Saturday 17 March 2018

Losty Roads: The Donegal beach my Dad turned into our favourite place

Cloughglass, Co. Donegal

Cloughglass beach, Co. Donegal
Cloughglass beach, Co. Donegal
A nine-year-old Sharon Charity at Cloghglass beach

Sharon Charity

Everyone has a place in their heads they go to when they’re in the dentist’s chair or a traffic jam. For Sharon Charity, it’s Cloughglass Strand in Co. Donegal.

Reached down a ridiculously narrow and winding road, with grass growing up the middle and the occasional cow perched high above on a rock, this empty, sheltered cove near Burtonport is my special place.

The beach is surrounded by curvaceous slabs of pink granite that glitter in the sun - ideal for climbing and exploring. It has secret caves and rock pools, exposed when the tide goes out. The sand shelves gently, making it perfect for swimming, with another beach just a hundred metres or so across the turquoise water.

Even in the era of Google Maps it’s hard to track Cloughglass down, tucked away about six miles north of Burtonport on the road to Kincasslagh. How my family found it in the mid-1960s would be hard to fathom... unless you knew my Dad.

He was a born explorer who loved trying out tiny roads and seeing where they went.

‘Losty roads,’ he called them.

There were plenty in the country areas around Omagh, where he and Mum moved to when he became head of the local secondary school.

The lure of the 'losty road' was the reason we discovered Cloughglass. Another was Dad’s loathing of weekends at home - with their ever-present risks of bumping into pupils, ex-pupils or parents outside Wellworths.

From Monday to Friday, he was ‘Master Leitch’ or even, Doctor Who-ishly, ‘The Master’. As soon as his car left the school premises on a Friday afternoon he let it all go, however. We’d set off early on a Saturday morning with a pressure-cooker of Irish stew wrapped in newspaper. Then it was two hours of squabbling and car-sickness in the back of the Vauxhall Viva for me and my brother. We’d stop and unleash the stew at the top of the hairpin bends around Finntown.

Cloughglass, Sharon Charity.jpg
A nine-year-old Sharon Charity at Cloghglass beach

Sharon Charity, then aged 9, at Cloughglass

The last leg of the journey ended with a couple of miles on a narrow track edged with large rocks, one of which once dared to scratch the holy turquoise paintwork of my Granda’s Morris 1100. So offensive was this to my Granda, that a man had to be brought from Dungloe to blow it up with gelignite.

This was in 1967, probably the last time freelance explosives were available to the weekending tourist from the North.

When I think of Cloughglass, I’m a seven-year-old sliding down the sand-dunes and scrambling barefoot over the rocks, coming out of the sea blue with cold with my mum holding a towel to wrap me up. We’d search for soft, scarlet sea anemones in the rock pools, unkindly poking them with a stick.

In my memory, this sort of thing amused us all day, but probably the reality was more like a couple of hours. After that we’d start whining to go somewhere more interesting, like Reids’ shop in Burtonport with its fascinating selection of stock ranging from mackerel lines to whoopee cushions and black-face soap.

Today the shop is gone but the beach is still there, utterly unspoilt.

The Wild Atlantic Way has done wonders in promoting the glories of Ireland’s ocean fringe, but to me this hidden corner and its childhood memories make it more special than any of the big hitter beaches on ‘Top 10’ lists.

It's my favourite view, and I think, Ireland's best.

Sharon Charity is a writer currently working on a book entitled 'Seven Sunsets: Wild Weekends on Ireland's Atlantic Coast' with artist Danny Flynn.

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