When Keith and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year, we wanted to do something big. And something different.
We’ve actually traveled quite a bit in our lives, heading to Kenya for a missions trip three times, and doing lots of cruises. I also spent some time in Europe as a teenager.
But there was one place I’ve always wanted to go: Ireland. And we decided that for our 25th anniversary, we’d head there. I find it actually harder to convince myself to take vacations now that we’re empty nesters; with the kids gone, it’s like we’re together all the time anyway. Why would we need to go away? That thinking is a huge mistake, though! We always need to create memories. And for a big anniversary, it’s good to try to plan something extra special.
Our trip had been in the works for about a decade, and as the time got closer, we tried to figure out exactly what we wanted to do in Ireland. I remembered my mother talking about a walking tour she took in England about 20 years ago, and I wondered if there was such a thing as a walking tour in Ireland. So I Googled it.
And we found Hillwalk Tours! As I read the description, I said to myself, “this is what I always wanted to do without knowing such a thing existed!” We had such fun with them I asked them sponsor a post so I could tell you all about it.
What Hillwalk Tours does is organizes SELF-GUIDED walking tours.
You don’t have to go with a bunch of strangers. You don’t have to be held up by anyone else. But you do get to walk!
It’s the coolest thing. Each day you walk between 10-25 km, depending on whether you’re doing the Gentle or Moderate hikes. The tour company provides you with extremely detailed maps of where to walk (complete with suggestions for where to stop along the way, where to eat, and where to shop), and then books you in with a B&B. Each day, the B&B drives your luggage to the NEXT B&B, and you just hike! It’s super simple. You can also choose how many days you go for–we did 6, and we chose to stay an extra day in the middle in an interesting town. But you can do 4-10 day hikes in most places.
I just love the idea of a walking tour. I spend my days at a computer screen. So while cruises are nice and luxurious, I really have been craving vacations that are more active (and less expensive!). And I don’t like the hustle and bustle of the city. I like actually seeing the country. The walking tour was perfect. We got to talk a ton, we saw gorgeous sights, and we got a lot of exercise!
We chose the Antrim tour, along the northern coast of Ireland (which happens to be where Game of Thrones is filmed, so we were passing Game of Thrones tour buses everywhere!) We even went on the rope bridge that the series made famous (Here’s Keith waving!)
One of the highlights of the tour was Rathlin Island, a small island with a huge seabird colony (Keith’s a big bird watcher!).
We saw puffins!
One day we walked mostly through a town, and then spent a bit of time in a forest before emerging in the next small village.
Other days we were along a beach, and then finally we ended up in the Giant’s Causeway walk, which was along the cliff.
The Giant’s Causeway is a super interesting natural formation, that looks like cobblestones for giants.
When we were taking the big trail near the Giant’s Causeway, you could see who was approaching you. If it ever looked like an older couple was going to overtake us, we’d just pause and pretend we were intently talking photos, rather than that we were a little bit out of shape!
We’re fairly healthy, though we don’t exercise much at home. But we found we could handle the moderate hike no problem.
I definitely will do this again.
A self-guided walking tour was my favourite vacation we’ve ever taken, just because it was so different.
And I think it would work great doing it with a baby or toddler in a backpack carrier, too. Much better than sitting on a beach, because they’d have stuff to do and things to look at!
The B&Bs we stayed in were comfortable, and the breakfasts were always amazing and huge! We brought a lot of granola and healthy, snacky foods from home to be our lunches, and then we’d eat a huge dinner. So we didn’t end up spending a ton on food. And the vacation itself was fairly inexpensive, likely the cheapest European vacation I can think of. Right now, the American dollar is pretty much on par with the euro, so it’s a great time to travel.
And, of course, Keith got some wonderful bird pictures (you can see all his Ireland bird pics here).
And we saw other wildlife as well!
We also saw a bunch of Irish castles (or at least the ruins of some). Here’s Dunluce Castle, which was special to us, because it’s where C.S. Lewis spent a lot of his boyhood, and it’s the inspiration for Cair Paravel in the Narnia series.
Hillwalk Tours offers Irish vacations, both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, as well as self-guided walking tours in England, Scotland, and Spain. You can begin any day you want–it’s really flexible. We chose May because it was the least rainy season and it was relatively warm (though we were in sweaters most of the time).
Yes, you can save up money and go to an all-inclusive resort for your anniversary. And I’ve done that before. But you can also spend a lot less money and have an honest-to-goodness adventure! We saw so much of the countryside of Ireland, and the breathtaking views along the coast, and we explored it with the maps and information they gave us, but on our own time.
Keith felt like a real man navigating the directions through the town and the forest one day (it honestly wasn’t that hard; they’re really detailed), but it was much more fun than being driven somewhere. You’re honestly exploring! And you can do it all at your own pace.
And then we had the evenings just to relax together. I already know the next one we’re doing is the West Highland Way in Scotland! I don’t know when we’ll get there, but it’s on my list. And I can hardly wait!
What interesting, out-of-the-box trips have you done as a couple? Let’s talk in the comments!