We love planning a trip to Donegal. It is one of our favourite places to visit. We like it so much that we have three hostels in Donegal. We don’t care that it is as far away from the East Coast as you can get without falling into the Atlantic. That just means an extra long road trip with our friends through stunning scenery. Extra bonus! We wouldn’t go there unless there was good reason to get there and we have pinpointed what exactly we love about the place.
Donegal is hiking central. There is over 280km of way marked trails in the county. These are as diverse as the tweed that is woven in the county. Trails range from the rock strewn lake landscape of Slí na Rosann, the remote and dramatic valleys of Slí Cholmcille or the wilderness salmon rivers of Slí na Finne. Then there is the Bluestack Way, the Glenveagh Way and the Errigal Way. The types of hiking trails in Donegal range from easy to expert, linear to looped, and they cover ground such as beach, unused railway tracks and mountain bog.
Language experts spend a considerable amount of time discussing the rise and fall of dipthongs and the influence of Scottish lilt on the Donegal accent. We don’t care about that. We just think it sounds great. We want to listen to someone say “You have a brave way to go yet before you will get a lock of tea in Errigal. After that you’ll have a wile time in Tra na Rosann. It is a rare wee hostel hi”. That last “hi” seems to add a bit of divilment and a twinkle to the conversation while the overall effect is as Des Bishop says “like being petted”. They could be telling you to get out and never come back and it would still sound hospitable. Lovely!
Donegal does not just stop at the sea. It is so good that it just kept on going. There are islands all around the Donegal coastline. Most of the islands are accessible by ferry. Some you can get to by waiting for the tide to go out. Like everything else in Donegal, they are diverse, ranging from the stark atmosphere of Inishfree to Tory with its own king and its enigmatic mysterious Tau cross. These islands are home to the oldest geology and the most remote communities in Ireland so they make for a unique day trip.
The great thing about Donegal is the varied scenery. We have been doing the scenic drive along Donegal’s coast since the Wild Atlantic Way was just a mild atlantic trail. Slipping off the tourist route and exploring the interior county opens up new vistas. For every Sliabh League there is a Glengesh Pass. For every Malin Head there is a desolate R250. No matter where you go in Donegal there is always more to see.
Donegal, being a remote part of Ireland is relatively unspoiled. For wild animals, this is like their playground. Upland areas are home to badgers, foxes and stoats while the skies are home to Ravens, Peregrines, Stonechat and Grouse and of course, the Golden Eagles. Donegal is also one of the last few places in Ireland where the corncrake can be heard and seen. Herds of wild deer can be seen roaming in the National Park. Siskins, Treecreepers, Redstarts and Wood Warblers are some of the birds that can be found in woodland areas. The coastline is also a great spot for animals, with plentiful dolphins and the gentle giants of the deep – basking sharks.
Donegal is not usually known for its food, but once again, you have to know where to look and who to ask. Foraging is all the rage these days but in Donegal this used to be just called “getting the dinner”. Irish seasons do not follow the seasons like the rest of the world. Winter is short. Spring and Autumn are long. Summer does whatever it feels like. Donegal goes further than this. It has micro-climates. This means that the weather is tribal and will probably follow the local football team or sheep-farming postman. This allows for all sorts of weird and wonderful culinary delights such as oatcakes, seaweed recipes and bottles of Football Special. Who else but a Donegal person could invent tabasco sauce?
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