As has become the norm for most of my prattle I’m starting this blog with little pieces of information about The Wild Atlantic Way.
This coastal road in the Republic of Ireland is listed as the longest signed coastal route in the world. It is 2,750 km or, for those using imperial measure, 1,700 miles in length. The scenery varies with huge cliffs, sandy beaches, big surf, emerald coloured mountain ranges and pretty towns. The Wild Atlantic Way starts at the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal and traverses seven counties before it ends in Kinsale, County Cork.
I had already travelled part of this route on previous trips to Ireland, including the Ring of Kerry, The Burren and West Clare (taking in Galway), the Dingle Peninsula and Connemara. Hmm, now that I’ve listed the places here I realise I’ve completed quite a large chunk of the middle and, given I’ve spent a bit of time in Cork, I may have even completed the end of the trail. So this time I’m at the beginning of the trail! Like eating an ice cream in a cone from the bottom up…….
It’s Sunday and Sundays are always quiet in small towns and very often the shops don’t open so it’s a good day to follow the tourist trails. Today the plan is to visit Sligo, Bundoran and Slieve League. Of course Donegal sits in the middle of these place – Sligo was south and Slieve League was an hour from Donegal in a northern direction. Our ‘lady of the house’ asked us what our plans were for today and when we told her she was a little surprised and pointed out that Sligo and Slieve League were in totally different directions…’that’s fine with us, we’re used to travelling distances’ at which she laughed shaking her head at these mad Aussies at the same time asking if we’d like more tea or coffee.
No thank you” was our reply, in unison! The tea was very strong and quite bitter – not at all the English Breakfast tea I was used to. Not that I’m in any way a tea connoisseur, not at all, I only drink tea, without milk, if I’m feeling unwell or travelling in some parts of Europe when the coffee is strong and bitter and the milk plays havoc with my stomach.
We left the breakfast room, bidding Sheila and her kitchen helper a good day, and headed back to our rooms to get ready for the day ahead.
Sligo and Yeats’s country was our first stop this morning. The drive to Sligo was picturesque with many houses having colourful displays of spring flowers in pots on the ground or hanging from the walls with beautifully manicured emerald green lawns. So pretty. Sligo is a much larger town than Donegal and is the capital of the northwest region. A very quiet town this morning…we drove around the ancient streets a couple of times, eventually parked the car and went walking. Sligo is best known for the poet William B Yeats who is buried in Drumcliffe cemetery. The magnificent mountain Benbulben, part of the King Mountain range, is identified with Sligo throughout the world. Benbulben is an amazing sight which you see from several different angles as you drive towards Sligo and it towers over every part of the region.
Sligo is also known as the shopping capital of this region and boasts 4 shopping centres…unfortunately, or fortunately, these weren’t open this morning! Many shops actually opened on Sundays but not until 12 noon. We’d be on our way to Bundoran before then. No time to dawdle today, places to go, mountains to climb!
Tourist buses started to arrive in town so we took this as a sign we should now move on….we’d been very lucky to wander the streets and cross bridges over the river that were covered in spectacular blooms with no other tourists in our photos. We had morning tea to sustain us for the next part of the drive.
On our way back north towards Bundoran I could see a castle standing out on a cliff to our left and decided to head off the main road towards it. It was still too far away to take a good photo of the castle so we drove further along the narrow twisting road eventually coming to a section of road that allowed a clear view of it. We took several photos as quickly as possible so we didn’t hold up the traffic on this backroad….it was a busy back road! We needed to find a turning place but then we saw the sign… Mulloghmore. Mulloghmore is a holiday destination situated on the Mulloghmore Peninsula. “Let’s drive on and see what the town is like” I said to Ty ‘We’re not in a hurry to be anywhere”. It was summer time (so they said) and daylight saving meant it would be light until 8pm or 9pm. So we drove a little further and thinking we might be able to get closer again to the castle Ty drove up a very narrow lane which was shared with walkers and cyclists. No, that wasn’t going to work so instead of a left turn we took a right turn. The lane followed the cliffs in an arc and as we drove further around the cliffs the lane became a track for a couple of kilometres before becoming a lane again. Fabulous views of the Atlantic and islands beyond although there was no room to stop the car. A family in a campervan had stopped ahead of us and we had to negotiate the little piece of road to go round the van. We continued on, we rounded a corner and the little lane widened as it sloped to the bottom of the hill. A sharp right turn at the bottom took us to the tiny village below. The main village consisted of a pub or maybe 2, a general store and a number of B&B’s.
