A Slow But Gorgeous Start On The Wild Atlantic Way

We lucked out with the weather. Well, in the Donegal weather sense, and yes, two weeks earlier would have been better but thank goodness, we didn’t leave it another week or else…

My relationship with the Donegal weather has been a stormy one. As soon as I hit the border the skies cloud over and the temperature drops. I’ve seen the temperature reading for Armagh be 21 C and sunny but in Donegal, I’m shivering in 14 C under grey clouds. Last year, in fact, we had that projected really hot day. Barra had been on the weather forecast for a week telling us that we were going to get an extreme high of 30 C (I think actually Armagh reached 32 C – we’re such overachievers here!) so I thought I’d definitely get good weather in Donegal that day. We headed off and joined My Sister who was already there. She wasn’t that pleased to see me – I brought the rain though the temperature was 24 C and we had a lovely time kayaking to the islands off Carickfinn Beach.

That was 2022.

This year My Husband and I decided to start a project we’d talked about doing for a while – drive the whole Wild Atlantic Way… not in one go… but in chunks as holiday time allowed. We were taking 5 days /4 nights this time to get as far around the Inishowen Peninsula as we could while hiking the hills, pottering along beaches and snooping around harbours and piers as our fancy took us – not forgetting the breathtaking (in terms of scary and beauty) winding coastal roads.

The WAW starts in Muff, Co. Donegal and we found a gorgeous cabin with a hot tub a few miles up the road in Moville. My thinking was that if I got the usual Donegal weather we could just sit in the tub all week and come home like prunes!

The cabin was gorgeous and so comfortable.

Situated a little out of town so that there wasn’t a sound at night. So much better than being in hotels with humming air con, the din of bars, restaurants and clubs, and the noise of strangers in the hallway and adjoining rooms. Yep, we’re getting old and yearning for the quiet life and are totally unashamed of it! I had some of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long while.

Our hosts, Eamon and Roma made us feel so welcome and cared for, treating us to fresh baking and setting the log fire for us each day that fuels the hot tub.

That hot tub was brilliant too, especially after a day of walking and exploring the beaches, harbours and piers of Donegal. The décor in the cabin was simply adorable.

There were lots of those affirmations everywhere that spread the feel-good factor like butter on hot toast. This was my favourite – “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

Ain’t that the truth!

When we arrived the weather turned torrential, in true Donegal style. Even though I knew this would happen, I was pissed off. We wanted to walk the shore path which began nearby that would take us the couple of miles into Moville, but the rain was hammering down. I unpacked our rain gear, laid it out on the table and said, “We brought this, we may as well use it. Let’s show Donegal weather who’s boss!”

We were laughing at ourselves as we set off, soaked within ten minutes but the rain stopped and even if the sun didn’t actually come out, the sky brightened and we felt like we’d won!

The walk turned out to be lovely. We found a great Indian takeaway in Moville and carried dinner back to the cabin. We put a match to the hot tub stove and ate dinner, buzzed with our “achievement” a four-mile (albeit on the flat) round trip walk despite the rain that had threatened to thwart us.

The hot tub was lovely and even though it had begun to rain again, nothing dampened our spirits – day 1 had been a success. We were on our summer hols!

The next morning (day 2) it was a stretch to believe it was summer, but we got up and put on our hiking gear. We wanted to walk the Inishowen Head Loop and as soon as we set off, the rain dried up and stayed off all day – what strange magic is this, we thought!

It was a gorgeous walk and though we met the grand total of two other hikers, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. After the hike and a well-earned sandwich and coffee in a tiny café that was just about to close, we were in exploring-via-car mode. The winding road and step gradients meant we were able to fully charge the car battery on the downhills and go slow enough on the uphills to only use battery – nearly net Carbon zero touring! Since there was no one else on the roads the crawl to the top of the hills didn’t hold anyone back and we got to see around better. Though we were on the Wild Atlantic Way, we endeavoured to take the wee roads closest to the coast, having to turn back only once when the road disintegrated into scree that only a 4WD could manage.

We felt like we were the ones to discover Kinnego Bay for the first time since it was empty when we arrived. A few campers and other cars joined us but there was still plenty of beach to share. Further along the coast, we found a bench overlooking a beautiful beach with a library to boot.

We took note of our stopping point (Culdaff) and headed across the peninsula back to our cosy cabin in Moville for the second half of our Indian (the portions were huge so we got two dinners out of it) and rounded off the day in the hot tub as the rain began drumming again on the roof.

The morning of day 3, was wet. We packed the rain gear and headed back to Culdaff and resumed our driving wondering if the rain would ease off and let us hike at all.

The first stop was Bunagee Old Pier. The monsoon lent great special effects for our attempts at photography!

But the rain did subside and allowed us to appreciate the gorgeous scenery.

We toured along the coast until we came to the Wee House of Malin and found our favourite beach. I just love rocks, big small, jagged, smooth but especially pebble beaches… here the rocks were a multitude of different types and colours!

Walking along these beaches, where the ground rolls beneath your feet, is a great exercise for the leg muscles so we reckoned there was plenty of training in the mile or two of flat pebble beach walking we did.

We had lunch that day in the Sea View Tavern – easily the best meal of our trip!

We finished the day in the Northern-most point in Ireland – Malin Head. I was surprised at the lack of tourist traps here… not even a visitor centre but a much welcome toilet bock and limited parking. We hiked out along the path to the head and I balked at the drops over the cliffs into the ocean.

On day 4, I realised we were nowhere near my loose target of completing the Inishowen Peninsula in 4 days! But no worries – it just means we get to return here again. We began near Culoort, on another pebble beach. This one had caravans tucked against cliffs and I had the horrors of “What if there’s a tsunami?” which is a fair thought since my WIP has an Irish tsunami in it… even if it did happen 4000 years ago…

As we walked to the far end of the beach, the cliffs became steeper and steeper until they were towering over us, with boulders overhanging – all it needed was a road runner, Wylie Coyote and some ACME dynamite!

My Husband thought that this rock formation looked like a stormtrooper.

By this stage, I was stressing about how we’d be rescued if the cliff collapsed with us on the ‘wrong side’ of it, or worse, under it! The joys of having a fertile imagination!

I did enjoy the rock pools though.

We made it safely back to the car and headed to Five Finger Strand passing the cute Wild Alpaca Way!

The drive to Fiver Finger Strand is stunning.

These signs were a sad indication of how people would do anything to get that fabulous photograph and I dread to think about what happened leading to this signage…

Five  Finger Strand is indeed a gorgeous beach to look at – miles of golden sand but the water is treacherous here so no dipping in to cool down (or catch hypothermia as is more likely the case).

After a quick stop for a sandwich and a coffee at Inish Brew, we headed to Doagh Famine Village.

It was an interesting tour and very much designed for rainy weather but weirdly the sun was out and we were soon exploring the coast, with Carrickabraghy Castle and baby calves to dress the scene.

This was the end point of our WAW first leg. A pitifully short distance in road mileage but stunning at every bend (and there were many) of the road.

On the way home the next day we called in at Wild Ireland.

What a treat to see such beautiful animals. The place does and great job with conservation – not just of the animals but the grounds are beautiful native temperate rainforest habitat – showing what this Island looked like before people cleared the forests for agriculture beginning as far back as Neolithic times.

All in all, it was a fab trip – we only managed to complete about 100 km of the Wild Atlantic Way so that leaves … about 2500 km left to do (not counting the wee wriggly bits we add in between stops.) There’s plenty to keep us exploring for a very long time! How lucky we are to have this nearly on our doorstep and have access to such wonderful scenery and vistas.

Byddi Lee