The sign above is the one I will now follow for the next few days. I took lots of photos to show you the places that I visited, but below is the Irish Tourist Board's video of the Wild Atlantic Way. Watching it will show you just why I was so excited to drive this glorious, weaving, winding, and very narrow coastal road. I only had time to go from the start in north Donegal to Sligo Town, but I've promised myself that I will return and drive all the way to the end in Cork.
I caught the ferry just outside Castlerock, Northern Ireland to Greencastle in Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. I had been told the place to start my coastal tour was Malin Head, as far North as North goes in Ireland. Here is a link to the map of the WAW that will give you an idea of my route.
This narrow road (a word I will use over and over when describing Irish roads) wandered through a few small villages before literally ending with a view of the Atlantic Ocean that has nothing between where I was standing and the Arctic Circle. Desolate, barren except for some grasses, an old radio tower and waves crashing into Hell's Hole.
After a short walk around (it was very cold and windy) I was back in the Kia driving south as the ferry across Lough Foyle was no longer running. I had to drive back down to Londonderry, around the end of the Lough and back through Letterkenny (hot spot of tech companies) and a short side-trip through Glenveagh National Park. I hoped out of the car to take a photo of the castle and right back in, as the midges (Ireland's answer to mosquitoes) were out in full-force and noses and ears and eyes are their favorite places to invade!
I was headed to Dunfanghy, which is nestled at the foot of mountains, on the edge of the Atlantic and the location of Ireland's best Blues and Jazz Festival. I had booked one night at The Forest Lodge B&B which was just lovely. I had a beautiful, big feather bed and a glorious view outside my window. For dinner, I had a delicious seafood chowder and homemade wheaten bread at Lizzie's Diner.
Jean Scott, the Lodge's owner, informed me I had to have a full-Irish breakfast to start my day. Traditionally, the most common ingredients of this breakfast are bacon rashers, the most delicious pork sausages, fried eggs, black pudding (not a favorite) and fried tomato. Sauteed mushrooms were also included, as well as hash browns and a slice brown soda bread. All of this is washed down with a steaming cup of strong breakfast tea. I could barely move when I finally finished.
All during breakfast, Jean and her daughter-in-law were convincing me that I really had to drive the narrow, single-lane road up to the top of Horn Head. They kept telling me that even though this road was REALLY narrow, it was a circle and was just one-way, unless tourist who can't read the map or road signs or a local, who doesn't care, decides to want to go the other way!
I crossed my fingers, said a prayer, and said sure, I would give it a try. The day was just beautiful and who wouldn't want to see a glorious view!
Maybe the above shot will give you an idea of the width of the road. This was taken with me sitting behind the wheel of my tiny little Kia which is taking up the entire width of the road. Please note: There are NO shoulders and NO GUARDRAILS! And yes, it does looks like the road just ends and falls off the cliff into the sea. (Also note the reflecting decal in the lower right-hand corner of the rental car window. It's to remind we wrong-side-drivers where the car should be in relationship to the ---- line. It helps!)
I did meet a very nice gentleman who had just stopped and was standing in the middle of the road taking in the view. We struck up a conversation since there was no option but to go around him and drive off the edge of the cliff. This gentleman was a retired doctor from Northern Ireland who comes to this area of Donegal to hike the mountains. He shared what he knew about the history of the area and told me all about his family. It's just amazing the opportunities that arise when traveling to meet and talk to interesting people.
Driving south, following the sometimes confusing Wild Atlantic Way signs,
the rest of the day I hugged the edge of the weaving, winding coastline of Donegal. Being a strong, independent women who has no issues admitting when she is lost and asking for help, I meet some extremely nice people this day. You should know that Donegal is a Gaelic-speaking county. All of the road signs are written in it, which makes an English-language map almost useless when trying to reach a destination what is spelled and pronounced completely differently than what you think it should be. i.e. Sliabh Liag = Sieve League
The folks I asked for directions had very heavy accents but were more than happy to make sure I got to where I was headed. But their first question was always was 'Where are you from?' Once I tell them, I learn that either they've been to the States (and they tell me where and when and why); or they tell me they have a relative living in Chicago and ask if I happen to know _______? (Fill in any good Irish name!).
My destination for the end of this day was the village of Glencolumbkille. What my lovely AirBnB hostess, Geraldine, didn't tell me, or maybe she wanted to keep it as a surprise, was that to reach the village I had to travel through the valley and over Glengesh Pass.
This is one of the most beautiful places I have every seen - ever - which includes a drive up one of the most amazing and narrow roads I had yet to travel. The higher I got, the tighter the hairpin turns became. I was literally turning back onto myself and I can't imagine what would have happened if I had met a car or truck coming from the other way. There are no shoulders so no place to pull over and let another car pass. When I reached the the top where there was a large car park where you can stop to breath and for photo ops. Sitting there was a huge tour bus filled with Germans. How he was going to manage those turns I didn't even want to think about - and I certainly didn't want to be in that bus!
Here are just two photos that don't even begin to show just how beatuiful this valley was. Look close at the first photo and you can see the road winding up and up to the top of the pass.
And here is the magnificent view from the top!
I'm going to leave you at the top for just a bit - as this Blogger program doesn't seem to like overly long blog posts. Yesterday I lost 4 hours of work, so today I'm stopping after 2 today and will finish writing up the rest of my time in Ireland tomorrow.