Trail: Slieve Foye Loop, Co. Louth
Terrain: Tarmac, forestry roads, grassy track and mountain paths
Duration: 2-3 hours
Trailhead: Tourist Office Carpark
Recommended Gear: Hiking boots, rain jacket, water, snacks, phone
A short walking break is one of the best ways to rejuvenate the mind and body, and discover new sights and things to do with your friends and family.
The Cooley Peninsula area in County Louth is ideal for just that. The mighty peaks of the Cooley Mountains will have you feeling dwarfed and eager to get exploring. And while the area is full of amazing natural beauty, there is also so much rich history and lore to discover.
Legend has it that when you’re standing on Slieve Foye, you are actually standing on the giant Finn McCool. The story goes that McCool, the Giant of Summer, exhausted himself after battling Ruscaire, and lay down with his head rested on the mountain top and his feet in the Lough. According to the legend, he never woke and his body turned to rock.
The charming medieval village of Carlingford is in the heart of the Cooley Peninsula, at the foot of Slieve Foye and overlooking the Mourne mountains. A hidden gem with breathtaking scenery, a rich history, terrific pubs and restaurants and a web of hikes and trails in the hills and mountain surrounds. This is where our chosen trail begins.
The Slieve Foye Loop winds along the slopes of Slieve Foye – the highest peak on the Cooley Peninsula.
At 8km long, this trail will take 2/3 hours to complete in full depending on pace, meandering through forest track, over bridges and streams and of course taking in stunning views of Carlingford Lough below.
The town of Carlingford is easily reached via the M1 connecting Dublin and Belfast, which means you can easily get there from the close by towns Dundalk and Drogheda as well. Exit the M1 onto the R173 and continue onto the R175. Then, turn onto the R176 and continue until you reach the town. The car park is located just off the Dundalk Road opposite Carlingford Priory, so your trek begins in the town. From there, you follow the blue arrows to navigate the trail.
The trail itself
This Slieve Foye Loop walk brings you up to the mountains over the charming coastal town of Carlingford for some stunning views of Ireland’s Ancient East.
The carpark is equipped with public toilets and if you’re lucky you may happen upon a food truck or two (we grabbed an ice cream for the road the day we took the trail).
You’ll start at the Tourist Office carpark and meander through the village itself, admiring all the quaint and quirky alleyways (and plotting your post-walk feed) as you go.
As you begin your ascent, you’ll start walking through rich woodland, along the forest edge and open mountain, and there are plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the fabulous sights, sounds and smells.
It’s at Goylin Pass that you start getting to an elevation where the stunning views of the village come into play.
If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, look across the lake at this point to see the Mourne Mountains rising up in front of you – the landscape that inspired CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Describing the scenery, he said: “it made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge" which perfectly sums up the pure magic of this view.
Continue on up the Forest Avenue and you’ll come across Golden River Bridge – a great place to stop and imagine the stories of Faeries and Leprechauns, both officially protected species in this area.
It’s said that Slieve Foye Mountain is home to the Last Leprechauns of Ireland, and as your eyes follow the babbling streams winding their way down the mountain, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine a little green hat popping out from behind a stone.
There is some uphill walking from here but the summit ahead serves as great inspiration. When you reach the top, take a few moments to appreciate the views. You’ll of course see Carlingford Lough, and also Haulbowline Lighthouse if the day is clear. Beyond that along the horizon, you’ll spot the Isle of Man.
From here, as you begin your descent, you’ll come across some rockier terrain and stream beds – meaning the ground can get a little soggy and you’ll be thankful for your sturdy boots! As you continue to descend you’ll see the towering forest avenue ahead of you once more, taking you back down to Goylin’s Pass to take in the views one last time before continuing to follow the blue arrows into the village for a well-deserved post-walk feed.
In terms of places to stay during your few days in Carlingford, there are loads of options.
Carlingford Adventure Centre has a large selection of self-catering holiday homes and hostel-style group accommodation to rent. It’s perfect for exploring the historical town as well as trying all the fantastic activities available in the adventure centre.
