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21/09/2021

BIG READ: Clonmel has the potential to become the ‘Trekking Capital of Ireland’

Fergal O'Keeffe writing in this week's Nationalist

Tipperary Tipperary Tipperary

Thoughts?

I have always loved walking. The simple act of putting one foot after the other and freeing the mind of all superfluous thoughts.

The peaceful state achieved when surrounded by nature.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche memorably once said that “only thoughts reached by walking have value” and I tend to agree.

I have trekked all over the world from Patagonia, Nepal, Kilimanjaro, New Zealand and Machu Picchu to the Alps.

I love that wondrous feeling of a tired body but content mind from sustained exertion after a long day hiking. There is something spiritual about walking in the mountains, when surrounded by a cathedral of peaks, and breathing in pure mountain air.

We are blessed in Clonmel to be surrounded by mountain ranges that offer world-class trekking opportunities which could enable Clonmel to become the capital of trekking tourism in Ireland.

With Government and local support, Clonmel has the potential to become a world-renowned trekking mecca like Chamonix in France, Queenstown in New Zealand or Pokhara in Nepal.

We have the natural resources at our feet.

All we need is the imagination, will and support to make it happen. Clonmel is a walker’s paradise with stunning day walks like the Suir Blueway and Slievenamon and the town is blessed with the three mountain ranges of the Comeragh, Knockmealdown and Galtee Mountains and all within 30 minutes’ drive.

Clonmel is ideally situated at the foothills of the Comeraghs to become the trekking capital of Ireland.

My idea is that Clonmel becomes a trekking base for hikers at the start and finish of multi-day treks into the surrounding mountains.

Trekkers start in Clonmel and walk up into the Comeraghs where they can stay in mountain huts strategically located a day’s walk from each other around the Comeraghs, Knockmealdown and Galtee Mountains.

There could be a variety of routes from one to seven days where trekkers walk hut to hut whilst always staying in the mountains.

This is available all over the world from New Zealand to the Alps. The huts and trail infrastructure would be built and run by the Government, which will provide local jobs.

The huts must be of good quality with staff that provide dorm rooms, cooking facilities and camping facilities. Tourists book at a dedicated Trekking Office in Clonmel.

Examples of a walking routes could be Clonmel to Dungarvan over the Comeraghs, Clonmel to Lismore over the Comeraghs and Knockmealdowns and Clonmel over the Comeraghs and joining up with the St Declan’s Way to Ardmore.

The longest route could take you over all three ranges.

There are endless options that are as good as any of the great walks around the world.

The key to the plan is the hut experience in the mountains.

A bit like overnighting on an island after the tourist day-trippers leave.

It is a magical experience sleeping and waking up in the mountains and the huts are crucial for this. We will need the support of both our local and national Government, tourism bodies and the co-operation of the county council’s in Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick and Cork.

I have experienced this in places like Chamonix in the Alps where you spend time and money in the base town before and after the trek.

I vividly remember daydreaming about getting a good sleep in a soft hotel bed, a juicy steak dinner and a haircut and shave in Pokhara whilst walking for 20 days on the Annapurna circuit in the Nepalese Himalayas.

This trekking tourism supports shops, restaurants and accommodation providers to name just a few beneficiaries.

I have noticed other adventure activities providers always also spring up around this. For example, we could have canoeing and fishing on the Suir and mountain biking and paragliding in the mountains.

I was talking to a representative from the Spanish Tourist Board last week and she told me that their fastest growing tourist market is the Camino.

Trekking tourism has been growing in popularity every year for the last 10 years worldwide. But it is predicted this will grow at an even faster pace in the coming years, as tourists look to outdoor activities as a safer and healthier choice post Covid, away from the traditional packed Mediterranean beaches.

I was also talking last week about my idea to the great writer and walking enthusiast John G O’Dwyer who is synonymous with Irish walking books and the renewed development and popularity of pilgrim paths in Ireland, especially St Declan’s Way.

John is a great champion of Tipperary’s walking heritage and potential and he told me: “We should be targeting international walkers for Tipperary tourism.

“They are a perfect fit for the type of tourist we should be looking for because international research has shown they stay longer and spend more.

“The traditional tourist might come from Dublin and visit the Rock of Cashel and leave without spending any money locally.

“The walking tourist usually stays longer and spends time locally. The type of person that loves walking is also someone who usually appreciates all that rural life, and its people has to offer.”

I have been walking the mountains around Clonmel for 20 years and I never fail to get a warm glow inside when driving early in the evening from Cahir direction to Clonmel and seeing the sun set over our beautiful mountain scenery.

With the right Government support and local entrepreneurs, we can harness that natural beauty and grow a world-class outdoor tourist offering.

Fergal O’Keeffe is the host of Ireland’s No.1 Travel Podcast, Travel Tales with Fergal, which is a weekly interview series listened to in over 80 countries.

The Travel Tales are available on all podcast platforms and from traveltaleswithfergal.ie. Season 3 is coming very soon.

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