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If you are going to get locked down – best hope it’s in Donegal

If you are going to get locked down – best hope it’s in Donegal

I’m just going to come right out and say it: At Boortree Camping, Rossnowlagh, life’s a beach…

If you are going to get locked down, it could happen in worse places than Donegal. You would be hard pressed to travel the length and breadth of this sprawling rugged county in three weeks. Far longer would be required to seek out and savour all it has to offer across its rich tapestry of landscape, heritage, culture and activities. My love affair with Donegal goes back years, yet no matter how often I return, new places of interest, intriguing sights, and scenery that refuses to stand still, continue to astonish and hold you in awe, as if it was the very first time you had ever set foot in the place. Whether it’s the sky, the sea, the sliabhs, the sunsets, the sandy beaches, the northern lights, the lighthouses, the seafood, the songs, the surf, the social scene, the solitude, the sunsets, the strangers, the accent, Donegal is different from anywhere else and different every time . One thing that remains constant though are its people, their decency, devil-may-care character, their warm embrace and egalitarian disposition, a mischievous detachment from the centre that fosters a non-judgemental irreverence, a cheeky wink of to hell with conforming, that I admire and envy them so much in so many ways – except when it comes to their driving! At the heart of my dalliance with Donegal is RossnowlaghWhat times, at all hours of the day and night, have we enjoyed from dawn surf sessions to dancing sessions ‘till dawn, at the famed InterCounties Surfing Contest, shoulder-to-shoulder, cheek-to-cheek (and that’s just the lads) in the Surfers Barat the Sandhouse Hotel as big Johnny Gallagher and the Boxty Band changed gears from Hendrix to A-ha with Rory Gallagher in between for good measure, without missing a beat, to leave the joint heaving and sweating, and us wondering could we ride this wave forever. Oh Rossnowlagh.  

Rossnowlagh surfing poster

The legendary Rossnowlagh Inter-County Surfing posters are the incredible and intricate work of Barry Britton.

No one was more delighted to learn of the opening of Boortree Camping a couple of seasons ago, as hitherto it was take your chances ‘wild camping’ in one of the much sought after parking spots near the beach, especially if the swell was up and the wind offshore. Either that or splash out and treat yourself to a seaview room at the Sandhouse or bunk down up on the hill in The Smugglers Inn. Boortree’s unique selling point, its appeal and big advantage is its location, a short stroll to the beach. Rossnowlagh beach is one of the best and safest in the country. All life here revolves around this wonderful beach. It’s fair to say, life’s a beach at Boortree camping. And that’s just as well. For proximity and ease of access to the beach just across down the road is Boortree’s big advantage.  

Rossnowagh 2BBoortree 2B2
Rossnowlagh Boortree 1

The campsite itself is solid, compact and basic. Surrounded by holiday homes and mobile homes, it won’t win any prizes for visual amenity from its pitches. It’s not the beachfront panorama you may have in mind. Boortree was one of the many campsites this year that opted not to open its shared facilities such as toilets and showers, or accept tents. Yet like many others it did continue to charge the full tariffs of €24 for our campervan with two adults, with €5 for EHU, although effectively operating as an Aire with fresh water and waste disposal. The site is quiet, well maintained, family-friendly and accepts pets. Back down on the expansive beach, things are busy in the August sunshine as families from north and south flock to Rossnowlagh. Three different ice cream vans duel as they relentlessly drive up and down the beach touting for attention. They have a captive audience. If rust never sleeps, neither it seems, do ice cream vans or that tune they play…

Rossnowlagh 2Bice 2Bcream 2Bvan

However, the beach itself is turned in to a glorified car park. It’s a sight that horrifies me, as some cars speed down along the water’s edge, others leave their engines idling, spewing fumes into the otherwise pristine air on this beautiful blue flag beach. I’m not a fan of parking on beaches, but in Rossnowlagh the alternatives are wholly inadequate. The Friends of Rossnowlagh Beach do their best at keeping the beach clean and litter free, despite the lack of sufficient litter bins.

Rossnowlagh busy beach
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Rossnowlagh traffic on beach

Also, beware that it is a common occurrence for cars to get stuck in the deceptive sand and require a tow to escape the advancing tide. I have even seen vehicles abandoned to their watery fate. Inadequate too are other facilities such as toilets, with such large numbers catered for by a few portaloos in the tiny car park, which has a height restriction barrier.

rossnowlagh 2Bbeach 2Bsign

This situation is exacerbated this year as the excellent Sandhouse Hotel is restricted for residents only. Its Surfers Barclosed due to Covid restrictions. Many a great session we had there. For those interested in places to eat nearby, the Smugglers Creek Inn and the Gaslight Inn on the top of the overlooking hill are superb. Both are accessible from the beach and a pleasant walk once the tide is out, while it takes a little longer to cycle or drive around by road. The Brew Box horse box with its coffee offerings always prompts an orderly queue when it rocks up at Rossnowlagh.

Rossnowlagh 2Beating
Rossnowlagh 2BG
Rossnowlagh 2BSmugglers

The beach is regularly used by dog walkers, joggers and even yoga classes. It is also home to one of the best surf schools in the country Fin McCool Surf School & Shop, which I highly recommend for lessons or surf hire or gear. They are so friendly, helpful and vastly experienced, ideal for children and beginners on a beach that still remains popular with veterans for its glassy sets of surfing swell.  

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Rossnowlagh 2BGrazyna 2Band 2Bshades

And then there’s the sunsets for which always reflect well on Rossnowlagh’s legendary strand, best captured by local photographers like Paul Mc Gahon or Kate Slevin. These pics here from my own phone camera not really doing it justice.

Rossnowagh 2Bsunset
Rossnowlagh 2Bsunsets

I’m just going to say it again. At Rossnowlagh and Boortree, life’s a beach! Our visit to Rossnowlaghin August was part of a Donegal odyssey which also featured visits to Crolly, Killybegs, Falcarragh and Downings.

For more reviews see also:

A popular port o’ call in Killybegs

The best wee campsite in Donegal

At the time of writing this review, Donegal was in Level 3 lockdown restrictions. Please check the latest health & travel advice and status of these locations before making any travel plans. Stay safe.

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Rossnowlagh 2Bset 2Bup

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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Portlaoise, IE
09:10, December 2, 2023
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For me, the campervan and surfing 🏄‍♂️ 🌊 have always gone hand in hand. There's a great crossover from campervan culture with surfing, the roadtrip, the open road, and the sense of anticipation of what the day might bring, what the ocean might have in store...not to mention the great people you meet and great places you discover, lifelong connections...
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I'm not a great surfer or even a good swimmer and have enrolled for improver lessons in the @portlaoise_leisure_centre
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There's something about an early morning start in the dark and the sense of wonder as you hit the road for Lahinch or elsewhere. Immerse yourself in the moment just chatting to yourself and the waves, the beaming smile when you catch a good one, a hot shower @benssurfclinic
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