Caroline Allen worked in graphic design, accountancy and business innovation, before changing career to create The Ireland Way after developing a passion for hiking.
What journey did you take to arrive at where you are now?
Walking the Camino de Santiago in 2013 got me interested in hiking and provided the inspiration for The Ireland Way hiking trail, which I have spent the past three years working on. The guidebook, A Guide to Hiking the Ireland Way, was published in June 2017 and is now selling internationally. Currently, I am working on marketing and developing the Ireland Way brand and products.
Why are you doing what you are doing?
The Camino de Santiago was such an amazing experience for me that I thought Ireland should have one. The number of pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago has increased an average of 11% every year over the past ten years showing a growing interest in long-distance walking trails.
What’s your USP?
The USP of the Ireland Way is that it goes coast-to-coast the length of the island of Ireland. At over 900 kilometres long, it provides a challenge, an adventure and a journey. Moreover, it enables people to experience the heart of Ireland by meandering through towns, villages, farmland and mountains as well as interacting with local people. Walkers and cyclists can explore Ireland’s wonderful myths and legends, castles and ancient megalithic sites which are dotted all along the trail.
“Moreover, it enables people to experience the heart of Ireland by meandering through towns, villages, farmland and mountains as well as interacting with local people.”
How did you finance your journey?
So far I have financed the project myself but will apply for funding in the coming year to reach foreign markets and attract more walkers and cyclists to the trail. The Ireland Way passport launched recently with which walkers and cyclists can collect stamps along the trail. We have an amazing new graphic designer on the team who is developing our branding.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way?
Communities coming together to create something great has helped the most. The twenty stages that make up The Ireland Way have been under development for over ten years. Some are complete and well established and others are only being finished now. The Beara-Breifne Way, in particular, is one of the largest community-led projects ever undertaken in Ireland. It involved hundreds of volunteers, farmers, local organisations and county councils and is a testament to what can be achieved when communities work together.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would not do anything differently. As the project has grown, my skills have improved in many areas and I have learned a lot. I am happy for the Ireland Way brand to develop and evolve slowly and to a high quality rather than rush to market with an inferior product.
“Communities coming together to create something great has helped the most.”
Who inspires you in business?
I am not inspired by anyone in particular. I read about and listen to many different entrepreneurs. The Camino de Santiago is what inspired me to create a similar type of experience; in the form of a trail the length of Ireland & Northern Ireland. I want more people to have the kind of unforgettable hiking adventure that I had. A long challenging experience can give you stories to tell, a sense of achievement, personal growth and a feeling of gratefulness and appreciation towards those who you meet or have helped you on your journey.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to self-publish?
Self-publishing for me was fairly quick and easy but you have to put in the work. There was no waiting around for a publisher to ‘maybe’ get back to me. I was in full control of the book. I designed it, created the layout of every page, and researched printing companies to find one that would give me the best quality at the best price. Probably the most important thing to do whether you are going to self-publish or go the traditional route is to create a platform for your brand long before you publish your book. Pick a couple of social media channels and grow your following. I started the Ireland Way Instagram account over two years and had over nineteen thousand followers when I published the guidebook. This helped me to sell almost one-hundred books in the first month.