48hours in West Donegal

We ventured to West Donegal for two nights.

We needed a break. There happened to be a birthday. Matt’s birthday. The perfect excuse. If we even needed one…

It all started with a dark cold evening in that strange hangover between Christmas & New Year. I was browsing Airbnb, creating a bucket list of locations. I say locations. What I really mean is tiny homes, much like Field Cottage, dotted up and down the island of Ireland.

There’s no place like home. Apart from homes very similar to home, that are lovingly kept beautiful by people other than me. Which is exactly why The Swallow’s Nest, just outside Glenties, West Donegal, caught my eye.

This idyllic little spot is an old cow barn, lovingly renovated by Allaye. Wonderfully cosy; with just the right amount of home comforts. I can see why it has so many good reviews. A taste of Irish rural living at it’s finest – especially with the mezzanine bed. There’s a window all the way down one side, letting you slowly awaken to the sight of grazing sheep. Very peaceful!

But what did we get up to in West Donegal? And what would I recommend you get up to?

Visit Eas a’ Ranca / Assaranca Waterfall

This stunning waterfall is a short drive ( about 1km ) from Ardara, on route to Maghera Beach. I LOVED it. As if you couldn’t tell…

Explore the Caves at Maghera Beach

Only 1km down the road from the waterfall, lies Maghera Beach. As unprepared January tourists – we wandered through the sand dunes unsure what lay ahead, and with no one to ask for directions / help. This deserted spot is bound to be popular when the sun shines. But even at that, it feels just far enough out into the wilds to be left unscathed by the masses.

With over 20 caves in total, it’s advisable to plan your visit for low tide. Then you’ll get to explore. Otherwise they’ll all be full of sea water… and some what less fun on foot! We spent a wind swept hour walking up and down the strand, plucking up the courage to head into some of the caves, and clambering up the interesting rock formations. I spend almost as long removing sand from eyes and hair… It was worth it though. Such beauty, and all alone. We met six dogs, and one human. Thanks for the respite Maghera Beach and caves!

Chowder in Nancys

When I ask friend where to eat when we where in West Donegal, he didn’t come back to me with too many options. Most of the popular areas are deserted in January – must be because of all that wind and rain… What he did suggest was a lunch time pint of Guinness and bowl of chowder in Nancys, Ardara.

After an early morning horse ride in the hills, we were very happy to warm our mitts cradling a big bowl of seafood chowder in the cosy front bar of Nancy’s. It’s a friendly feeling traditional bar, that I have made note of for future visits. I am dying to get back in the evening, to have a bit of craic with the locals!

Sliabh Liag / Slieve League Cliffs

Now. Lets start with an important pointer. Especially if you are visiting West Donegal in winter like Matt and I were. There is a large carpark at the top of the hill. It has an information centre ( closed at the time if year ) and toilets. However, at the top of these carparks, there is another gate. It is closed, but not locked. With instructions to close the gate behind you highlighted all over. DRIVE THROUGH THAT GATE! If you park your car here, with the intention of walking a few miles to the cliffs – you will need to be made of stronger stuff that I! I imagine the walk is stunning during the spring / summer. But on a blustery, showery day; you’d be well advised to drive to the second car park. Where you can enjoy the views, and as much of a walk as you are game for.

The Sliabh Liag cliffs themselves are truly beautiful. Rising almost 2000 ft from the Atlantic, they are one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe. And are, in fact, twice as high as the cliffs of Mohar! There are also an incredible area of bird, and sheep life to watch and enjoy. Something I can imagine would be in shorter supply in the summer months, when the cliffs are a popular attraction.

Fish & Chips in Killybegs

After being blown every which way on our walk at the Sliabh Liag cliffs, we were both a bit chilly, and ravenous. Luckily the largest fishing port in the county is only a short drive away. Killybegs town was a welcome pitstop for a very generous helping of fish and chips. Not only is the coast the perfect place to enjoy a big plate of vinegar soaked fish and chips, but being the largest fishing port meant that it was as fresh as can be! We went to Melly’s, and really enjoyed their hearty portions, friendly staff and wonderfully crisp chips… #Yum

Horse Ride Around Errigle Mountain

The very best way to explore anywhere is via horseback. And I am not just saying that as an equestrian lassie. There’s something about having a little piece if nature guide you are the terrain that just makes everything come to life. The local wildlife take far less notice of a small group of horses, than it does a clatter of human folk. And everything just feels a little more, like it should. Relaxation points are maximised here too.

It’s also worth noting that you will cover much more ground on horseback than on foot. If you think I would have explored even a quarter of the area around Errigle Mountain on foot, as I did on horseback – you are very much mistaken!

For this particular ride we went to The Wild Atlantic Equestrian Centre & I would highly recommend them – even if you are a beginner. The two ponies we rode – Dawn & Dancer – were very sweet natured, but also knew how to move when the opportunity for a speedy moment arrived!

As always, we didn’t manage to explore even a wee bit of the area. And intend to visit again soon. Probably to stay in exactly the same place! I’d love to hear your tips, if you’ve visited any area of Ireland before; and especially for Cork, as it’s our next port of call!