A lovely park across the road overlooked the beach and the wild sea. It was rainy, the wind was strong and the black clouds were circling…not a day for being in the surf or wandering along the beach. The view was quite spectacular but would have been much better had the sky afforded us just a smidgen of blue. A great place for contemplation on a fine sunny day! To my surprise there were surfers out in the sea even though the waves were minimal – the land temperature was around 12c so the water would have been 7 or 8 Celsius. The surfers and swimmers all wearing wetsuits or steamers but Ty said that still wouldn’t keep the body warm. They were obviously locals!!
The wind was picking up and the drizzle was turning to rain, it was also freezing, so it was time to move on but before doing so we headed to the general store to purchase the obligatory postcards and fridge magnets…we found postcards only. We also found ice creams…..
On to Bundoran! This is the most southern town in Donegal County and is a well known surfing town. Given Ty loved the surf I thought it appropriate that we should visit and my hope was he would take the opportunity to go in the surf….even for a short spell.
I had read about Bundoran’s surfing history and so assumed a village something like Mullaghmore but twice as large. How wrong I was…..Bundoran is a large town that I liken to Blackpool (right or wrong). I may get howls of protests about this statement! The main road through Bundoran was crowded with cars parked on either side and people on the footpath. Majority of people on the footpath had an ice cream cone in their hand. Not hard to notice Ireland and England have a large ice cream culture in the summer time… seems it’s a staple. Almost every second shop was an ice creamery and every third shop was a souvenir shop. A few souvenir shops also doubled as an ice creamery. No, I didn’t mention pubs in the above sentence – it is Ireland so I didn’t feel it necessary … we all know it wouldn’t be an Irish town without a local or two or four. For those who don’t know – A ‘local’ in this context is not someone who lives locally but what we in Australia call a pub or club the inhabitants of a town visit on a very regular basis. It’s their local drinking place.
We drove through the town and down towards the sea. We ended up at a large golf resort and an equally large trailer village across the road. There was a fairground/amusement park, bingo halls, cinema, a swimming centre for the kids as well as every pub seemed to have entertainers booked. There was lots to keep all the holidaymakers happy in any weather. I could go on but I’ll stop here in case you’re planning a trip to Bundoran and I spoil it for you!
We drove slowly along the Main Street again looking for an interesting pub to have lunch and somewhere to park the car. I spied Bundoran Surf World store and I said to Ty “here’s the store I told you about where we can rent the steamers and body board for you to take a dip”. He looked at me for awhile and then said “It’s freezing out there, I might be silly but I’m not stupid”. “But I thought you would like to have your photo taken in the surf at Bundoran…I’d put the picture up on the wall” I said trying to appeal to his sense of bravado. “There is no way I’m going out in freezing water for anything… perhaps if I were 20 years younger I might have considered it!” Well, I wasn’t able to turn the clock back 20 years and I couldn’t get my husband to get in the water no matter how much I begged or cajoled, I was even quite willing to pay for the rental of the board and the suit! No, it was no go….the opportunity and his bragging rights had been lost forever.
Yes, body board not surfboard – Ty had been a avid surfer until he developed knee problems a few years ago which forced him to body board instead these days.
There was no parking to be had anywhere in this town, Ty wasn’t going in the water so I lost interest in a very touristy Bundoran. “Ok, let’s move on” I said.
“Where to next my sweet” Ty asked.
I thought for awhile and replied “What about Rossnowlagh?” “Ok”
Rossnowlagh is not far from Bundoran and a little closer to Donegal. The beach here is 3 kilometres long. I hoped that it would not be as busy and touristy as Bundoran. It was more ‘out of the way’ or ‘off the beaten track’ than Bundoran and the road was fairly quiet…that seemed hopeful.
Arriving at Rossnowlagh we followed the signs to the beach and were pleasantly surprised to find lots of parking spaces available. The weather was still very chilly and windy but not as cold as Mullaghmore had been. We parked facing the beach and took in the views in front of us. A few keen surfers waiting for a wave, same amount of swimmers and others walking along the beach with their dogs, kids or partners.
