Charity walk will take place over seven days in September
From Urris Hills in Inishowen to the stunning heights of Slieve League, a ‘Donegal Camino’ will shortly get under way – and its ambitions are as impressive as the landscape.
“Our aim is to grow the Donegal Camino to the Number 1 hike in Ireland," says Noel Cunningham of Harvey’s Point Hotel, one of the organisers of the multi-day hike.
Running from September 4-10, the walk is now in its second year and aims to showcase the hiking highlights of Donegal while raising funds for the Cancer Care West Support Centre in Letterkenny.
Just 70 places are available for walkers, who can join for one day (€30), three days (€75) or seven (€150).
The Donegal Camino is a series of walks in separate locations, rather than a single connected route, beginning with a looped walk on the Urris Hills in Inishowen.
Other days range from “moderate” to “strenuous”, including routes on the Rosguill Peninsula, in the Derryveagh and Bluestack Mountains, and finishing on Slieve League’s Pilgrim’s Path and infamous One Man’s Path.
Mr Cunningham devised the concept last year with Donegal businesswomen Peggy Stringer and Deirdre McGlone, and the seven days of walking will be guided by John McGroary and his company Walking Ireland.
A mystery island visit is also planned, details of which “will be revealed in time”, organisers say. Surprise appearances from “Donegal’s most famous faces” are promised, too.
"The Donegal Camino encapsulates the diversity of the walking landscape of the northwest, but our wholesome personality and people are unique too and you could easily meet Daniel O’Donnell or Moya Brennan,” says Joan Crawford, who works with Fáilte Ireland in the county.
"The traditional Camino ethos is at the heart of the week for all walkers,” Mr Cunningham says.
"If you want to remember a loved one who’s suffered cancer, or simply walk to reconnect with yourself or take time out from your busy life, the Donegal Camino will give this to you.
“There’s also the fun factor for walkers who wish to celebrate honest to goodness Donegal walking, good food and hospitality.”
It comes as interest in walking and the outdoors continues to bloom in Ireland, with soccer star Paul McGrath this year launching the Columban Way, a 45km trail inspired by St Columbanus in Co Carlow.
A revitalised St Declan's Way provides another “Celtic Camino’ between Cashel and Ardmore, while Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys, this month announced almost €1m to support 446 walking trails across the country.
On the Donegal Camino, walkers need to book their own accommodation and meals, and transport is not included (walks have the same start and finish points).
Completion of the Camino will be celebrated in Killybegs with a slap-up dinner in Anderson’s Boat House Restaurant, “where hiking boots and walking gear will be swapped for dancing shoes and glamour”.
Last year, the hike raised €26,000. In 2022 organisers hope to exceed that, with walkers also invited to fundraise in advance for Cancer Care.
The week of walking is supported by Údarás na Gaeltachta and Fáilte Ireland along with sponsors Promise Gluten Free and Vodafone Donegal, private donations and the walkers themselves.
For more information, see donegalcamino.ie