Here’s the promised post on hiking in Donegal! This is mostly about south Donegal, there is lots of hiking to do in the north also but that will have to wait for another trip!
I was sent to Donegal as part of my course, and decided to try and make the most of the experience as it’s quite a rural area with plenty of hills. There are lots of well-marked trails in the county, including loop walks and multi-day treks. These are all really well marked and there’s loads of information on them available online as well as free maps in the tourist offices (which I took full advantage of, OS maps are pricey!!). There’s work going on at the moment to set up a “Wild Atlantic Way” which will be a driving route, so some of these walks could be incorporated into that.
I was on placement in Donegal town, and so I did some small walks nearby. These included the Bank Walk along the River Eske, which was a very straightforward path but it was really beautiful. I ran along this route a couple of times and I was amazed at how peaceful it was.
Donegal town itself is small, very pleasant, and the people are really welcoming, so it’s definitely worth a trip! I stayed at the Millers House, that I found using airbnb, which was great value and the owners were incredibly friendly. The house is really old and they’re currently in the process of restoring it, but it’s certainly got more character than the average B&B!
A couple of my classmates and I were given a Wednesday afternoon off so we decided to take a trip to Glenveagh national park.
This place is stunning in every type of weather, which is lucky as it was particularly cloudy that day… We walked to the castle, through some of the gardens, and around the lake in search of a waterfall (which we never managed to find!). I just wish I had longer there- some of the trails sounded incredible! But I think you’d need at least 2 days (and a tent!) to explore properly.
Luca arrived over from Cambridge for the weekend, and on Saturday morning we set off with some of my classmates to the Slieve League cliffs. Unfortunately the weather forecast was pretty severe (gales all morning, winds at 75kph) so we had to be cautious, especially as some of us didn’t have hiking boots. We decided to take the Pilgrim’s Path towards the peak, which had a handy carpark part of the way up, where we came across some curious sheep.
We had decided to invest in an OS map (number 10) which proved to be very useful as we got towards the top, although the way is well marked with yellow stones- such a good idea! Clouds began to descend on us as we went up. We got some great views during the climb though! The wind was really severe at the top, so we took a few pictures and had to make a tough decision: Do we keep going (along an extremely narrow ridge) or do we turn back towards the car? As a group, we decided that the sheer drop on both sides (these are the highest sea cliffs in Europe after all!) wasn’t worth the risk and we agreed to turn back. After we got down, we drove to a lower viewing point so that we could appreciate just how high the cliffs were. We even managed to make it to the pub in time for the Ireland-Italy game (Luca decided to support Ireland this time, a wise decision).
After that we headed to Malin Beg (Málainn Bhig), an isolated peninsula that juts into the Atlantic. There was nobody at the hostel when we arrived, so we decided to go exploring. This was when the map really became useful: we noticed a small beach and decided to head there, and thank god we did! Look at this place:
It was so quiet and so beautiful. We walked along the coast for a bit and took some more photos. We stayed overnight in a really pleasant hostel (too windy for camping!) with great views of the sea.
The next day we had only one bus option in order to get home (this is Donegal after all) so we had to make sure we were on time for that, as Luca would have missed his flight otherwise. So we walked from Malinbeg to Glencolmcille/Cashel, which is a really spectacular route.
We passed through the folk village at Glencolmcille and made time for some Geocaching. But to be honest there isn’t much to do in the town. It’s really striking to see how many businesses, especially pubs, have been affected by the recession. Everything was closed, and every second pub in the area had a “for sale” sign up. Luckily we had brought a packed lunch (always well prepared!) so we had a picnic at a viewpoint above the town. If we had longer in Glencolmcille we would have done either the Signal Tower loop or else the Drum loop (nearby marked trails). The bus home was amazing, it passes along the coast roads and it’s actually a very pleasant way to see the county!
I had hoped to make it to Mount Errigal at some point during my stay but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance. You would really want to have a car to get there. I’ve heard great things about it and so can use that as an excuse to return to Donegal at some stage!
On my last evening in Donegal the couple I was staying with took me to nearby Murvagh beach for a walk with their labrador. It’s amazing that such a quiet beach is only a few minutes drive from Donegal town. It’s really long and sheltered, and is well worth a visit!
Just before I left to return to Dublin, they mentioned something about a swimming pool. It turned out there’s a swimming pool inside their house! And I had nearly left without seeing it! It’s not in use at the moment, but maybe next time…
I’m now on the bus back to Dublin, but not before I stopped off to buy some of the famous sausages that everyone had been telling me about. I had to get a few different flavours to bring home to my family, including these ones!!
Overall I had a great time in Donegal, and managed to squeeze a lot of little trips into my stay, even though I was on placement from 9-6. However if I had to change something I would definitely take a car with me. As Donegal is a very rural county, the bus service is irregular and wildly expensive (notice my use of Donegal slang there!). Also it only passes through the bigger towns, meaning that it’s useless for accessing the mountains. I considered renting a car for the weekend but there wasn’t even anywhere to do that from! Adding up the cost of each of the buses I took means that it would have been cheaper to drive, and it would have given a lot more freedom. Otherwise it was a great experience, and although I’ll be happy to get home and into my onesie, I’m really going to miss Donegal!