Howth is a large rocky peninsula to the north of Dublin, only about 15km (9 miles) from the city centre. While some of it has become a rather up-market suburb of Dublin, there is still a lot of undeveloped land, with wild heath, rocky coastline and some woodland. There are a number of marked walking trails around Howth. All of these start from the train station in the village of Howth which is on the north side of the peninsula. This entry describes the longest of these trails, the Purple Cliff Walk Trail 2D which is known in much of the documentation as the Bog of Frogs Loop.
The route is 12.5km (7.8 miles) long and should take about 3½ to 4 hours including plenty of stops to admire the spectacular views. The trail is rough underfoot and involves some climbing up steps so it is not suitable for wheelchairs or people who are unsteady on their feet. Suitable footwear would be runners/sneakers or hiking boots. There are many sections of the trail where there are steep cliffs just beside the path - it is therefore not suitable for small children unless they are particularly well behaved and careful.
Howth village can be reached by car, bus or train. There's free parking at weekends around the harbour, but be warned, this is a very popular destination for day-trippers at the weekend, particularly in the summer. If you're not there before 10am, all the free spaces will be gone. There can be queues of cars literally miles long into the village and you may be stuck in the queue for up to an hour, only to find nowhere to park when you get there. You won't have the parking problem if you arrive by bus, but you will still have to endure the traffic queues.
The best way to Howth, therefore, is by train. The Dublin suburban railway known as the DART1 has a service into Howth (which is the terminus) from the centre of Dublin and from anywhere along the east coast. Trains are not particularly frequent at weekends, being only once an hour on Sunday mornings for example, so you should check the timetable and be sure not to miss your train.
The village is a pretty one clustered around the harbour. It is one of the main fishing ports of Ireland so there are plenty of restaurants serving fish, and lots of other restaurants with just about any sort of food imaginable as well as many good coffee shops. Frequently there are festivals on the green beside the harbour at weekends in the summer.
All distances are given here from the start of the route, at the DART station. If you have a smartphone that can measure the distance you've walked, it will help in following these instructions.
The first part of the route is along roads. Once the trail leaves the road, it is marked by posts with a purple arrow on them. Note that there are other trails around Howth which are marked on the same posts but with different coloured arrows.
The purple arrows are positioned for doing the loop in the way it is presented here, in a clockwise direction; they only point in this direction. If you want to do the trail in reverse, you will have to navigate yourself. The posts will tell you that you are on the trail but won't indicate which way you should go.
Start the trail at the DART train station and head east, with the sea on your left. Stay on the road closest to the coast. At 1.8km, you reach a small car park. There's a map here of the trail - if you've a smartphone or digital camera it is worth taking a photo of the map, as it is more detailed than maps you can find on the web.
At the far end of the car park, the trail becomes a footpath over rough ground, and you will be off-road for the rest of the trail. The marker posts start at this point. This part of the trail is shared with other coloured trails. You start out heading east along the north side of the peninsula. The terrain is rough heather, and there are steep drops on your left down to the sea. To the north you can see the small island of Ireland's Eye just north of the harbour, and the bigger Lambay Island in the distance.
After a few hundred metres, the path passes the headland called the Nose of Howth and the coast bends around to the south.
At 4.3km, you reach a junction. Three arrows (red, blue and green) point up the hill - there's a car park just a few hundred metres up that direction known as the Summit Car Park. The route you must take, however, is the one straight on, indicated by a single purple arrow. At this stage you should be able to see the Baily Lighthouse on a promontory to the left.
The next section passes the lighthouse. The terrain changes - the path becomes a narrow way between fences with lots of shrubbery. As you come around the corner of the headland you get views of Dublin Bay to the south, and the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains to the south of the city.
- At 7.3km, you pass a little cove, where you might like to go down and paddle or throw stones into the sea.
At 7.9km, the path descends onto a beach. Soon after this, it climbs up again, and then descends a very steep set of steps at a place known as Red Rock, where the rocky outcrop is indeed red. Very soon after this, there is a grassy area and you can see a low stone tower ahead. This is a Martello tower, one of a set of defensive towers built throughout the British Empire during the Napoleonic War in case Napoleon decided to invade. The purple trail does not go to the tower but turns sharply to the right and leaves the coast, cutting across the centre of the peninsula to return to the starting point.
Keep a careful eye out for marker posts over the next stretch, as the path zigzags. At 9.0km, you cross Carrickbrack Road and start to climb. Next the path crosses the golf course of Howth Golf Club. This is a right-of-way across private land, so you must keep to the marked path and follow the white stones across the golf course. Out of respect for the golfers, be quiet on this section of the walk.
Once across the golf course, the path enters a small wood, with the steep Ben of Howth, the highest point of the peninsula, on your right. After a while there is a fork in the path and you take the right path, which is clearly signposted. On the left over the next half kilometre or so is a marshy area known as the Bog of Frogs. You'll be lucky if you see or hear any frogs though, but they do live there.
After the Bog of Frogs, at 10.6km, the path climbs across a heathery area and then turns left at a signposted junction. You are now starting your descent towards the end of the trail, through pleasant woodland. There's one more clearly marked place where you must turn left.
At 11.3km, the path enters a small housing estate, and then descends the hill at the left side of the housing estate. This is the path of an old hill tramline which in the 19th and early 20th Centuries climbed from the train station up as far as the Summit Car Park and then returned along the south side of the peninsula.
At 12.3km, you reach the end of the tramline. The path does a sudden turn to the left, and you can see where there used to be a bridge across the road in front of you, to carry the tram across. The buttress that supported the bridge is still visible on the other side of the road. There are shallow steps down to the road. At the road, turn right and you are back at the railway station and the end of the trail, having walked 12.5 kilometres.
There are plenty of places to get refreshments in the village, including a good market almost immediately on your right.