We also noticed something else…..there were ice cream vans and other food vans parked on the beach. Then one other picture came into view….that of cars driving on the sand, parked on the sand and rally driving along the sand. We watched a white jaguar speed across the beach several times. Ty commented that the sand looked hard packed as no cars were sinking at all and some were quite close to the water. We looked at each other and I think we both had the same thought…. I said “why don’t we drive onto the beach as well and have lunch like everyone else” So we did. I know, it’s the simple things we enjoy …. to a point of course!
We reversed out of the car park and took the little beach access road. The sand was not soft at all but very hard and driving wasn’t a problem in our Audi A4 rental car. Driving over the masses of kelp was a different matter. Ty took us on a drive along the beach a couple of times and each time we drove over a clump of the kelp it popped and squelched as the tyres hit it. Not the best sound in the world.
Finally it was time to remind him we were hungry…so he parked up close by the food vans….the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain again. Typical, just as we need to get out of the car to order lunch… disappointingly no one came over to take our orders so we had to get out in the rain. Hmmm, think lunch will be a little soggy!
Choices were not grand it was a food van. Darelle chose a sausage on a roll, I chose a hot dog and Ty opted for the very British lunch of fish and chips. So let’s take some time here to discuss the exquisite meal prepared by the tattooed Brutus and his son (I suppose you’d call them the typical chippy van men). We could pay them in either pounds or euros…they weren’t fussy! Not sure how the conversion rate worked as we had euros. The van was equipped with all mod cons…gas stove, deep fryers by 2 or 3, a bar b que grill and an urn for making coffees and teas. A paint scrapper, or what we know to be used as a paint scraper in Aus, was used to flip the burgers and turn the sausages. The buns were heated up on the bar b que grill – deep fried in butter. The safe food handling certificates were displayed but it was hard to determine the year and not sure how they’d read it due to fat build up on the certificates but I’m sure we’ll survive the lunch. Don’t they say we need a little bad bacteria for our well being? We were having ours today.
So, dear reader, let’s break down this whole process of ordering lunch to eating it.
We placed our orders, then huddled under the awning of the van at a vain attempt to stay dry and keep warm as the wind blew directly in our faces. Every so often I opted for a spell in the warmth of the car, then I’d go back to join them in the cold. I soon decided this was not sensible and it was best if I just stayed in the car!!
Finally, Darelle and Ty came back to the car with the food….food and serviettes were handed out and we got into position to eat in the car….not something we do often…in fact we probably won’t do it again! It’s not the most comfortable way to eat but when the wind is howling and the rain is heavy it’s the only way to have lunch at the beach. Indigestion here you come….
My hot dog was not your usual boiled Frankfurt but a deep fried sausage of some sort in the hot dog bun with copious amounts of tomato sauce. It wasn’t bad at all. Darelle’s sausage bap was in fact 2 sausages on a bap (bap is a soft bread roll with flour dusted on top) and Ty had the fish and chips, the fish was not fresh fish but frozen fish that had soaked up a lot of oil in the cooking process….assume the oil was not hot enough. The chips, Ty reported, were good and just as well because there was a lot of them! So we were sitting on an Atlantic Ocean beach and the fish served up was frozen …surely fresh fish would be easy to come by in this place. I wasn’t getting out in the rain to discuss this with Brutus plus he didn’t look like he would take kindly to that sort of question.
There were a few interesting people wandering by the car, one family consisted of mum, dad and the 4 children. They were all wearing tank tops, this fact gave me goosebumps (it was not a day for tank tops), mum had tattoos covering all her arms and walked along sipping from a pint of Guinness, dad was sipping his coffee purchased from the van man. I abstained from coffee or tea….didn’t fancy a coffee made with water from an urn… ordinary coffee .. perish the thought!! I like my latte’s and this was not the place to ask for a latte.
Further down the beach Darelle pointed out a Range Rover at the edge of the water started towing a child on a body board attached to the tow bar up the beach and in an arc. I also noticed the car next to us had the motor running the whole time we had been there but no one was in or near the car. Whilst we were discussing this fact an old mobile home/camper van muscled it’s way in between the food vans and us effectively blocking our view of the right side of the beach. “How rude of them” I said ” we can’t see any of the goings on”. Not that there was much going on….. Ty started the car and moved us forward and our view was back…all was well again!!
