Back to nature adventures in the wild boost tourism

Forget adrenaline-packed holidays full of mountain biking, kayaking and rock climbing, slow adventures are the new rage, with everything from mushroom foraging to cheesemaking and bushcraft experiences on offer.

The founders of small eco trail companies believe that people are sick of “quick trips for Instagram pics” and are hoping to convince more visitors to take time to stop and smell the hogweed.

Kevin and Julie Hickey
Kevin and Julie Hickey share their cheese secrets at Tamnagh Foods

While many tour companies have long been offering walking and hiking tours, some are now adding schnapps making classes, wild herb workshops and overnight fungi foraging to their list of activities.

Next month Fáilte Ireland will bring together food producers to devise a travel experience for Ireland’s ancient east, which will direct tourists to local farms and cafés. A new slow adventure concept will also be launched in Northern Ireland next week to encourage those looking for a weekend break to sign up for a cheese tour or an afternoon of salmon fishing.

“No smartphones or tablets allowed when you arrive here,” Mary White, founder of Blackstairs Eco Trails in Co Carlow, said. “I collect and stash them all in a drawer until lunchtime and no amount of begging or fidgeting is going to change that.”

Mrs White, a former Green Party TD, started the company six years ago after realising that there was a lack of opportunities for people who wanted to “turn off and tune in”. Some of her most popular offerings are day-long foraging adventures for hen parties, complete with champagne breakfasts in the garden. Guests can expect to leave with a variety of homemade items, including nettle pesto, wild rowan berry schnapps, rose petal ice cream and pine needle oil.

“A lot of visitors have complained to us that they went to visit the Cliffs of Moher or the Dingle Peninsula and they spent longer in a queue than they did enjoying the scenery. When you come here you immerse yourself in nature and you take the time to notice things about the landscape that you never have before,” she said. “We do everything slowly, from the walking to the cooking. It is the complete antithesis of quick trips for Instragram pics.”

Nathan Kingerlee, founder of Outdoors Ireland in Co Kerry, has devised a day-long getaway for those looking to attain some of the skills of adventurers such as Bear Grylls but who are not interested in the stress of surviving in the wild.

His bushcraft classes teach the basics of building a shelter, foraging for food and starting a fire while also providing time to “chill out” with nature.

“It is all about thriving rather than surviving,” Mr Kingerlee said. “Bushcraft is for people who want to be outdoors, are comfortable being a little wet and are looking to upskill in specific areas like using the sun rather than your GPS.”

The Northern Ireland project was launched as part of the Slow Adventure in the Northern Territories (SAINT) programme, a three-year partnership to promote adventures in Scotland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, with Co Derry and Co Tyrone being the first in Ireland to come on board.

“Lots of people wanted to know how we make ash-coated or beer-washed cheese and we weren’t going to hide our cheese secrets from them,” Kevin Hickey, co-founder of Tamnagh Foods, a Derry cheese company, said.

Mr Hickey and his wife Julie will offer their cottage in the Sperrin Mountains to visitors looking to explore the world of cheesemaking. They produce blue, long-aged, alpine, ash-coated and beer-washed cheese.

“Of course we spend just as much time tasting as we do touring, so guests might not be artisan producers when they leave but their stomachs will be satisfied,” Mr Hickey added.

Anne Speers, owner of Finn Valley Cottages in Strabane, Co Tyrone, offers her guests a day of deer stalking or salmon fishing near the River Mourne.

Prices for deer stalking start at £300 (€329), and the cost of shooting a deer ranges from £500 to £5,000 (€548 to €5,482) depending on the size and number of antlers. The day begins an hour before dawn and ends an hour after dusk, with a break for lunch. Participants should ensure that they have a decent aim because if they miss their shot three times they will have to pay a higher fee.

“It is quite a skilled job and takes a lot of local knowledge to get a person to the position where they have a clear shot of the animal,” Ms Speers said.

“Many people do go out with the aim of shooting a deer, but it is really about being present in the woods and using all your senses to listen carefully.”

Guide to a perfect rural weekend
For the perfect slow adventure, why not begin with an afternoon of foraging in Birr, Co Offaly, with Mary Bulfin, a chef and mountain walk leader (Catherine Sanz writes).

Ms Bulfin can take guests on a mushroom adventure, which she claims are the “sexy offerings”, but she also loves teaching people to make their own homemade elderberry syrup, a natural defence against the flu.

You could then spend the night in one of the cosy yurts at the Crann Óg eco farm in Co Galway, complete with a woodburning stove and “romantic” tent decor.

The centre supplies eco-friendly shampoo and solar lighting at night, but be warned, it is a no technology zone.

North of the border, start your slow adventure in Co Tyrone with a long day of fly salmon fishing along the Mourne before spending the night at one of the cosy Finn Valley Cottages.

In the morning, explore the oyster beds along the Foyle estuary in Co Derry. Local experts with the Wild Strands group will take you to taste and touch the oysters, seaweed, and other wild ingredients before helping you to prepare lunch, with beer supplied by James Huey, a master brewer from the Walled City Brewery in Derry.