In the first of what we hope will become an occasional series highlighting great trail runs reader and proud Raheny Shamrocks member Brian Christensen guides us around the Howth Cliff Run, near Dublin in Ireland. Do you have a great trail run you’d like to share?  Email us on editorial@therunningreview.com and tell the world why the should abandon the roads!

This run in Howth is arguably the best in Dublin north of the Liffey, and is certainly my favourite. Sure, the Phoenix Park has it’s moments and the deer, but the scenery on this run in Howth is unparalleled, rivalled in parts only by the West of Ireland.

Our start / end point - Howth DART station. Pictured (L-R) David O'Hara, Gerry Brady, Brian Christensen, Michael King.

Starting in Howth village, the run is divided up into 4 distinct quarters (as named by me!): Howth, the Cliff Quarter, the Garden Quarter and Sutton.  Beginning outside Howth DART station we pass along the coast front with it’s associated tourists. At the end of this road we veer right, which rises and brings us up to Balscadden car park. The end of the car park marks the start of the trail and the second segment – The Cliff Quarter.

Coming up the cliff face with Balscadden Bay and Howth harbour in the background

It rises immediately, there are no easy introductions here! This segment is stark, dramatic and at points there is literally 2 feet between you and a sheer 50m drop to the sea. You feel exposed and vulnerable, but the views are breathtaking. The terrain is tough and constantly challenging. It’s recommended to take a couple of breaks, not so much to rest as to take in the views, as we must constantly monitor our foot placing on the trail which means we might not be able to embrace our surroundings fully. The Cliff Quarter segment is ~2 miles long, and leads onto the next segment, which I call the Garden Quarter. The border is around the Baily lighthouse, which this trail brings us very close to. Rounding the corner we see Dublin harbour and city come into view. Although the vista is similarly amazing, this ~2 mile stretch is lined with shrubbery and at times we are running past people’s back gardens, which has its charm. This segment is slightly more rolling in profile and even brings us down to the beach towards the end. On our run the trail lining was recently cut back by the council, which makes for more comfortable and less-claustrophobic running. The trail will therefore be in great shape for the rest of the Summer at least.

The last segment is Sutton which leads us finally back to Howth village as we cut through Offington estate, our starting point. The full loop is just under 8 miles long. Don’t get disenchanted if your GPS watch is showing a slow time, anecdotally my pace is ~1 min/mile slower than a similar perceived effort on the flat. Also be vigilant of the underfoot conditions, a twisted ankle awaits the careless runner!

Map of the route

On the trail, the trick is to stay as far towards the coast as possible, it’s very hard to get lost. There’s a tricky point just at the Baily lighthouse, when you come to the paved road take a left and a quick right. Off the trail at the Sutton end, run straight past Sutton Dinghy club. At the next junction take a sharp right and then left into Offington estate, which shortens the route somewhat. Exiting Offington take a right which leads you straight back into Howth village.

Rounding the cliff corner ca. 1.6m into the run

Tips: for runners with significant (non-running) others, a trip on a Sunday is advised, when their partner can entertain themselves on the pier and can browse the Sunday market. For some excellent post run nutrition, I highly recommend upstairs in the Country Market café, located right of the Church in Howth village.

Many thanks to Fiachra Crean (Boards AC) for the pictures, and my running companions on the day: Gerry Brady (Clonliffe Harriers AC), Michael King and David O’Hara.

Brian is a recreational runner with Raheny Shamrock AC and can be contact at brianhc at gmail dot com

Panorama of the 4th mile

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