Dazzled by Donegal: an exercise break that’s huge, daring and good

The dialog began on the indoor climbing wall – an try to record the world’s wildest and most adventurous locations. New Zealand and British Columbia had been contenders, as was Newcastle on a Friday night time. Then Tim, who runs an moral out of doors gear firm known as Collect Outside, urged Eire. I considered that one. “Eire may be wild,” I mentioned, “nevertheless it’s not adventurous.”


“Donegal,” mentioned Tim. “Greatest cliffs in Europe. A great deal of sea stacks. Sandy seashores. Spectacular climbing, climbing, browsing, biking …”

“Vacation bungalow blight,” I sneered. “Infinite peat lavatory.”

However Tim was adamant. He put me in contact with Iain Miller, an adventurer who gave up crusing around the globe to settle in Donegal.

“There are vacation bungalows,” Iain agreed, “and a few ugly peat chopping, however a lot of the Donegal coast is wild and unknown. Isn’t requirement for actual journey?”

The seed was planted.

Adventurer and information Iain Miller on Cnoc na Mara. : Kevin Rushby for the Guardian

I took my 14-year-old daughter, Maddy. We’d test-drive each expertise we may discover. Might Donegal give you one thing really adventurous? The ferry to Dublin was adopted by a four-hour drive to the north-west of the nation, part of Ulster, however not in Northern Eire. We handed into the North, and out once more, sending up a silent prayer that the deserted border constructions would by no means be revived.

Grace and Sean of Macalla Cottage within the village of Crolly met us with heat scones, a pot of tea and proposals for dinner. We selected Leo’s Tavern, in neighbouring Meenaleck, a well-known music venue. On the bar, individuals had been chatting in Gaelic. A gaggle of locals had been enjoying playing cards. A teen banged out tunes on the piano. I obtained into dialog with Noel Brennan from folks band Clannad. A part of me needed to neglect all that speak of journey and sink into the nice and cozy convivial glow of the Irish pub, however dialogue had already begun. We had been beginning with the simple stuff: a stroll throughout the sands.

Kevin’s guide prepares to launch their dinghy at Cnoc na Mara.

Kevin’s information prepares to launch their dinghy at Cnoc na Mara. : Kevin Rushby for the Guardian

“The seaside by the airport is gorgeous,” mentioned the barman. “It’s so peaceable.”

Subsequent day we took a take a look at Carrickfinn seaside. I had imagined 747s screeching overhead however Donegal airport solely takes two small planes a day. We walked alongside white sand plagued by shells and clambered over granite outcrops, every one a misplaced Henry Moore masterpiece. The panorama was as curved and smooth as a well-worn tweed, no less than it was till we noticed the bungalows of Bunbeg over the estuary. Dotted throughout an impressive panorama they’re as welcome as a bout of the shingles, a field pox of the worst type. We turned away, then walked for miles. The seashores had been excellent. At Gweedore we discovered a restaurant and agreed that bungalow blight did exist, however could possibly be averted.

We lingered in Dunfanaghy​ to catch a band in a pub. The singer gave us a wave. ​It was Donald, our browsing trainer

If the primary day had scarcely registered on the journey scale, we had no less than discovered wildness. Subsequent day promised a bit extra. We drove north to the seaside city of Dunfanaghy, a lovely stone-built settlement centred on a sq. dotted with cafes, pubs, and the Jaws Watersports surf store. There we met surf teacher Donald. We drove a number of miles east to Marble Hill seaside and had espresso in The Shack, a restaurant in somebody’s entrance backyard overlooking the seaside. It is a well-known surf spot, however we had caught it on a quiet day: the three-foot breakers too small to trigger extended immersion. Maddy cherished it – she is impervious to chilly water. Donald was a affected person trainer however after an hour I may now not really feel my ft, arms, or head. To be honest, it was early within the 12 months – by July or August the ocean warms up considerably.

“In summer time it’s very good,” mentioned Donald, who has visited lots of the nice surf spots around the globe. “It’s the most effective.”

Ultimately I dragged Maddy out of the water and into a restaurant in Dunfanaghy. It has some good ones: our selection was the Rusty Oven, a pizza joint amid a splendidly shambling assortment of furnishings and curios behind Patsy Dan’s pub.

“The subsequent journey needs to be hotter,” urged Maddy. “How about horses?”

We discovered Dunfanaghy Stables behind Arnold’s Lodge, one of many city’s many music venues. Proprietor John was shoeing horses; those who weren’t being shod seemed out of their packing containers and tried to maintain up with the chat, their ears swivelling when their names cropped up.

A pony ride on Dunfanaghy beach.

A pony experience on Dunfanaghy seaside. : Kevin Rushby for the Guardian

As soon as mounted, we had been led throughout the excessive road by Poppy, the terrier who commanded the site visitors, then on to the seaside for an hour of fantastic hacking alongside abandoned sands. That night time we lingered in Dunfanaghy to catch a band in one other pub, the Oyster Bar. The singer gave us a wave. It was Donald, our browsing trainer, enjoying with a few of Van Morrison’s previous session males.

