Roz Purcell’s Active Weekends: Six super tips for Sligo and Donegal
Active breaks in Ireland
Planning an active weekend away? I’ve made it my mission to see more of Ireland, ticking off village by village, hike by hike and café by café...
This weekend I headed for Donegal and Sligo. I wanted to escape the city, have a digital detox and get some much-needed fresh air and Irish hospitality.
The northwest is full of outdoor ativities. No matter what the weather - rain, wind or snow (I won’t say sun in case I get your hopes up) - you can be sure to get a serious amount of activity in across your weekend.
Here's how to make the most of your getaway!
1. Kick start your Saturday
First stop is Sliabh League's 'Grey Mountain' Cliff Walk.
This walk is probably one of the most jaw-dropping I’ve been on for scenery, even though I went on a pretty rainy “grey” day. Make sure you have your camera at the ready for the dramatic drops, photogenic sheep and meandering paths.
I recommend heading onto the peninsula early, just after sunrise to capture the place at its quietest. We did, and had the walk to ourselves for over an hour - there was something very magical about it. For your choice of routes, park at the lower car park - from here it's a 1.5-hour walk (roughly) or just under 3km.
There's also the option of walking the whole way along One Man's Pass, but you'll have to plan to make sure there is a vehicle there to meet you. I believe a lot of the walking tours cater for this (try sliabhliagtours.ie). It takes 3-4 hours approx.
The track has recently been renovated to make it more accessible, but I'd recommend wearing sports gear and gripped shoes - and be prepared for some cross winds (opt for a dry day if you're cautious). The climb is steep, but so worth it once you reach the top to get a panoramic view right over Donegal Bay to Ben Bulben and Mayo.
The surroundings up here are almost movie like - but the vast Atlantic ocean roaring with howling winds made me feel surprisingly calm and rooted. I'm not sure how to really say this, but standing up there almost felt like time had stopped - something I don't usually ever get living in a city.
If you have a dog, bring a harness and lead as this is a requirement. Oh, and as you drive down off the mountain don’t forget to stop in the Slieve Liag pub to warm up by the fire and have a beer!
2. A secret beach
If you decide not to walk to Malin Beg (above), you can drive there by car, heading north west for about 20 minutes.
When we first pulled up to the car park overlooking the cliff with the wind howling around us, I was happy enough checking the view through the window. That was, until I glimpsed over the edge and saw Silver Strand. Then I couldn’t resist.
There are 150 steps exactly (I counted!) to this other worldly beach cradled by two skyscraper cliffs on either side... they blocked out all that wind, creating a calm and ethereal environment.
To the left as you stand looking out on the Atlantic, there's a small but impressive waterfall and once again we had the place to ourselves - so there’s a lot to be said for going on a rainy grey day! I felt very envious of anyone who grew up with this as their back garden, it's an inspirational place.
3. The pit-stop
I recommend a stop off at the new Ahoy Café in Killybegs (facebook.com/ahoycafekillybegs) for some traditional Donegal cooking, maybe a fish chowder. Or how about a superfood salad? It's a homely spot that caters for all kinds of eaters - you get the same sense you get when you are sitting at your family table. Top tip: get the homemade brownie.
4. Somewhere memorable to stay
I stayed in the four-star Harvey’s Point, located on the shores of Lough Eske. Harvey’s is always my first choice traveling to Donegal because of their spacious rooms, amazing breakfast, warm staff and yes, they are dog friendly!
After your re-fuel and copious cups of tea, I suggest heading back to the hotel, running the Jacuzzi in your room and booking in for a spectacular meal in the hotel (don’t forget the free drinks reception from 5.30-6.30 pm).
See harveyspoint.com; rates from €99pp per night.
5. Strike out on Sunday
Next hike stop is Ben Bulben, roughly a 50-minute drive from Harvey’s Point - along which you'll pass through some of the most iconic towns and beautiful spots in Donegal. If you have time, stop and take in Mullaghmore particularly.
If you are like me and you like off the trail adventure, you’ll love Ben Bulben. Think Table Mountain in Cape Town, only in Sligo!
To access the mountain, we drove to a small ‘Irish car park’ on the north side - off the N15 near Luke's Bridge. This feels like one of the narrowest roads in Ireland, but we made it! Park up and put on your boots... you need to be prepared for a little mud here.
There's no defined track up Ben Bulben, so you're walking at your own risk*, and we followed a small track in the grass along by a stream. The walk took us about 1.45 to two hours, but it was a really memorable climb.
Ben Bulben can be a challenging hike, particularly in bad weather, so take extreme care and pack and prepare properly. If you prefer, there's also a shorter, family-friendly walk at the foot of the mountain - the Gortarowey Loop.
Don’t forget to have some clean shoes and socks back at the car!
5. Refuel before returning to reality
All of this hiking will create quite a hunger, so I suggest driving back along the coast to Sligo, and stopping off for a healthy lunch in Sweet Beat Café on the main street. Their veggie burger or their waffles are recommended!
Then jump on the M4 for a 2.5-hour drive back to reality.
For more on Roz Purcell's food and travels, see naturalbornfeeder.com.
See also sligotourism.ie, govisitdonegal.com and activeme.ie. For further walks check out the great range on sligowalks.ie.
*Safety comes first on a walk, no matter how easy. Check the weather, leave word of where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and pack smart!
NB. Responsible walkers always respect private property.
Read more:25 Best Walks in Ireland: No matter what your fitness level!