7Au
— Coillte (@coilltenews) March 16, 2020
With many activities in Ireland curtailed due to the restrictions imposed to slow the spread of Covid-19, hiking is still an activity that many people can enjoy (assuming people don’t car-pool or otherwise come into close contact, in order to get to the hiking spot). So it was timely of the RTE website to run an article on hiking (Why are so many people hooked on hiking ?).However, while the article was largely positive about the benefits of hiking, I’m going to have to quibble with a couple of the claims.
I’m sure it will come as a huge surprise to the dawn swimmers in Salthill that their decades-old tradition was in fact inspired by a couple of vegans in Greystones. Equally, hiking was most definitely a thing prior to Roz Purcell – I’ve probably got hiking gear older than her. Her Hike Life event in Galway was a climb up Diamond Hill, and she capped the numbers at 100. To put that in perspective, more than a quarter of a million people visit Connemara National Park every year, and most of them will hike or walk around at least part of Diamond Hill. However, it’s always positive when celebrities use their influence to encourage a healthy, outdoor activity.
It’s a pity the article didn’t mention the country’s largest hiking organization, Mountaineering Ireland, which has thousands of members in dozens of clubs across the country. If you want to discover a hiking club near where you live, the Find Your Nearest Club page will help. Most clubs run walks or hikes either every weekend or every fortnight, and many also organize hiking weekends – my own club, Galway Walking Club, organizes a weekend away for the May and October bank holiday weekends and there are usually a couple of other trips organized through the club’s members.
The RTE article highlighted an all-women hiking group – GalzGoneWild, which looks to have a younger membership than most of the Walking Clubs affiliated to Mountaineering Ireland (at least in the west). It’s a fact that, within Mountaineering Ireland clubs, while women are 50% of the membership, they are much less well represented as leaders within clubs. As a result, there is a Women with Altitude group which aims to promote women as leaders ( When it comes to the gender split on the people likely to have a GPS gizmo that they haven’t quite mastered, that’s pretty much 100% male).
What has really boosted numbers over the last decade in the west of Ireland is the promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way – it has been wildly successful in driving far more tourists and Irish people to both existing places of interest and hitherto unknown ones. In tandem, county councils have built more infrastructure to accommodate the extra visitors. And by infrastructure, I mean mainly car-parks. It is ironic that the increase in walking as a recreation has also driven an increase in people driving to get to the hiking spots. The car parks at Croagh Patrick, Cliffs of Moher and other places are frequently full and overflowing- even at Mam Éan in Connemara, there is a proposal to extend the car parking to cope with the increased crowds. That brings its own problems – the first is that badly-parked cars can block roads and gates. The second is that the trails begin to show signs of wear and tear with the increased crowds. Ensuring that the trails are able to take the extra work is another story – which I’ll cover here tomorrow.