Watson sniffs out a great mini-break in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

Sunrise and sunset are the two most magical times of the day, especially when you are right in the heart of Ireland. They provided the perfect book ends to nature-filled days on Watson the Adventure Dog’s mini-break through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

Watson’s all time favourite place is the great outdoors; he found plenty to uncover as he travelled the length of the majestic River Shannon from picturesque Portumna and on to the stunning rural landscapes of North Cavan.

Read on for some of the must-see sites and activities Watson discovered through Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and plan your own unforgettable getaway with your dog in this region full of hidden gems.

Paddling the River Shannon

Gently floating in the slow-moving waters of the River Shannon as the sun slowly rises is one of those “wow” experiences. Watson set off in the bow of his canoe from Portumna Bridge as the crisp, fresh dawn opened into a beautiful morning. A spot of paddling is the perfect way to experience the majestic watery world of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and you will have literally hundreds of places to choose from all along the waterways.

Portumna Castle & Gardens

By the shores of Lough Derg, the impressive face of Portumna Castle casts a shadow on the peaceful lawns. It’s more like a big fortified mansion than a Norman-style castle with plenty of exhibits to show how the aristocracy lived 300 years ago. You could easily spend a few hours in the gardens alone as there’s a lot to see from the Willow Maze to the “potager” gardens, which were designed to feed everyone in the castle and have been beautifully restored to their original splendour. Dogs aren’t allowed into the castle, but Watson enjoyed the gardens on his lead while his owners took turns to have a peek inside.

Lough Ree, Lanesborough, Co. Longford

Watson eager to explore Lough Ree
Watson eager to explore Lough Ree

As the second largest lake on the Shannon waterway, Lough Ree is the ideal spot for a peaceful morning spent sipping tea, watching the sun climb high in the sky and playing fetch with your four-legged friend. Studded with islands, Lough Ree is a realm of saints, high kings, fallen warriors and its very own sea monster. Its nickname is the “Lake of Kings” as the Irish name for king is rí. But it is more likely to be named after Saint Rioch who set up one of the many monasteries on the lake’s numerous islands.

Lough Ree's monster is reputed to be six feet long. It’s not as big as Scotland's 'Nessie', but there have been several “sightings” and many suspicious bumps on passing cruisers reported. The water was a bit nippy for prolonged sea-monster chasing, but Watson was happy to lead the way on a brisk walk along the spectacular Coosan Point.

Portlick Millenium Forest, Co. Westmeath

Another memorable place Watson uncovered on his trip is the quietly beautiful Portlick Millennium Forest. Dogs and owners alike will feel refreshed after a few hours exploring this wonderful wooded park along the glades and farmlands of the Whinning peninsula with views of Lough Ree. The gnarled roots and broad, delicate leaves of our native deciduous trees will take you back to an ancient time. At 5km, the trail is a nice distance for an entire afternoon’s walking – but shorter treks are also available.

Saint’s Island, Lough Ree, Co. Longford

Watson on Saint’s Island
Watson on Saint’s Island

Saint’s Island is yet another monastery in Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands that you can reach through a series of winding country roads. This otherworldly place in the heart of Longford became one of the most important islands on Lough Ree when Saint Kieran founded a monastery there in 544.

Even though technically an island, it is linked to the mainland by a narrow 1km causeway that Watson loved running down. The walk is spectacular in itself, but so is the destination. It’s easy to see why the monks came here - this remote sanctuary is a wonderfully peaceful and spiritual spot to get away from it all.

Glencar Lough and Waterfall, Co. Leitrim

Travelling on to County Leitrim, Watson explored the edge of Glencar Lough watching its waters shimmer by the rocky jetty. This view is a true picture of the serenity you’ll find throughout Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. There are also plenty of beautiful spots on the other side of the lake to uncover with a waterfall you can reach through a moss-covered wonderland - perfect for a picnic.

It was on his walk around Glencar that WB Yeats found inspiration for his famous poem – “The Stolen Child”.

He describes it perfectly:

Where the wandering water gushes 

From the hills above Glencar 

In pools among the rushes, 

That scarce could bathe a star

Cavan Burren Park, Co. Cavan

Cavan Burren Park, Co. Cavan
Cavan Burren Park, Co. Cavan

There are five unique walking trails at Cavan Burren Park as well as an interpretative centre to explain the extraordinarily deep history of this place that has stood still in time for thousands of years. Watson spent several hours exploring the trails throughout the park which is regarded as one of the finest prehistoric relict landscapes in Ireland.

You can even see fossils embedded in limestone and the coral of a tropical sea from 340 million years ago. Glaciers carved out the local landscape of this prehistoric wonderland during the last Ice Age after which, in relatively recent times, humans arrived and built the megalithic tombs and stone walls still visible today. 

You can look up more memorable holiday break options across Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands. Why not unearth your own tranquil “staycation’ on the region’s many walking tracks and trails?

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