Thursday 23 January 2020

Top 10 things to do on Inishowen - from wolves to wild Atlantic waves

Perfect 10: Explore Ireland's most northerly point with Kathy Donaghy's guide to Inishowen

Malin Head - Ireland's most northerly point
Malin Head - Ireland's most northerly point
Wolves at Wild Ireland in Co Donegal
Alpacas in Donegal. Photo: wildalpacaway.com
Nancy's Barn

Kathy Donaghy

Donegal's wild peninsula is a northern light.

1. Hit the beach

Because you're on a peninsula, you're never far from a beach in Inishowen. Whether you're a seasoned swimmer or just fancy a walk by the sea, you're in for a treat. Head to Pollan Strand in Ballyliffin to watch the surfers take on big rollers or to Culdaff beach - a Blue Flag beach - for some dolphin spotting. The sheltered cove and swimming beach at Shroove - also with a Blue Flag - is located just outside the village of Greencastle. It's a perfect start and end point for walking along Inishowen Head where, on a clear day, you'll have views of the western Scottish isles of Islay and Jura. govisitdonegal.com

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2. Magic Forts

It began as an ancient burial site dating from around 1,700BC to the time of the Tuatha dé Danann. The stone fort of Grianán of Aileach still stands in its windy and exposed place as a silent witness to local history. The present structure dates from the 6th century, its five-metre high walls sitting 250m above sea level. From here, the views of Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly are breathtaking. You can also look westward to Donegal's highest peak, Mount Errigal. The nearby Burt Chapel was designed by one of the country's finest architects, Liam McCormick, who drew inspiration from the ancient fort. If history is your thing, visit Dunree fort outside Buncrana, now a military museum. It's near the spot where Theobald Wolfe Tone was brought ashore in Lough Swilly, following his capture in 1798. archaeology.ie; dunree.pro.ie

3. Wild Atlantic ways

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Wolves at Wild Ireland in Co Donegal

Wild Ireland is Donegal's newest visitor attraction. Situated in a forested area in Dundrain near Burnfoot, step back in time to an era when wolves and bears roamed the land. Visitors have been flocking to see the European wolves, brown bears and lynx in the wildlife sanctuary run by zoologist Killian McLaughlin since it opened this autumn. Wild boar, swans, abundant bird life and even a cheeky pair of otters call this place home and, with a fairy rail around the forest, the sanctuary is well worth a visit. It's open every day from 10am to 4pm with last entry at 3pm. Admission is €10 for adults and €8 for children (visitors aged two and under go free). wildireland.org

4. Adventures for all

Sliabh Sneacht, at 615m, is the roof of Inishowen. From the top you get incredible views right across the peninsula to Errigal and Muckish in the west, to Rathlin and the Scottish coast in the east. The fairly arduous hike takes you across bog before you make the ascent - allow four hours for your trip to the summit and return. Elsewhere, the 3km looped walk from Leenan Beach that takes in two mountain lakes is a good, family-friendly option. You just follow the trailhead from the beach and make your way over a surfaced track up into the hills. Other activity options include exploring the peninsula by kayak with Inish Adventures from Moville (a half-day with gear starts from €40); beach pony treks from Tullagh Equestrian Centre near Clonmany, and bikes can be rented from Carrick in West Donegal from around €15 a day. inishadventures.com; tullaghbayequestrian.ie; irelandbybike.com; wildatlanticway.com

5. Flavoursome Adventures

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Nancy's Barn

There are lots of coffee pitstops and options for lunch and dinner dotted around the peninsula. A welcome addition to Buncrana's dining scene is Tank and Skinny's overlooking Lough Swilly, while its sister café on the main street in the border village of Muff serves great coffee and cakes. Nancy's Barn in Ballyliffin is worth a visit for the chowder (pictured) alone - chef and proprietor Kieran Doherty was crowned World Chowder Champion in 2017. In Moville, local celebrity chef Brian McDermott serves seafood fresh off the boat at his new premises, The Foyle Hotel. facebook.com/tankandskinnysseaside; nancysbarn.ie; foylehotel.ie

6. Ireland's Most Northerly Point

Malin Head alone is worth making the journey to the far North for. The makers of Star Wars included it as a location for the last movie - with its rugged coastline battered by the swirling Atlantic, it has beautiful beaches and coastal walks. At Banba's Crown, the most northerly tip, stands an abandoned tower formerly used as a signalling station. Caffe Banba has an outpost here, so even in this remote, windswept location, you can still get a good cup of coffee and a home-baked bun. A newly constructed walkway means you can walk along the coastline to Hell's Hole, a subterranean cavern where the tide gushes in, too. donegalclimbing.ie

7. Northern Lights

A quiet beach at night. The night sky comes alive with dancing colours of pink, green and majestic blue. To see the Northern Lights requires three ingredients: the right solar conditions, clear skies to the north and no light pollution. If they're in place, Inishowen's unspoiled landscape is perfect for stargazers to witness the phenomenon. While the Northern Lights are notoriously hard to predict, the long winter nights are usually the best with optimum viewing opportunities between 9pm and 1am from November through February. See astronomy.ie for lights alerts.

8. Hang out with alpacas

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Alpacas in Donegal. Photo: wildalpacaway.com

Located at Malin Head, you can explore the views above the spectacular Five Fingers Strand below with an alpaca as your personal guide. The Wild Alpaca Way, run by local man John McGonagle and his family, opened for business last summer. You can walk the terrain along the stunning Knockamany Bens accompanied by one of the family's five alpacas Bounce, Mojo, Chestnut, Olly and Badger taking time for a picnic too. The photo ops from up here are stunning and by the end of the trail, you'll want to take your alpaca home. Treks from €20pp; wildalpacaway.com

9. Take to the seas

Skipper Eddie Doherty is offering a new boat-charter service for the summer season ahead. His yacht, Amazing Grace - which can comfortably sleep nine - is taking visitors around the coast off Malin Head and further afield. The Inishowen Boating Company operates two purpose-built fast charter boats from Bunagee Pier in Culdaff. Either will cater for parties of up to 12, and a day's fishing will cost from €400-€500 depending on the distance from port.

If surf's your thing, you're in good hands with coach Dan Gallanagh who runs Inishowen Surf School. Australian-born Gallanagh has spent over 30 years surfing, and he provides lessons from €25 for children and €30 for adults. See facebook.com/inishowenboating; amazing-grace.ie and inishowensurfschool.com for further info.

10. Sleep time

The Inishowen Gateway Hotel in the seaside town of Buncrana is a good three-star option with a spa and pool. A double in January starts from around €62. More upmarket is the Ballyliffin Lodge and Spa, located just 1km away from Pollan Beach (prices from €75pp midweek to €99pp at weekends). For those on more of a budget, Moville Boutique Hostel caters to individuals, families and groups of up to 30 people, starting from €30pp. For more information see inishowengateway.com; movilleboutiquehostel.com and ballyliffinlodge.com.

Get There

Inishowen is three and a half hours from Dublin by car. Allow another 40 minutes to get to Malin Head. McGinley's private buses operates a daily service from Dublin to Inishowen, while Bus Éireann/Ulsterbus operates a daily service to Derry City. buseireann.ie; johnmcginley.com

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Other wild and wonderful escapes off the beaten track in Ireland include the Beara and Sheep's Head peninsulas in West Cork, and Loop Head in Co Clare.

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