Dazzled by Donegal: an exercise break that’s huge, daring and sensible | Journey

The dialog began on the indoor climbing wall – an try to listing the world’s wildest and most adventurous locations. New Zealand and British Columbia have been contenders, as was Newcastle on a Friday evening. Then Tim, who runs an moral out of doors gear firm known as Collect Outside, advised Eire. I considered that one. “Eire could be wild,” I stated, “however it’s not adventurous.”


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

“Vacation bungalow blight,” I sneered. “Countless 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 reducing, 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/The Guardian

I took my 14-year-old daughter, Maddy. We might test-drive each expertise we may discover. May Donegal provide you with 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 suggestions for dinner. We selected Leo’s Tavern, in neighbouring Meenaleck, a well-known music venue. On the bar, individuals have been chatting in Gaelic. A bunch of locals have 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 wished to overlook all that discuss of journey and sink into the nice and cozy convivial glow of the Irish pub, however dialogue had already begun. We have been beginning with the straightforward 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/The Guardian

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

Subsequent day we took a have 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 mushy as a well-worn tweed, not 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 have been excellent. At Gweedore we discovered a restaurant and agreed that bungalow blight did exist, however could possibly be averted.

If the primary day had scarcely registered on the journey scale, we had not less than discovered wildness. Subsequent day promised a bit extra. We drove north to the seaside city of Dunfanaghy, a horny 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 couple of miles east to Marble Hill seaside and had espresso in The Shack, a restaurant in somebody’s entrance backyard overlooking the seaside. This can be 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 beloved it – she is impervious to chilly water. Donald was a affected person instructor however after an hour I may not really feel my toes, fingers, or head. To be truthful, it was early within the yr – by July or August the ocean warms up considerably.

“In summer season it’s excellent,” stated Donald, who has visited most of the nice surf spots around the globe. “It’s the very best.”

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 ought to be hotter,” advised 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 regarded 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 trip on Dunfanaghy seaside. : Kevin Rushby/The Guardian

As soon as mounted, we have 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 evening 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 instructor, enjoying with a few of Van Morrison’s outdated session males.

We preferred Dunfanaghy rather a lot, 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 Approach, 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 enticing little city of Ardara, heading west to the Sturrall, an enormous wilderness of cliffs and wild seas the place we tramped alongside a coastal path, then gingerly picked our means 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 each 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 beloved 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/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 advised me. “Infrequently 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 motorbike trip that afternoon – the climate had turned chilly and blustery – and as a substitute promised to be prepared for 6am subsequent morning.

Iain swore he would ship an epic journey to complete our go to in fashion. 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 a giant 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, have been two large sea stacks. “The toddler is named Lurking Worry,” stated Iain. “We’ll do the massive one: Cnoc na Mara.”

He unfurled an inflatable dinghy. The breakers on the shingle regarded 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 yr in any respect,” admitted Iain.

Maddy tackles the ridge of Sturrall Point.

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

The kayak took us, two at a time, by 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 all the things arrange for the primary part of climbing. As Iain promised, this was fairly straightforward, however with the subsequent pitch we have been scrambling up a razor-edged arête with dizzying drops on each side. “It’s not the climbing,” Iain laughed. “It’s the publicity.”

The views have been beautiful. 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 have been all on prime: 100 metres up a sea stack. “On the market,” Iain stated, 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 could be adventurous.
The journey was supplied by Failte Eire: for extra information eire.com

Getting there

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


Iain Miller (uniqueascent.ie) supplies 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 appropriate the minimal fare charged by Irish Ferries.

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