Hello everyone! Karen Mackay here, CEO and Founder of Wild Atlantique, a Coastal-inspired lifestyle company featuring clothing & home decor from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I am so excited for you to join me on this Epic Road Trip along the entire Western Coastal Route of Ireland from County Donegal in the North to Kinsale, County Cork in the South. I have been imagining doing this drive for some time, it's termed as 'Wild, Rugged, and Liberating' so what person suffering from wanderlust can resist that?!
The Wild Atlantic Way is considered the longest continuous Coastal tourist route in Europe at 2,500km. I was reading a travel trend magazine recently and it said one of the 2018 travel trends are 'Solo Trips' and this is what this one will be. So here I go, solo and excited to be amazed by the scenery, food, and people of Ireland. Ireland is my new home and I can't wait to see the glory of the dramatic cliff coast and wild ocean vistas, combined with Ireland's 'tidy towns' and charming interactions ( I hope!)
As this is such an 'Epic Road Trip', that others might be inspired to traverse themselves one day, I'll start with a few details about how I am getting started, where I'll stay along the way and those 'not-to-miss' spots I find. I have been visiting or living in Ireland (for university, for family visits, work etc) off and on for 25+ years, so I am familiar with some of the areas I will be visiting on this long drive. But as a recent emigrant to Ireland, and never having driven the route myself from beginning to end, I am excited to see it in its entirety. This wild and dramatic European coastline was part of the inspiration for my company, Wild Atlantique. From Iceland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Western Africa there are serious distances and inspiring places to see, but my journey will start in this most special place, the West Coast of Ireland.
To begin, I rented a great car for such a journey, it's a Dacia 'Stepway' and looks like a little SUV. I sit up high enough to see over the hedges but narrow enough to pass on-coming cars easily on narrow country roads, hopefully without taking out the side mirrors! I left Dublin heading north. A lovely drive, worth stopping along the way as this is Ireland's other Bord Failte sponsored tourism route called the 'Ancient East'. it took about 4 hours to get up to Letterkenny, one of the main towns in Donegal, right on the border with Northern Ireland. If you've got an endless amount of time there is also so much to see there...like the Giant's Causeway and more, but that's for another trip.
I arrived on a Friday evening in Letterkenny in late April. It's meant to be the beginning of Summer here soon but as Ireland rarely gets very hot, it is a pleasant Spring to be starting my journey. I arrived just in time to visit the local Post Office before it closed. This a key factor in this journey as the Bord Failte 'Wild Atlantic Way' route is actually detailed along this Coastal route by visiting local Post Offices, to first purchase your WAW Passport Book (which includes maps and a booklet that details all the stops along the way) and then get stamps for all the places you have either stopped or Visited along the route. I wanted to do this thing right, so off I went to the Letterkenny Post Office and bought my Passport for 10 euro. They couldn't have been nicer and even suggested more spots, not listed I should definitely stop at! So it sounds like the locals all have their own favorite vistas and private coves too. With 188 spots and 2,500km to traverse as detailed in the book, with stamps needed for each, it suddenly seemed a bit daunting. I am going to get this all completed in just 2 and a half weeks? Do I have to get 188 stamps everytime I stop somewhere? Yikes...
Fortunately, the postman gave me a few tips. There are 15 main signature points along the route and 6 major 'areas'. There is a main Post Office in each County that holds all the stamps for that County so you can make a stop at 8 main County Post Offices to get all the stamps needed for that part of the trip. I started with 38 stamps in my new booklet and plan to at least swing into view at them all, with longer stops at the signature points.
- The Northern Headlands - Main Head, (Cionn Fhanada) Fannad Lighthouse and Sliabh Liag (County Donegal)
- The Surf Coast - Mullaghamore and Downpatrick Head (Counties Sligo and Mayo)
- The Bay Coast - Keem Bay, Killary Harbour and Derrigimlagh (Counties Mayo and Galway)
- The Cliff Coast - Cliff's of Mohr and Loop Head (Counties Clare and Limerick)
- The Southern Peninsula - Ionad An Bhlascaoid Mhoir, Skellig Michael, Dursey Island, Mizen Head (Counties Kerry and Cork)
- The Haven Coast - Old Head of Kinsale (County Cork)
So wish me luck and be sure to comment below and share if you have ever visited any of these spots...I am always looking for recommendations for places to stay or eat along the way. I am only booking a few nights in advance, as I see how things go and if there are places I am wanting to linger or move through quicker.
Let the adventure begin!
(Main photo is the square in the town of Letterkenny. The photo above is the Passport booklet for sale and maps purchased in the Post Office there.)