Staying at Carlingford Adventure Centre means you have access to their sports hall, a common room with a log fire, free Wi-Fi, a volleyball court and a games room complete with a pool table, table tennis and other games. They also have a 24-hour reception.
Meanwhile, Ghan House has a variety of different rooms available for your stay in Carlingford. They have 12 bedrooms in total including four rooms in the main house and eight garden bedrooms located just ten yards from the main house.
The 18th Century Georgian house is just off Old Quay Lane, 50 metres from the centre of Carlingford.
With its two acres of walled gardens and fine views of Slieve Foye Mountain, Mourne Mountains and Carlingford Lough, it really makes for a perfect spot to unwind after a long day of walking and exploring.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Carlingford is also a great option for your few days in the area.
The hotel has standard rooms, family rooms, deluxe rooms, family deluxe rooms and superior rooms, so no matter how big or small your group is, there’s probably a perfect room for you.
When staying here you’ll also get access to the luxury spa and leisure centre, which includes an 18m swimming pool, gym, sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. That’s really not a bad way to relax the body after all of your walking.
Carlingford: Known for being one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Ireland, Carlingford has so much to do and see during your trip away. For history buffs, there is plenty to be learned. It's even thought that Vikings settled here at one stage. Since it sits on Carlingford Lough at the foot of Slieve Foye and across from the Mourne mountains, there is water sports, outdoor activities and amazing sightseeing in Carlingford.
Drogheda: Drogheda is another example of a medieval town in County Louth where you can wander through time exploring ancient gates and walls, battlegrounds and houses while also enjoying the fantastic adventure opportunities and nightlife.
As well as the Slieve Foye Loop, Carlingford has plenty for you and your pals to discover, including walking tours of the historical town, water sports on Carlingford Lough and lots of other fantastic adventures.
If you’re fancying a bit of history, there are walking tours of Carlingford, one of Ireland’s best-preserved medieval towns. Local guides will share the stories, legends and history of this enchanting area. Tours can be tailored depending on the group.
Located in a beautifully restored medieval gothic church is Carlingford’s Heritage Centre, where visitors can learn all about the development of the town from its Norman origins.
Banana boating is such a laugh and definitely worth a go. After boarding the banana on the beach at Carlingford Marina, a jet ski will pull a group of up to six brave souls around the Lough while you all hang on for dear life.
Once you're done with all of your walking and activities, you'll all probably be starving and/or parched. Luckily, Carlingford has some brill cafés, restaurants and pubs for you to discover.
Ruby Ellen’s Tea Rooms on Newry Street is a cute little spot for some tea, coffee and wholesome food.
Everything here is homemade and they only use the best ingredients. They use free-range eggs for everything they bake, and they also have a selection of healthy salads and snacks at their counter.
It's also a really good spot for breakfast, which they serve until noon. They serve everything from granola, pastries, pancakes and of course, full Irish breakfasts.
The Bay Tree Restaurant in Belvedere House B&B on Newry Street is a favourite among locals and holidaymakers and serves simple yet delicious meals like steaks, salads, roast chicken and various seafood dishes.
And we're not the only ones that think this spot is fab. The Bay Tree Restaurant was featured in the UK & Ireland Michelin Guide 2016 and was the Leinster Winner of the Best Restaurant award every year from 2012 until 2017.
If you fancy trying some of the local seafood, Magee’s Bistro on Tholsel Street is a great spot. Its decor and semi-open kitchen create a nice modern vibe and they've got a fabulous selection of seasonal grub.
If you're on a health buzz while on your trip, Wild Wood Café in Viewpoint B&B is a great shout as they specialise in wholesome, nutritious grub.
For somewhere to chill with a nice cold drink before you hit the hay is The Carlingford Arms which is super warm and welcoming. They have a stun cocktail lounge called The Loft, which has a fab menu full of our favourite concoctions.
For spectacular sights, invigorating sensations and unforgettable experiences, make your next short break a walking break in Ireland's Ancient East. Before you go, make sure you check out our 10 Genuinely Useful Tips For Going Hiking In Ireland to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable walk.
It’s always important to be respectful of the wildlife and surrounding environment, so make sure to leave the trail as you found it. Visit leavenotraceireland.org for more information.