I recently had the opportunity to explore South Donegal from the Slieve League Cliffs to Donegal town. Reflecting back, if you love beaches, then you will love this area and could very easily while away a week here!
Arriving up to the Slieve League Cliff’s early in the morning, the mountain ewes and lambs were particularly pleased to see me, running towards me mistaking me for their farmer coming to feed them breakfast! They soon lost interest in me and the not-so-small-anymore lambs returned to demanding more milk off mum instead.
On the day I visited, the sky was the colour of stainless steel and there was a westerly wind blowing-in directly off the water that certainly lived up to the Wild Atlantic Way name! Only for the sound German engineering, the door would’ve been pulled off my car when I opened it!!
When you do see the cliffs for the first time they really are awesome, but to see them on a day with weather conditions so menacing, really plays up to the power of the elements and how vulnerable we (as tiny human beings) are in comparison. The imposing height (almost 600 metres) and to hear the water breaking on the rocks below, not to mention the dizzying white wash of spray and foam – I admire the brave little sheep living up here!!!
There is a hill walk called the One Mans Pass along Slieve League which will bring you up the side of the mountain and on to the summit, but having been warned by locals to stay safe in such weather I heeded their advice and made my way back down keeping as far away from the edge as possible! Sliabh League is a sacred mountain and Christian pilgrimages were held here for many years so we are asked to bear this in mind and to treat this area of natural beauty with such respect.
Typical of Irish weather, as I continued along, the sky cleared and the sun made an appearance. I passed what must be the most scenic GAA pitch in the country at Kilcar. Although, as I stopped at Muckross Head I can tell you that the wind certainly did not ease off and my car door nearly flew off once more! Muckross Head is well worth visiting. As you drive out there is a beach to the left popular with surfers and the beach to the right (which is pictured above) is called Trá Bán (White Beach) and is more popular for a swim, or, as you can imagine, a picnic, walk or just a snooze.
From when I left the main road (R263) at Kilcar to when I re-joined just before beautiful Fintra Strand, I think I met one other driver and that was a tractor and trailer so enjoy the tranquillity and space!
Fintra Beach (pictured above) is a south-facing white sandy beach, just 3km outside of Killybegs and is one of Donegal’s 13 Blue Flag beaches. Another ideal picnic spot, or due to its size, a grand spot to throw a ball about or introduce a little hurling to Donegal!
Leaving Killybegs for another day, I headed towards St. John’s Point. At the beginning of this 11km peninsula is Coral Beach (pictured above) with St. John’s Point Lighthouse guiding seafarers into and out of Killybegs and Donegal harbours since 1831 at the southern end. Interestingly, it was in 1825 that the merchants and traders of the area requested a light for here, it took 4 years to get this request approved, a further 2 more before the light was working and finally in 1833, was the project completed.
St. John’s Point is renowned for it’s crystal clear waters and is a very popular diving spot, and very scenic also looking across Donegal Bay towards Mullaghmore Head and Ben Bulben in Sligo.
By now I was quite ravenous so I drove straight to Donegal town with 2 objectives: Get lunch in The Blueberry and dessert in Simple Simon’s.
On my journey up north I stopped for a break in Donegal town and had a lovely White Chocolate Truffle cake and tea outside The Blueberry. It is a café that is just off The Diamond, well, it is almost on it but technically just around the corner – just behind Irish House. But, on my way back to the car I had to stop in the health food shop that is also on The Diamond, and there was this lovely little French style bakery/café to the front of the shop! I did consider it, but even I couldn’t have two desserts one after the other!! So I promised that I would be back soon.
Obviously this was all meant to be as I found a parking space right in front of the shop and off I went and blended in with the locals in The Blueberry. This seems to be very popular with locals and out-of-towners-who-are-in-town-for-the-day. I kind of felt left out as I think I was the only customer that wasn’t on first name terms with the staff! With a large menu of soups, sandwiches, toasties, quiche and a small blackboard of specials, I went for the pasta with lots of veggies in a garlicky, creamy tomato sauce. And it was good, not classic Italian cuisine but real, honest to goodness homemade stuff. Like what you would make at home, only handed to you and no washing up.
Over at Simple Simon’s, while the pastries took my fancy on the way up, on this visit I was wowed by the breads! Impulse purchasing a really tempting looking focaccia, I sat down and tucked into my Guinness cake and coffee. I think it’s a Donegal thing, but wherever I find myself in this neck of the woods, I always feel as if I am being welcomed in exactly the same way as the local, loyal customers and here it happened again. The ease of friendliness among Donegal people is hard to beat! Conversation flowed between tables and no one was a stranger, politics was the subject of the day, especially American politics… what hurlers on the ditch we were!!
If you are travelling south from Donegal, make some time to stop off in Sligo along the way…