We sat for a while after lunch watching the swimmers and surfers but the tide was starting to come in slowly at first but them a little more rapidly so we thought it time to head back up to dry land. Some people, who had parked their cars very close to the waters edge, were moving their cars now as the tide flowed in very fast. A few lonely cars were still sitting there with no owners in sight…and the water was getting dangerously close to the front tyres. Even though it would have been interesting to watch any mayhem we had places to go!!
Our next place of interest was Slieve League (Sliabh Liag) …we had to pass through Donegal on the way so we decided to call into the B&B and collect our coats and heavier jackets. When we told our ‘lady of the B&B house’ where we’d had lunch Sheila told us the story about a group of wedding party guests who, due to lack of parking near the venue, parked their cars on the beach. Whether the guests were from out of town and not aware how quickly the tide comes in or they were enjoying themselves way too much and forgot about their cars – no one really knows. However when the tide rushed in 5 of the guests cars were taken back out to sea and then washed up on the beach. Nothing new to have cars and four wheel drives being washed away or inundated with water from crashing waves. It happens at least once each summer as many of the locals flock to the beach and park their cars on the hard sand. There are plenty of warnings about not going too close to the edge but time and again beachgoers ignore the warnings. The council has tried to ban people parking on the beach but the motion was rejected as locals believe this is what very often brings visitors to Rossnowlagh in the summer.
After changing shoes and picking up our heavier coats and scarfs we were back in the car for the drive to Slieve League. Approximately an hours’ drive which would allow for the drizzling rain to move away and bother someone else.
As we drove on we thought afternoon tea might be nice but we hadn’t come across any villages where that looked likely. Oh well, we’d eaten so much in the last 4 weeks I’m sure we didn’t need another piece of cake or slice. Just when we’d agreed that it was best we rounded a corner and up on the rise was a lookout and a little coffee van. Well, we had to stop….there’d been no decent coffee on offer at the chippy van – unless you liked thick, black and bitter coffee.
The coffee van had a few customers although I suspect it was secondary for some because the view from the lookout was very picturesque. We spent time at the lookout eventually turning our attention to the little shiny coffee van. “A latte please Ty” I called to him as he made his way to the van. He called us over and pointed to the menu at the same time asking if we’d like something to eat. We saw the coffee menu which had much more variety than just plain coffee. Darelle and I spied the mint hot chocolate…. Darelle licked her lips as she said “Ooh, that looks good I’ll have a mint hot chocolate” “I will too, but a small one” I said to Ty as he was placed the order. The first sip hit the spot…just the drink for a cold, windy day heading for the cliffs of Slieve League! Chocolate and mint go so well together and this drink tasted just like a hot Peppermint Crisp. For those not familiar a Peppermint Crisp is mint flavoured crispy toffee like pieces covered in milk chocolate…
Finally reaching the base parking area for Slieve League we noticed that there was a gate and beyond the gate were goats and sheep so we were unsure whether we were able to drive through the gate so opted to park in the car park. We also naively thought the top of the cliffs was at the top of the hill in front of us. I didn’t do enough research on this little jaunt.
Slieve League is 601 metres high, almost 3 times higher than the Cliffs of Moher, but not as well known. We reached Slieve League through Carrick, a very pretty town, which I should think would be freezing in the winter. Actually all these places along the Wild Atlantic Way would be freezing in winter….I wouldn’t leave the house for 3 or 4 months if I live here.
The little town of Teelin is the gateway to the mountains. We parked the car and opened the gate to start the walk to the top of the hill. It was almost a vertical walk and I’m sure the goats were laughing at us as we struggled up the step winding road. A car came up behind us…”we could’ve driven” I said through heavy breathing. “Do you want me to go and get the car?” Asked Ty. “No, a little walk will do us good and it looks like it’s just up here” I proffered. A young couple were walking back down the hill and as they reached us we asked how much further did we have to go to reach the top. “45 minutes” came their reply. “45 Minutes” we echoed. Probably due to the distressed look on our faces they both said “no, it’s about 10 minutes”. “Oh, ok, we can manage that without the car” and on we walked with a bit more spring in the step knowing we were close. That spring soon waned to a slow laboured step when, after 10 minutes, we rounded yet another corner and we still couldn’t see the viewing area. We could, however, see the small road winding it’s way ever further up the mountain.
