Time to hit the road again for a small escape to county Donegal.
After our summer holiday exploring the Wild Atlantic Way in counties Kerry, Clare and Mayo we decided to once again go to Donegal, a place that’s very special to me and that I truly love. Ireland is without any doubt a beautiful country with plenty of beautiful places to visit, but the coastal route is undoubtedly superb. The dramatic and gorgeous landscape that changes so often, the mysticism and the fact that time seems to have stopped never stops amazing me. Donegal is one of those singular places where I feel happy but at the same time it brings a bittersweet feeling when it’s time to return home as I really don’t want to departure. Well, at least it’s only 2h30m away and I can return whenever I want.
This time we explored places we haven’t been before and others that are always worthy to revisit.
The itinerary was the following:
- Muckross Head
- Glengesh Pass
- Assaranca Waterfall
- The Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
- Slieve League
- Glencolmcille Folk Village
- Glenveagh National Park
1 – Muckross Head
Going from Killibegs and following the coastal road you will find a small peninsula called Muckross Head. The path will take you to an area of natural beauty, with mountains, beaches and narrow roads. The area is well known for climbing due to the shape of the cliffs made of horizontal layers of rock.
2 – Glengesh Pass
Between Ardara and Glencolumbkille the landscape changes between green and brown, deserted areas until you start to descend the road and you will be enthralled with the stunning valley at the bottom of 2 green mountains, Ghleann Gheis and Mulmosog. From the top, there is a car park where you can admire the roads meandering through this spectacular scenery. It is indeed one of the most astonishing roads in Ireland!
3 – Ardara
We have visited Donegal a few times, but it was the first time we decided to stop and visit Ardara a picturesque town in Donegal.
We had lunch at Nancy’s Bar a traditional Irish pub that has been in the same family for 7 generations. The interior is very welcoming and makes you feel comfy. We had chowder and it was great.
For dessert we went to the Heritage Centre. This is the right place to learn about Donegal tweed and have a tea and a piece of cake or an apple pie.
There is an exposition of old photographs retelling the history of weaving and the importance of this activity to Ardara. You can also admire some weavers used to fabricate the famous knitwear.
4 – Assaranca Waterfall
After lunch we went to visit The Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand Beach and on its way, you will find Assaranca Waterfall (Eas a Ranca, in Irish). The waterfall wasn’t in its full power but still beautiful and peaceful.
5 – The Caves of Maghera and Maghera Strand
Following the road from Assaranca Waterfall you will find Maghera beach and Caves. The access to the beach is through a car park and a short walk will take you through white sand dunes and beautiful scenery.
There are 20 caves that can be explored but be mindful of the tides.
We were lucky as the weather was good and the tide was low so we had time to stroll along the vast white sand beach and look into some of the caves but be careful as the tide can change very quickly, so always keep an eye if you don’t want to be caught in the middle of it and be all soaked!
6 – Slieve League (Sliabh Liag)
A trip to Donegal is never completed if you don’t visit the highest sea cliffs in Ireland, Slieve League. Words fail to describe the beauty of the place. Despite the changeable weather in Ireland we were lucky to have a sunny day which allowed us to have unobstructed views of Sligo, the majestic cliffs and the ocean.
I truly recommend you hike it to the top to enjoy the splendid views and appreciate the peace and sounds of nature. It seems like a perfect canvas!
On a previous trip we had the chance of doing a boat trip and have a different perspective of the surrounding area, that’s something you should try.
The Rusty Mackerel
For the second time we chose The Rusty Mackerel to spend 2 nights. The location is perfect, at the bottom of Slieve league and a walking distance of the port. This traditional Irish pub offers great food and accommodation.
I’m not a drinker but I really like Irish pubs not only because they are cozy and it makes you feel like at home, but also because they are places where people gather to talk, a place of culture and full of memories of past times that transport you to different times, where time seems to have stopped and where your mind can be driven away to wander what life should have looked like in the past.
7 – Arranmore Island
We wake up to a grey, rainy day but decided to follow our plans, spend a day at Arranmore Island, the largest island in County Donegal.
We drove to BurtonPort to catch the Arranmore Ferry. You will find 2 ferries, the blue and the red, we took the red. If you plan to go there, it is worth buying tickets online as you can save 10% and instead of paying 45€ you pay 40€ (car and 2 adults).
The ferry only takes 7 cars and you have to enter the ferry in reverse.
The weather didn’t give a truce and it was bad, a lot of rain and strong wind. It wasn’t the best experience as it was almost impossible to leave the car and the problem is that Arranmore’s roads are not the best, full of holes, are better suited for walking or cycling, though that was something we couldn’t do as the weather instead of improving only got worse. I have to say it was the first time we had such an awful weather as usually rain is interspersed with glimpses of sun, but unfortunately that didn’t happen this time.
And to make it worse when we were trying to find a place to have a meal and warm up a little bit, we found all places closed apart from a small shop where we were informed that due to the fact a person tested positive for Covid 19, the health authorities decided to test everyone and close all businesses. I was disappointed the Ferry’s office didn’t inform people about this, but there is always an excuse to go back again and try to explore the island under better conditions.
8 – Glencolmcille woollen Mill
What better excuse to go shopping if the weather is not playing its part? We decided to go shopping at Glencolmcille Woolen Mill. I’ve been there in the past and I really like the quality and longlasting of their knitwear.
There are other places where you can buy Donegal tweed, but we like it here, so we decided to go back to this family business established in 1984.
This time I bought 2 warm coats to get ready for winter. I love it!
Glencolmcille Folk Village
This time we just stop to take a picture and to overlook Glen Bay beach but in a previous trip we had the chance to visit Glencolmcille Folk Village with a few replicas of white washed cottages that portray the hardship farmers and fishers lived in the 18th, 19th and 20th century.
It truly deserves a stop.
9 – Glenveagh National Park
This was our second time visiting Glenveagh National Park, the biggest national park in Ireland with the largest population of red deer in the country.
After a winter day, on the previous day, we had a spring day with the sun shinning and making this area look even more stunning than already is, if this is possible.
The landscape changes dramatically when we leave Donegal’s coast and we head towards Glenveagh. We leave behind the mountains and the green cliffs bathed by the ocean and we enter a deserted area where brown is the main colour and then unexpectedly we enter this paradise on earth with the beautiful lakes and rough mountains.
This time we decided to explore the area by bike. The cost is 12€ if you pay in cash or 12,5€ if you pay by card and it allows you 3 hours to explore the surrounding area.
Due to Covid the Castle is closed but you still have a lot to explore. Leaving the car in the car park you have a path of 4 km until you reach the Castle, a 19th century mansion.
Enjoy the ride and take in the breathtaking views.
The castle is in an idyllic place overlooking the Veagh Lake and the mountains.
Despite all the beauty surrounding this area there is also a dark side associated to it. The castle which was built by Captain John George Adair an aristocrat who made fortune in the United States evicted more than 200 people to build the castle.
Take your time to visit the gardens where you can appreciate plants from other Continents.
If you are hungry there is a tea room where you can have tea/coffee, cakes or a sandwich.
Straight after we returned back at home we listened in the radio that the government had decided to restrict the visits to Donegal due to the increase number of Covid’s cases.
Despite the actual circumstances I hope this article has inspired you to explore this beautiful county whenever it’s possible.
In a meanwhile you can take a look to some of the photos I took during this road trip.