Go slow, seek out the unexpected and take in the beautiful natural landscape along the North Shannon.
The Shannon Blueway – a series of paddling trails and off-road cycling and walking trails– is a perfect place to start exploring the very best the North Shannon has to offer. The sense of isolation and peace that pervades the landscapes around the Blueway is enormously captivating. In summer, vibrant greens shimmer in the sunshine, while in winter the trees are stripped bare giving a dramatic look to the countryside. Escape into majestic woods, drift slowly along tranquil canal banks, and reach out into nature on a floating boardwalk – this is walking at its best… For a different landscape altogether, head to the bog garden in Lough Key Forest Park – an exotic paradise. Wandering along the rough wooden path here, rich vegetation surrounds you with bursts of astonishing colour from vivid pink to buttercup yellow. In the air, the earthy scent of the bog mixes with a fresh, almost sweet smell of foliage and flowers. It's an unexpected escape within a forest that feels full of surprises and is just one of the incredible walks around the Shannon area that seem to transport you into a blissful otherworld.
The Acres Lake Boardwalk Trail
Bursting with vivid greenery, and with a mix of rippling waters and glassy canals, the Shannon Blueway is an incredible place to immerse yourself in the calm beauty of nature. If you're short on time, take a stroll on the Acres Lake Floating Boardwalk. Known locally as "the snake in the lake", this walk-on-water experience is perfect for getting a sense of the local wildlife and beauty… it's only 600m long, so if you're after a longer walk, continue on for a further 8km, taking in Drumleague Lock – the second deepest on the Shannon Navigation – and picturesque Battlebridge, before reaching busy little Leitrim Village. It's an incredibly satisfying route; with the Shannon on one side and the canal on the other, you're surrounded by a quiet idyll of overhanging trees, low canal banks and still reeds. Shorter walks to Drumhauver Bridge and Drumleague Lock are also good options.
Lough Key Forest Park
Walking trails edged with wildflowers, fragrant woodland paths, huge emerald-coloured lawns – Lough Key Forest Park is a wonderland of amazing walks, beautiful lake views and an abundance of historic treasures. Having been granted to the King family from the previous ruling McDermotts in the 17th century, Lough Key evolved into a place of mansions and gate lodges, fairy bridges and a landscaped park that was designed to have a natural feel to it. It's a fabulous place to spend a day getting lost amongst the bluebells, wood sorrel and yellow iris and wandering into a woodland of Scots pine, Sitka spruce and the awesome western red Cedar. Take your time and take it all in.
This pleasant woodland walk is not too arduous at only 2.5km, but it brings you through glorious woodland and alongside Lough Boderg so what it lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty. The woodland itself is a delightful mix of beech, oak, holly, Sitka spruce and Lawson cypress and the remains of an ice house can be seen along the shore.
Carrick-on-Shannon Heritage Walk
A great way of getting to know Carrick-on-Shannon is on the heritage walk. Drop into the tourist office at the Old Barrel Store for a map and off you go… This self-guided tour brings you along Quay Street and St George's Terrace before heading up the ominously named Gallow's Hill. From here the trail leads up towards Summerhill where Carrick-on-Shannon's old workhouse can be found. Walk around the back of what is now the hospital and you'll see the old building where the deaths of 1,869 people were recorded. Most of them were buried in an unmarked site just in front of the hospital where there is now a Famine graveyard memorial.
Ireland's longest waymarked way takes in the Miners Way and Historical Trail (118km) and The Leitrim Way (48km). With the Miners Way, you'll find that Crossna to Boyle is a particularly enjoyable off-road section that weaves around the secluded, 19th century Cloontykilta Castle (which was designed by the same architect who designed Buckingham Palace) and the dense, natural wonderland of Lough Key Forest Park… The Leitrim Way, meanwhile, starts in Drumshanbo and links with the Cavan Way at Dowra, with a stunning route along the east side of Lough Allen.