Wild Atlantic Way's Northern Headlands - County Donegal, Ireland
As it turns out this journey is more 'Epic' than I expected (meaning lots and lots of driving each day!) I have decided to summarise what I managed to see and have enjoyed most, in each of the 6 distinct areas of the Wild Atlantic Way. Posting after I have finished each section. Starting with the Northern Headlands of County Donegal.
Donegal is quite removed from Dublin and all things to the South. It definitely has a more distinctly independent feel as a County. In all my years in Ireland, I had never ventured this far North. Like much of Ireland along the coast, it is ruggedly beautiful and the coastline is certainly impressive, if perhaps a bit browner than the other counties. Letterkenny was a nice town to visit and start my journey. Definitely, a good place to visit it if you make it up this far. I understand there is a good County museum here, housed in an old famine workhouse that's worth seeing. I did walk up the hill to the Catholic Cathedral which was not only lovely but offered a great view of the surrounding area. Driving out on a Saturday morning from Letterkenny, I must say I had fantastic, sunny warm weather for the whole time I was in Donegal.
I drove North East to Muff and drove most of the Wild Atlantic Way route. I didn't manage to hit every cove and spot on the list, as it would have taken much too long, but here were my highlights.
Malin Head is interesting as it is the most Northerly point in Ireland, funny to think, looking out from here it is only Ocean all the way North to the Arctic!
- I loved the little cove at the Inishowen stop. A good place for a picnic lunch. Bring your own by stopping at a grocery store or local bakery on the way or pick up supplies before you head out. There are picnic tables and benches at most of the WAW stops.
- By the way, you get used to driving the narrow roads after a while. There is a whole ethos to being polite and patient in passing on-coming cars etc. I friendly nod or wave always much appreciated. I would just caution people to not drive too fast when you see sheep and cows close to the road. There are some sheer cliff drives and sometimes no safety guardrails in place. During the Spring there are also lots of baby lambs darting around. Just be careful and enjoy! Having a navigator is likely a lot of help too, as two sets of eyes is a good thing! But you get used to the rhythm of driving this way and can relax after a while. Just stay alert and take lots of stops to give yourself a break. Plenty of beaches to go for walks on too and it is easy enough at many fo the stops to park easily to see the view and take pictures.
- My Favorite Spots in Donegal where the following:
Fanad Lighthouse - Stunning location if a bit remote (well it's all remote really). Dating back to 1818 this is one of the 12 'Great Lighthouses of Ireland' that are being promoted nationally. You can take a tour and even stay in them! At Fanad, I loved the thatched cottage nearby and private beach cove in view of this location. Interesting history of it during WW's I and II also. Worth the drive alone!
- The little cove at Bunbeg is very pretty. I didn't get over to it, but I heard that visiting Tory Island is definitely worth the time. Lots of stories all along this coastline of shipwrecks and War intrigues, etc.
- Further along, the WAW is LEO's which is the bar/restaurant and area where the Irish band Clannad come from and still perform. Enya is also from here and it is steeped in the Irish language and traditional music of Ireland.
Sliabh Liag is very dramatic and the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe...little harder to find though so persevere. Worth giving yourself time to hike here.
- Just after that, if you want an alternative to stop, someplace other than Donegal town, I would stop in Killybegs. Good view across to Sligo and fresh fish available. I spotted the first surfer I have seen this trip on the drive just near here, off a private little beach surrounded by high cliffs. The water may be arctic but the dramatic and rugged beauty and 'end of the world' feel must be something special from the water.
So the next leg of the journey is The Surf Coast of Sligo and Mayo!
Looking forward to finding that perfect surf spot in this World-renowned Surfing area!
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