High summer season within the north-west nook of Eire and guess what? It was raining. Severely moist Atlantic rain that continued by way of the night time and bounced rhythmically off the corrugated roof of our conventional Donegal stone cottage. You’d assume it might be like attempting to sleep inside a tin can. However the 200-year-old constructing had just lately been renovated and the roof was impressively insulated; the downpours sounded nearly muted, like a jazz drummer enjoying with brushes.
Donegal Miki’s cotage
The following day we awoke to a day that would not have been extra of a distinction: flat calm, sunshine sharp, sprinklings of excessive cloud. We walked exterior to a scene that electrified the senses: the distinctive scent of seaweed drying within the inlet under; a wondrous vista out to a protracted bay that seemed prefer it was lit from inside. The one sound was a distant tractor on the single-track lane.
It’s for elemental experiences like these that individuals enterprise to this a part of Eire. An usually “forgotten county”, it’s better-known for its Irish language-speaking areas and, much less positively, inhospitable climate and lengthy historical past of deprivation and depopulation. But it has a number of the most shocking and spectacular locations to go to in the entire nation. Its very isolation is the purpose, and its strongest draw.
The Scandi-influenced inside. : Greg Stevenson
Near our vacation cottage – close to Lettermacaward in west Donegal – is Dooey Seashore, a sweeping 3km strand that even in July had hardly a footprint on it; an excellently waymarked but nearly abandoned scenic cycle loop that made an ideal three-hour peninsula stroll; and simply throughout the bay, on a again highway that hugged the headland south of Maghery, an excellent coastal drive that would have been the mannequin for the much-marketed Wild Atlantic Approach.
Additional afield, Donegal additionally boasts precipitous Slieve League, at 600 metres a number of the highest sea cliffs in Europe and nearly 3 times taller than the way more celebrated Cliffs of Moher; evocative Glenveagh nationwide park, with its baronial fort and luxuriant gardens inside fantastically barren uplands; and the Glencolmcille people museum, a cluster of thatched cottages arrange 50 years in the past by a dynamic native priest, offering a vivid image of neighborhood life and historical past.
The world can also be identified for handwoven textiles – guests ought to head to Studio Donegal in Kilcar for conventional tweeds and modern designs.
Slieve League, Donegal, are among the many highest cliffs in Europe. : Pierre Leclerc Images/Getty Photographs
It’s due to the cottage’s specific place and potential that its proprietor, Greg Stevenson, had his eye on the unoccupied constructing for a number of years. “I’d handed it many instances and thought the cottage seemed gray and actually unhappy – but additionally that I’d like to do it up,” he says, smiling. Stevenson is the proprietor of Below the Thatch, an organization that rescues, restores and renovates historic buildings then lets them as vacation houses – and he doesn’t draw back from a problem.
The six-month renovation entailed eradicating cement render inside and outside, pulling down an inside wall, including a lean-to extension and mezzanine loft, putting in new home windows and refurnishing all through.
With its untreated pinewood boards and abundance of Ikea furnishings and equipment, the constructing appears extra like a Scandinavian cabin than a draughty Irish cottage. But the property feels private, too. It’s embellished with a few of Stevenson’s assortment of curios – Catholic spiritual photographs, a big Lithuanian wood bowl, a hand-painted Danish grandfather clock – and named Miki’s Cottage after Stevenson’s 17-month-old son.
The constructing additionally has seven acres of land, a slim strip that stretches from a hillside forest all the way down to a small sandy seashore. “A cottage with its personal seashore: that was one other dream come true,” says 43-year-old Stevenson.
It’s not at all times so sunny on the Donegal coast, Philip Watson notes. : Greg Stevenson
Below the Thatch has been buying and selling in imaginative vacation lets since Stevenson arrange the corporate in 2001, at first round the place he was residing within the Aeron Valley in Ceredigion, west Wales. Stevenson was born in Warwickshire however studied and lectured in archaeology on the College of Wales, Lampeter. His ardour has at all times been for vernacular buildings and architectural historical past; he has additionally develop into a fluent Welsh speaker.
Delicate to the second-home subject in Wales, and dedicated to working a journey firm that’s sustainable and accountable, Stevenson has resolved to solely tackle properties which have been deserted, left derelict or thought of past native use – and to cost them in a manner which means they’re rented all yr spherical. By typically letting cottages for simply above value and as little as £35 an evening, adapting the worth to the variety of company, and never charging a premium in summer season, he says he has achieved occupancy charges of as much as 95%, twice that of different companies in Wales.
Greater occupancy means greater earnings and permits Stevenson to grasp his central ambition of bringing life again to a constructing – and doubtlessly to its local people. This course of has continued in Donegal, the place Stevenson says the issue of vacant second houses is non-existent; most Donegal households need trendy homes and bungalows and there may be sufficient land and planning permission to accommodate them.
The seashore at Miki’s. : Greg Stevenson
Since Below the Thatch’s early years, Stevenson has diversified – in Wales he took on a transformed prepare carriage and a collection of gypsy caravans, and he has overseen renovation initiatives starting from flats within the historic centre of Krakow to cave homes in Andalucía – and brought on an rising variety of “quirky and weird” cottages and homes, lots of which he has labored on, as an agent. Stevenson now owns 14 properties, with 5 for six extra launching this yr, and acts for one more 100 or extra throughout Europe.
He has additionally expanded into new builds, just lately launching “CroPod”, a two-person retreat constructed right into a hillside within the grounds of an current cottage he lets within the distant mountains of south-west Donegal; a delivery container cantilevered over a pond is because of launch later this yr. This weekend bookings will go stay for a shepherd’s hut known as Lakeside Luna, and a restored thatch cottage, Traighenna Bay, each close to Miki’s Cottage. In complete there might be 9 Donegal properties within the assortment. Having moved to Eire in 2008, he’s now as a lot a champion of Donegal as he was for west Wales – particularly of its outside (as Stevenson writes within the cottage’s customer notes: “My prime tip is to get out in any climate”).
The brand new CroPod retreat. : Greg Stevenson
One afternoon we went kayaking in close by Dungloe Bay with Hugh Boyle and Brian Roche from Maghery Coastal Adventures (adults €15, kids €10 for 2 hours), a not-for-profit neighborhood initiative that organises actions for locals and guests. The wind was up and the water uneven, however we had nice enjoyable kayaking over to the shoreline ruins of a 12th-century church and the one stone circle in west Donegal.
“Instantaneous entry to wilderness,” mentioned Brian, as we paddled out throughout the secluded bay, the vast Atlantic to our left, the distant cloud-capped peak of Mount Errigal inland to our proper. His phrases sum up Donegal – and Miki’s Cottage itself.
• Lodging was offered by Below the Thatch (0844 5005 101, underthethatch.co.uk); Miki’s Cottage sleeps 4 (two adults and two kids) and prices from £500 per week. For info on Donegal, see govisitdonegal.com