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So many delights on a pilgrimage to Donegal

So many delights on a pilgrimage to Donegal

I can’t imagine how it could have gone any better – OK, if we had caught a salmon – but that’s only another of many reasons to return to a Donegal that continues to surprise and reveal more of its secrets and charm every time I visit.

Long threatening came to pass as this road trip had been in the pipeline for some time.

Fishing, camping, surfing, Sliabh Liag, father-son bonding and some blues at the Dunfanaghy Jazz & Blues Festival were all on the agenda for the five-day itinerary.
I can’t imagine how it could have gone any better – ok, if we had caught a salmon – but that’s only another of many reasons to return to a Donegal that continues to surprise and reveal more of its secrets and charm every time I go back.
If there are any more decent people in the world than Donegal folk I would like to meet them. Sure they are welcoming and friendly but in a real down to earth, salt of the earth, no fuss way, that’s so normal and comes naturally to them.
Ricky and I had been planning to get away for a few days fishing-surfing and timed our run to hit the 11th Dunfanaghy Jazz & Blues Festival, a hot tip from our friend Hippy Bill in Dooey.

Our first port of call was the Rossinver Fishery on Lough Melvin, a lovely run of water, 13km long and no more than 3km at its width. Rossinver itself is in Leitrim while Lough Melvin also flits in and out of Fermanaghand Donegal and is just down the road from Lower Lough Erne, and County Sligo just around the corner for good measure. I couldn’t help but wonder how all this works in a hard Brexit scenario…

Rossinver Fishery

We had a lovely day on the lake where all the trout and char species are wild and the system has a good run of Atlantic salmon, but none of them fancied the flies we threw at them all day long, before we struck one nice trout on the way in trolling.

Fly fishing
The one that didn’t get away…
Overall there are reports of a good season from Lough Melvin and the Erne fisheries and for inquiries and permits for the Rossinver Fishery contact their secretary, the knowledgeable and most helpful Davy Stinson on 0863903655.

We got a bit of a soaking as we came in to shore and decided to repair towards Pettigo, with the Cross Country Inn a perfect spot to warm up and have a pint. It’s been welcoming weary fishermen since 1803.

The Cross Inn Pettigo
We wild camped for the night on a cosy lay-by along the banks of Lower Lough Erne, where there were plenty of barrier free options to choose from along the shoreline.

We tipped on early in the morning and heading out of Pettigo with the intention of winding along the Wild Atlantic Way towards Dunfanaghy, spotted signs for Lough Derg. For our sins, we had to take a look. What’s not clear from the road signs is that the route to Lough Derg is a cul de sac. As you’d expect it’s a peaceful place of pilgrimage but somehow different than I had anticipated. On the morning we drove up there wasn’t another sinner in sight.

Lough Derg
Lough Derg and not another sinner in sight.

A witty sign on a tavern out the road offered Wild Atlantic Tay, reminding us that breakfast was overdue and we belted on for Donegal Town. Our objective was to make it up to Dunfanaghy early on Friday evening, keeping in mind that from the south of the county you still have about 150km and well over two hours’ drive ahead of you if you take the scenic Northern Headlands route, and that’s not counting any stop-offs.

Ample parking in Donegal Town
There is ample parking opposite the tourist office in Donegal Town, for 30c an hour or  a great value €2.70 for the day.
There is a spacious parking facility conveniently located on the entrance to Donegal Town, opposite the tourist office and overlooking Donegal Bay. Parking is very reasonable at 30c an hour or €2.70 for the full day. It appears convenient to overnight here but be advised that the traffic wardens were out and about checking tickets from early morning. The staff in the tourist office couldn’t have been any more helpful with maps, brochures and advice and a €10 for a full Irish in the Abbey Hotel on The Diamond, where the staff were especially good, did the trick.

From there the boys were rolling out the N56 for Killybegs, its sea faring traditions immortalised in ballads. Real fishing country with the massive trawlers docked-up making it evident just how important this way of life is to Donegal’s coastal communities.

Fishing capital of  the country, Killybegs.

I had heard much about Sliabh Liag and was excited about finally making it to the WAWsignature point. Even on an overcast day I wasn’t disappointed as this would give the Cliffs of Moher and anything Kerry has to offer a run for their money any day. To head for Sliabh Liag you turn right off the N56just after you pass The Rusty Mackerelpub and restaurant. Beware the road is narrow, along a cliff edge and steep in spots, not unlike the drive to Keem Beach in Achill. There is a good car park a couple of kilometres shy of the summit which is handy if you fancy walking the rest of the way. It is possible, however, to drive right to the top, but you must open and close an animal safety gate barrier to do so. The views are breath-taking to take in as the onshore Atlantic gusts give you a small flavour of what they are capable of.

Sliabh Liag
Sliabh Liag didn’t disappoint.
Dangerous Cliffs
Sliabh Liag selfie
A chance to embarrass Ricky with a selfie at Sliabh Liag.

To properly savour the rest of the route northwards would have taken days – Malin, Glencolmcille, Ardara, Lettermacaward, Gweebarra, Dooey, (Hippy Bill country), Dungloe, Burtonport, Kincaslough, Gweedore, Bloody Foreland, Gortahork, Falcarragh, Aranmore and Tory Islands – would all have to be put on the back burner for another day, if we were ever going to make Dunfanaghy for the blues. Each of them in their own right giving us plenty of reason to plot a return voyage.

Pilgrims path
Gleann Gheis
Pilgrims progress on the scenic routes of Donegal.

For now the question, is Dunfanaghy Jazz & Blues the most campervan friendly festival in the world? We discover two fantastic campsites, one which is well established in Dunfanaghy, the other a welcome addition to the roster in Rossnowlagh.

The best pizza on the Wild Atlantic Way? Tune in next week to find out more…

And I’d like to wager that we may have discovered the best pizza and coolest surf shop on the Wild Atlantic Way…if not the world…but for all that you are going to have to tune in to the next Vanhalla blog, as we have to park it up here for tonight…  

Old Mill Campsite 1

About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at Safe travels...

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