Wednesday 23 October 2019

Weekend Walk: There are no roads to this beautiful Donegal beach

Trá Mór (Tramore) is what Ireland's coastline might have felt like centuries ago, says Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

The more connected and developed our land becomes, the harder it is to find off-radar spots you can have to yourself... if only for a few minutes.

Well, recently, I found one at Trá Mór.

Ireland has several strands named Trá Mór (literally, 'big beach'), but this one - at the base of Donegal's Horn Head peninsula - is in a league of its own.

Driving from nearby Dunfanaghy, watch out for the car park sign pointing left after the lovely little arched bridge at the end of the sea inlet. From there, park up, enter via the gate and start walking through the woods.

It doesn't take long to hit the dunes, and for the wilderness to start.

Lurgabrack sand dunes, formed by tough grasses trapping wind-blown sand from the sea, form the undulating landscape stretching before you. A weathered Dúchas sign explains their origins, with illustrations of Greenland White-fronted geese and Cinnabar moths, recognisable by their striking red and black wings.

A horse approaches the camera near Trá Mór, Co Donegal
A horse approaches the camera near Trá Mór, Co Donegal
Tra Mor (Tramore), Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal
Pól Ó Conghaile (inset) on Donegal's Trá Mór
Pól Ó Conghaile on Tra Mór, Co Donegal

Pushing on, the paths rise and fall and your calves start to feel the burn. You'll wonder which dune leads to the beach... there are several false dawns.

You can skirt around them too, of course - lots of locals do. Either way, expect the outbound walk to take about half-an-hour, depending on how you dawdle.

And it is worth dawdling. If only to hear the sound change, to feel the wind rise - whispering in the grasses and huffing on the hilltops - to feel the traffic fade, to note the moment when roaring waves first enter your consciousness.

In summer and hot weather, you might be sharing the walk with plenty of others. In winter, or on colder days, you could have it to yourself.

On my outing, I came across a small herd of horses grazing, and got distracted several times by tiny little snails moving in slow-mo between long stems of grass. Small wonders thread a sense of intimacy through the widescreen scale of the place, with Muckish mountain brooding to the south.

Then you push through a final gate, summit a little hump, and boom!

Pól Ó Conghaile on Tra Mór, Co Donegal
Pól Ó Conghaile on Tra Mór, Co Donegal

The beach appears. A two-kilometre curve of sand stopping you in your tracks. Mine were the only footprints on the thing, with manes of steam hissed off rolling waves, and raindrops dribbling off the cliffs.

It's devastatingly beautiful - the fact that there is no direct road access makes it feel like a scene you could have stumbled across centuries ago.

Needless to say, there are no shops or facilities out here, so pack what you need and remember that you need to cover the same distance on the return.

There are dangerous currents and rip tides on Tramore too, so swimming is NOT recommended under any circumstances.

A 'big beach', indeed. In every sense of the phrase.

Need to know

Level: Moderate (buggies won't make it, and though most people of reasonable fitness won't have trouble, the dunes could be a struggle for younger kids).

Distance: 7km (c.10km if you walk the beach). Allow 1.5 to 3 hours.

A bite nearby: Dunfanaghy is the place for pints or cuppas afterwards - try the Starfish Cafe, Muck n' Muffins or Café Arnou.

More info:;

NB: Your Walking Checklist

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.

A fully charged phone, water and snacks, layers of appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear are essential for these walks. Bring a bag for rubbish, and pop a pair of clean shoes and socks in the boot for afterwards. You can thank us later!

Responsible walkers always respect private property.

Here's a list of Ireland's 30 best spring walks.

Here are seven amazing walks for a little extra adventure.

See for more great walks.

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