Where to stay, eat and visit on a short trip to north west Donegal – home to five of the Discovery Points on Ireland’s new Wild Atlantic Way.
Before arrival, the most essential items you need to pack for a weekend exploring the pretty coastline around Creeslough in North West Donegal are a good pair of walking shoes, a waterproof and a camera.
Donegal is all about the scenery and this part of the county is no exception. Some say it is the jewel in the crown. Whatever your opinion, be prepared to leave with cleaner lungs and a brighter spirit.
The main attractions
The road that hugs the coastline from Falcarragh in the west to Island Roy near Carrigart in the east spans about 40km and takes in no less than five Discovery Points – Horn Head, Marble Hill, Doe Castle, Rossguill Peninsula and Island Roy itself.
It’s easy to see why these scenic spots were chosen although whoever had to make the decision on which locations to choose definitely had a tough job.
Beaches, walks and viewpoints
For more equally beautiful beaches to loose yourself on check out Falcarragh’s endless Back Strand for views out to Tory Island (follow the signs for Trá from the town centre).
Make time to visit Killahoey beach in Dunfanaghy for an enjoyable looped walk to and from the village, when the tide’s out.
Both beaches can be accessed easily from their respective car parks.
If it’s a decent leg stretch you’re after then pack a flask and head off across the sand dunes to visit Tra More beach, at the foot of the Horn Head road in Dunfanaghy. You’ll probably have the place to yourself.
If the sea is high park on the quayside at Port na Blagh and prepare to be engulfed by waves as you look over to Horn Head.
Marble Hill beach is popular with surfers due to its long, safe beach shelf and never ending waves. When the swell is down, however, take a kayak round the headland of Breahy Head to visit otherwise inaccessible sea caves.
Take a short, medium or long walk in Ards Forest Park, a 480 hectare Coillte managed forest park between Dunfanaghy and Creeslough. The park offers sheltered forest trails, treks across sand dunes and leisurely beach walks.
Park in the free car park at Ards Friary and check out the popular Coffee Dock for great cake and teas after short walk round the headland to the Lucky Shell beach.
Ards Friary itself is also a venue for mindfulness retreats run by Inner Haven’s Aoife Valley.
Many visitors to this part of Donegal visit the castle, gardens and countryside of Glenveagh National Park, a 16,000 hectare estate in the Derryveagh Mountains.
The estate was created in 1857 by John Adair who went on to evict many tenant farmers and their families during the infamous Derryveah Evictions of 1861.
Nearer the sea, Doe Castle is situated on a breathtakingly beautiful inlet of Sheephaven Bay in north west Donegal.
It was the ancient seat of the Mac Sweeney Chiefs of Doe and has its own tragic romance and history.
Getting around north west Donegal
Some form of transport is essential to make the most of the scenery and your short time here. A car is good but you can also get around for a weekend on a bike. The roads are well maintained and places are well signposted.
Grassroutes in nearby Termon (+353 74 9119988) has electric bikes for hire by the day or longer.
Many of the coach operators have routes nationwide to Sligo and Galway, Derry and Belfast and internationally to Glasgow.
The population of the seaside tourist villages of Dunfanaghy and Downings swells in the summer months as holiday makers from Northern Ireland arrive to stay at their second homes.
Both villages have a relaxed friendly vibe and all visitors are welcomed to the various coffee shops, art galleries, cafes and pubs.
Holiday accommodation options are available to suit all budgets, see GoVisitDonegal for listings.
In Creeslough Wild Atlantic Camp (+353 74 91 38400) offers wooden glamping pods for €50 per night (sleeping 4 adults) plus motorhome (€25 pn) and tent (€10) pitches.
Eat and drink
Thankfully there are still plenty of Irish pubs to be found in the seaside villages around Creeslough.
In Creeslough itself there is Roses Bar which serves Irish craft beer and has live music and Take Your Pick every Saturday night. Alternatively there’s McNulty’s Bar on the main street.
When to visit
Donegal is one of the most unspoilt counties in Ireland and, while there are busier times during the summer months when school’s out, it doesn’t ever suffer from clogged roads or car parks.
Creeslough and the villages that surround it all have their own summer festivals mainly around the end of July and beginning of August.
Expect tractor pulling, bouncy castles, tossing the hay bale, tug of war, tea tents, traditional music and ceili dancing during the day and marquees with crowd pleasing bands during the night.
Outside the summer months June brings the Donegal International Rally to this part of the county – the Atlantic Drive stage around Downings is one of the most picturesque in the world and not for the faint hearted.
The second week of September sees the Dunfanaghy Jazz and Blues Festival which is heading in to its 7th year and brings music fans from all over for a long weekend.