More cars drove past us in either direction and at this point Ty said “That’s it, I’m going back for the car you girls wait here or walk on and I’ll pick you up”. This time we didn’t argue…we still didn’t know how far we had to walk and we realised we’d have to walk back down again. The mist was also starting to roll in ever so slowly but still coming in. I gave Ty a kiss and he turned to go back down the mountain as we turned to carry on up the mountain.
Every corner in the road we turned we were sure the lookout would be there but we were disappointed. We also had to continue to dodge cars driving along the same little road. No footpaths up here it was sharing the road with the cars or walking on the edge trying to dodge the rabbit, goat and sheep poo or stepping on a loose rock and falling down the steep cliffs. Some parts of the road had hardly any edge to allow us to jump out of the way of cars. Onward and upward we walked and still no sign of Ty in the car or the lookout. “We’ll beat him to the top at this rate” I commented to Darelle as we negotiated another tight corner with cars heading for us!
Finally, 45 minutes or so after starting the trek, we reached the main viewing area at Bunglass but Ty and the car were nowhere to be seen. The wind had picked up and the mist continued to roll in. Ty still hadn’t arrived….”oh well, rather than sit around waiting let’s wander around the edge and take our photos before we loose too much more to the mist” I said to Darelle.
We noticed people still trekking further up the trail heading to the top of the mountain. There are 2 paths to the top, One Man’s Path and Pilgrim’s Path. Dogs are not permitted on these paths but we saw a number of families with their dogs in tow. We decided against taking this precipitous walk for a couple of reasons; I’m not that energetic today plus, with my luck, the mist would roll in even faster and I’d probably tumble down the cliffs. So far this trip I’ve managed to steer clear of any trips and falls so there is no way I’m going to jinx myself on the last leg of the journey!
The views from Bunglass, where we stood, were still amazing as we stood mesmerised by the waves crashing into the base of the rugged cliff face..although we weren’t mesmerised for too long because the force of the wind had increased blowing my hair into my mouth and eyes. At one point I turned out of the wind, pushed my hair back and pulled my scarf up over my hair to keep it in place. I turned back to face the cliffs but it didn’t matter how tightly I held the scarf the wind was determined to push it off my head and once again my hair swirled into my mouth and eyes.
‘That’s it” I said to Darelle ”this wind is annoying me now I’m going to the cliff facing the other side.” Sorry reader I’d love to say the north side or the east side and sound like I know my compass points but unless I know I’m facing a certain direction, such as north, I have no idea where north is. It’s similar to me having to read a map for directions…I turn the map around. Not that we have to worry about map reading these days as our GPS or Google maps tells us exactly where to go!! I’ve been travelling since the days of the large maps that almost took up the whole of the car when, as navigator, I would have to determine which direction we were headed. For all of you who also remember those days it was hell wasn’t it? Although we may not have ended the journey on good terms with the driver we did get to our destination!
Speaking of drivers, as I started the walk back across the car park to the other side of Slieve League Ty arrived. Of course we’d been here for some 20 minutes or so before his arrival and had completed our viewing. The two of us also decided we’d leave the wind to her mountain as she was obviously tired of the amount of visitors today and was determined to rid her friend, the mountain, of these pesky people.
I walked with Ty to the viewing deck on this section of the cliffs, encouraged him to purchase a scarf from the scarf and hat seller on the way. The hat seller made a comment about how bad the wind and the cold was becoming so he was packing up and heading down to somewhere warm. Sensible man – we should do the same now. Not before taking photos of a Napoleonic Tower built, by the English, on the side of a cliff in the early 19th century…..in case of a French invasion. England still ruled Ireland at that time.
Ardent walkers and climbers would enjoy trekking this magnificent part of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland. Just ensure you start early and return to the viewing point before the mist rolls in….there are very few fences along the track to keep you from falling . A head for heights is also a must….
Ahh, so good to be in the car and out of the cold wind for the drive back down the mountain. Of course I was elected to open and close the gate at the base so the goats and sheep wouldn’t escape!