We preferred Dunfanaghy quite a bit, however feeling that the adventure-seeking wanted to maneuver up a gear, I known as Iain Miller.

The subsequent day he took us south for a hike alongside a part of the Wild Atlantic Manner, a 2,500km touring route that runs the size of Eire’s west coast, from Derry within the north to Kinsale in County Cork. We turned off on the engaging little city of Ardara, heading west to the Sturrall, an unlimited wilderness of cliffs and wild seas the place we tramped alongside a coastal path, then gingerly picked our manner across the grassy edges of Sturrall Level.

Close to the top, Iain roped us collectively: “It’s solely a scramble, however I don’t need anybody rolling off!”

A minute later we noticed why. The promontory is a razor-edged ridge, with the Atlantic crashing on either side. We clambered up and tiptoed alongside it because the climate rolled over us: first sunshine, then snow, then hail, then solar once more. Maddy cherished it. Later, the sundown on the abandoned seaside at An Port was pretty much as good as they get.

Beach on Cruit Island, Donegal

Cruit Island. : Kevin Rushby for the Guardian

Subsequent morning, nevertheless, Maddy was to not be moved from her mattress. Iain and I set off, driving throughout the bridge from Kincasslagh to Cruit Island. This gem is comparatively unscathed by bungalows and there are a number of small, uninhabited islands close by. We launched the kayaks and paddled out to Inishillintry, a pair of small islands linked by a sandy seaside, a magical spot. “There’s tons of those locations,” Iain instructed me. “Hardly visited. Tourism has solely simply obtained began. Step away from the few honey pots and you’ve got all of it to your self.”

I cried off taking a motorcycle experience that afternoon – the climate had turned chilly and blustery – and as an alternative promised to be prepared for 6am subsequent morning.

Iain swore he would ship an epic journey to complete our go to in type. It was nonetheless darkish as we set off – a deer leapt throughout the street. At An Port, the place we had parked for Sturrall Level, we met Aisling and John, a pair from Dublin additionally eager for an enormous day trip. From there we hiked north alongside the cliffs for an hour earlier than clambering 250 metres down a grassy slope to a shingle seaside. Forward of us, about 50 metres offshore, had been two large sea stacks. “The toddler known as Lurking Worry,” mentioned Iain. “We’ll do the massive one: Cnoc na Mara.”

He unfurled an inflatable dinghy. The breakers on the shingle seemed chilly. I helped pack a dry bag with ropes and climbing gear. Cnoc na Mara was climbed for the primary time in 2008. Its summit has seen fewer people than most Himalayan giants. “Nobody succeeded final 12 months in any respect,” admitted Iain.

Maddy tackles the ridge of Sturrall Point.

Maddy tackles the ridge of Sturrall Level. : Kevin Rushby for the Guardian

The kayak took us, two at a time, via the slender sea arch of Lurking Worry, then throughout to the larger stack and a nervy touchdown on a slender ledge. It took an hour to get every thing arrange for the primary part of climbing. As Iain promised, this was fairly straightforward, however with the subsequent pitch we had been scrambling up a razor-edged arête with dizzying drops on either side. “It’s not the climbing,” Iain laughed. “It’s the publicity.”

The views had been gorgeous. Far under a pair of seals lay on their backs within the water, watching us with some puzzlement.

Aisling, chilled to the bone after getting moist within the boat, needed to dig deep, however lastly we had been all on high: 100 metres up a sea stack. “On the market,” Iain mentioned, gazing wistfully on the savage vista of cliff, rock and raging surf, “there are nonetheless unclimbed sea stacks.”

If I’d had a hand to spare, I’d have despatched my buddy Tim a message: Sure, Eire actually may be adventurous.
The journey was offered by Failte Eire: for extra info eire.com

Getting there

Irish Ferries sails 5 occasions a day from Holyhead, from £109 one-way for a automobile and two adults.


Iain Miller (uniqueascent.ie) gives tailored adventures. A day on the Sturrall prices €50pp, climbing Cnoc na Mara €125pp. Driving at Dunfanaghy Stables is €32 an hour (grownup) and €27 an hour (beneath 18s). Jaws Watersports has one-hour surf, SUP or windsurf classes for €30, kayak rental €50 a day.

The place to remain

Macalla Cottage sleeps 5 from €225 for 2 nights.

Finest time to go

Adventuring is season- and weather-dependent. Dunfanaghy Stables is open Easter until Halloween. Climbing is finest tackled after Easter. Browsing is offered all year-round.


A pint of Guinness in a pub is about €four, espresso €2, Rusty Oven pizzas (on Fb) from €7.

This text was amended on 18 July 2018 to right the minimal fare charged by Irish Ferries.

This text incorporates affiliate hyperlinks, which implies we could earn a small fee if a reader clicks via and makes a purchase order. All our journalism is unbiased and is on no account influenced by any advertiser or industrial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate hyperlink, you settle for that third-party cookies will probably be set. Extra info.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *