Day 1: Europe’s Highest Cliffs and Sheskinmore Nature Reserve

I’m on a mission to explore as much of Ireland’s coast and historical sites as I can from our home in Scotland. Two years ago, we (husband and I) had a great week driving the Wild Atlantic Way with some short walks included – Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Connemara, Dingle, Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring. In August 2019, it was Donegal and the Causeway Coast’s honour to be graced (or otherwise) with my presence, on my own this time and over 5 days. Donegal has the loveliest beaches   – and is possibly the most scenic area – I’ve yet seen on the Emerald Isle.

The evening flight had barely taken off from Glasgow Airport to Derry when we were down again – 30 mins all in! And a small airport means that in (Irish) jig time, you’re soon off with your own wheels.

It was a short (75 mins) easy drive to the only accommodation I’d booked in advance, a nice room and bathroom in a bungalow in a small glen just outside Donegal town. Lovely, friendly welcome and a very relaxing place all in. Had wanted to eat out in nearby Biddy O’Barnes pub which is quite famous, but they’d stopped serving by the time I arrived so made do with some biscuits and fruit and yoghurt left which was supposed to be my breakfast. By 9.30pm I was getting past the hunger stage anyway and just wanted to relax, get a cup of tea and sleep, raring to go tomorrow and happy to be back in Ireland.

A 10 minute drive next morning and I was in Donegal town. Forecast was a lot better for the afternoon so thought I’d spend an hour or two exploring the castle, the town and a highly recommended café. The castle was just ok, but had a very interesting history. Quite hungry (after the debacle with dinner last night) , I headed for the Aroma Café in the Craft Village where I had an excellent Moroccan Tangerine and Almond sponge with a dollop of cream.Time to day goodbye to busy Donegal Town and its coach parties and head west.

The walk from the Lower Car Park

The scenery became lovelier along the well signposted route to the cliffs. Clouds were lifting and blue skies and showers looked the order of the day, which I’ll  happily take any day. Parked in the Lower Car Park, got my day sack sorted with water and snacks, then headed uphill for the 20 minute walk to the cliffs. It was a lovely hike on the tarmac road, past heathery moorland far above the sea, and with great views out over the ocean to County Sligo. The Upper Car park cuts out the need for this walk but I enjoyed it (plus  always good to get the step count up.)

Lobster sandwiches and food vans at the cliffs themselves though all very small scale compared with what I remembered of Moher. The first sight of Slieve League is certainly impressive, though it seemed to me to be more of a steep mountainside tumbling into the sea than strictly ‘cliffs’.

No matter, it all looked great with a well built hiking path to follow up, up and up, giving ever greater views down to the ultramarine sea below. Beautiful area all round – must be a great walk right out to the headland too with time in hand. Enjoyed my packed lunch, sitting on a rock admiring it all. Felt very lucky to see it all in such lovely light. The trail was busy but not overwhelmingly so, a grand walk indeed.

Rosbeg/ Sheskinmore Nature Reserve

Where to stay tonight? I had my camping gear with me, so that took the pressure off. Lovely drive through Glencolumbcille where I stopped and had a stroll on Doonalt beach, the first of many fine strands on this trip. I do love a good, quiet beach.Father McDyer’s Folk Villlage was mobbed with coach parties so gave it a miss. Then through the Glengesh Pass and a quick drive out to Malinbeg. Realised that I could just about make out the end of the Slieve League headland from here as I’d come almost full circle.

Doonalt Beach
Glengesh Pass

Finally liked the look of a campsite in Rosbeg called Tramore Beach, right beside the Sheskinmore Nature Reserve.

Lovely guy running the place (a Campbell! Ooh, dodgy name in the Scottish Highlands.) I set up my tent in a small grassy area surrounded by very high dunes therefore blocking out any view. But a few minutes walk took me onto the wonderful white sand beach which went on for about a mile. It really was one of the loveliest spots I’ve yet seen in Ireland, very unspoilt. The caravan park is a monster but due to the Reserve, is set very well back from the beach and doesn’t really intrude on the view. The coastal scenery all around was glorious.

Made myself some spicy chicken and rice on the trusty Trangia stove then mid evening, set out again to enjoy the beach a bit more. Ended up spending about 90 mins walking across the Nature Reserve towards the deserted strand a mile or so from Rosbeg, Watching the sun setting across the dunes and lighting up the cliffs and headlands opposite, was magical.

There were only 5 tents in the area set aside for those of us under canvas though during busy periods it must get a bit cramped. I’m never keen on formal campsites for that reason and prefer wild camping, but not knowing the area, I thought it better to stick to a site. It was certainly nice getting a shower later that evening (I reckoned it would be busier in the morning.)

Rain battered the tent during the night, waking me a few times but mostly I had a good sleep. Unfortunately I was woken well before 7am by some nutter in a large tent, opening and shutting his car door endless times, talking at the top of his voice and then shouting at the kids! Good morning to you too!

Next day:  DONEGAL AND THE CAUSEWAY COAST (Glenveagh National Park and Carrickfinn Beach)


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