Ireland. I’ve always wanted to experience for myself what life is like over there. Ever since I saw pictures as a kid I’ve been dreaming of driving along the Wild Atlantic Way when I grew up. Well, I’ve been grown up for quite a while now, but for some reason I never managed to make it to Ireland. But in February, I finally made it happen! I drove the Wild Atlantic Way in the northwest of Ireland, al the way from Downpatrick Head to the Great Pollet Sea Arch.
I arrived in Dublin, picked up my rental car and left the city towards the Surfcoast and Northern Headlands. After all, I was there to explore the countryside. I’m sure Dublin is a really beautiful city with a vibrant atmosphere, but for me it’ll have to wait until another time. First thing I learned: Dub City Radio doesn’t actually play dub music. Oh, and surfing on the Surf Coast seemed too dangerous to try.
I didn’t let that disappoint me and I soon arrived at the area I had in mind: the stretch of the Wild Atlantic that runs from Downpatrick Head all the way to the Great Pollet Sea Arch, of which I heard it was no longer accessible and I took it as a challenge. This drive runs through 4 Irish counties: County Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal.
Travel is slow in Ireland: there are very few highways and lots of farm vehicles. So you can’t and shouldn’t rush it. Take your time and enjoy the green scenery of this marvellous country go by. I’ll tell you my favourite natural attractions below:
A magnificent sea stack rising almost 40m above sea level. It’s also often referred to as the Dun Briste Sea Stack. It’s amazing to see the different layers of coloured rock and the birds flying around and nesting on top of the rock formation. You can still see the ruins of a church. It was once popular for pilgrims, now it’s a heaven for landscape photographers. I guess not much has changed, has it?
Castle Island, Lough Key
The lough is believed to be named after a mythical figure named Cé (pronounced Key). It’s one of the most popular attractions for day trips in the area, but for me it was just a quick stop along the way. If you have a drone, Castle Island is super photogenic from above!
Glencar Lough, the Glencar Waterfall and Devil’s Chimney
In this area alone you can spend a whole day, maybe more. I have this thing for waterfalls so I definitely wanted to see Glencar Waterfall and Devil’s Chimney. Devil’s Chimney is not so well known and it only flows after heavy rainfall. If you can’t see it from the road, then it’s not flowing. You can follow a moderately steep trail to get closer to the waterfall. From there you also have great views over the lake called Glencar Lough. Glencar Waterfall is the most famous of the two, with a large parking lot, asphalted path towards the fall and a tea shed nearby. Still well worth a stop!
Eagle’s Rock is Ireland’s highest freestanding rock formation, measuring a whopping 330 meters! You can do a tough but rewarding 6-hour hike to see the interesting limestone rock formation up close, although the best pictures can be made from the parking lot itself.
A mountain along the Atlantic coast of County Donegal. The cliffs of Sleave League are not as known as the cliffs of Moher, but they are almost 3 times as high! The hike from the parking lot to the viewpoint takes a while but it’s definitely worth it. If you can’t get enough of hiking, you can continue along the Pilgrim path.
Crohy Head Sea Arch
You have to climb over a barbwire fence that is low at some point so it’s not that difficult. The view from the edge of the cliff is stunning. From there, there’s a path down to the small beach, but on a wet winter day or during high tide it can be very dangerous to try.
Great Pollet Sea Arch
A real hidden gem along the shores of the Fanad peninsula. Due to a dispute with a landowner, the path towards this impressive arch is no longer accessible. However I found another way and I didn’t even have to trespass. I was able to make one of my best photographs of the year so far! Read how to access the Great Pollet Sea Arch in my separate blog post.
Where to stay along the way?
I can recommend you two options. First one is The Glasshouse Hotel in the town of Sligo, a contemporary hotel next to the Garavogue River. The hotel is more business-oriented but it’s very centrally located and Sligo is quite nice. Breakfast is plenty and they have a free underground parking!
The second option I have for you is Castle Grove Country House, in Letterkenny. Located on a 200-acre estate on the banks of Lough Swilly, it’s your perfect spot to get away from busy… uhm… countryside life? It’s an impressive 1km driveway until you reach the hotel with free private parking. Rooms are very spacious and in Castle Grove Country House, time has stood still. Heck, it even smells old in there, although I think the wood stove had something to do with it. I regret not staying longer at Castle Grove Country House.