We took off for Dunfanaghy from a thundery, wet Dublin. Car stacked with the important stuff – iPad, switches, chargers and most important, the car snacks. My daughter is always in charge of the road trip snacks. Google maps stated under four hours, I added on another hour for stops and traffic.
I have been to Derry and went the M1 route, this time I went the M2 route and I was glad to get off the M50 because of torrential rain, I found it easier to drive with less traffic in front and behind me. We passed through the towns of Ashbourne, Slane, Ardee before we joined the N2 with one stop off, in between showers; we made it mid-afternoon. We were staying with my author friend Jane Buckley in the gorgeous village of Portnablagh which is located on the north west coast of Donegal with nearby Dunfanaghy, a 5-minute drive away. We unloaded the car in five minutes and off we went to Dunfanaghy town for a couple of well-deserved beverages and food at The Oyster Bar on the main street. Back for a late evening swim in the rain and early to bed.
The next day we were all up early and off for a hike up sand dunes to visit Tramore Beach. You will need to be fit for this walk before you reach this beautiful golden strand on the Horn Head peninsula. The kids ran up and down sand dunes with Jane and her dog Ned and I laughed and took photos from the top of the dunes. Later that day we took a short drive to Ards Forest Park. This place is incredible, it has picnic areas, a playground, walking trails, the most stunning beaches (the tide was out the day we were there) and it costs about €5 entry. It is so well maintained and there are toilets, a coffee shop and I would suggest bring a picnic and good walking shoes to take it all in, You could easily spend the day there with children. Later that day we dropped into another unique location where you can stay in the quirkiest accommodation at Corcreggan Mill. They offer en-suite rooms and self-contained apartments, fully furnished bell tents, restored railway cabins and a converted fishing trawler – it’s a magic location for something different.
The next day, myself and the children set off for Murder Hole beach in Downings. I had attempted to visit in February but it was closed to the public. They have done a great job with access to this unique beach. Be aware there are no dogs allowed, even on a leash. There is a carpark (€5 by card) and the trail is well planned out, again it’s a tough walk up and over mountains, across fields with huge cows 😊 and sheep and then you will see this incredible beach and realise it was worth the trek to find it. I could picture a scene from The Goonies here where the ship appears from a secret cove or I could see where pirates hid their treasure in the caves here many moons ago. I was in awe and thrilled to walk barefoot on the golden sand. The children were gone climbing up the sand dunes and I walked around this beach, not a sinner in sight and took it all in.
Seemingly the name ‘Murder Hole’ originates from when a young woman fell from a cliff, near the beach in the 19th Century, also other reports say it’s from the dangerous currents which is clearly advised as not a beach for swimming. My feet were all that went in the sea here and there were numerous jellyfish scattered along the shore line. We had the beach to ourselves for about two hours before other people arrived. After making the trek to see it, its worth staying for a while to prepare for the trek back. 100 per cent worth it if you love to find unique beaches.
We ventured on to the lovely village of Downings which is a Gaeltacht village and on the shores of Sheephaven Bay. This part of Donegal is spectacular and the beach in Downings is incredible and I love that you can drive on to it. There are more beaches in this area like Tra na Rossan which I found the last time I was here. And ALERT to golfers, there is a magnificent hotel and golf resort here – Rosapenna Golf Pavilion. Stunning location.
We later went for drinks to Patsy Dan’s where there was trad music and plenty of craic. Back to Portnablagh beach where we watched an incredible sun set while the children played with the local dogs and we drank, laughed and fell into bed. A good day and night in my books.
The next morning it was down to the incredible Marble Hill beach and a sea swim for us all. Feeling refreshed and ready for the day. We stayed local and went to Killahoey beach which is the main beach in Dunfanaghy. I really would find it hard to pick a favourite as they all have something unique, this one the children love because of the sand dunes. Plenty of tourist buses in the car park.
The next day we drove to Fanad lighthouse. It’s an easy drive from Dunfanaghy across the Harry Blaney bridge. We bought tickets for the history of the lighthouse tour, which was so interesting and we all took part in the Virtual Reality experience which is excellent. You can also stay in self-catering accommodation here which I am definitely going to do the next time. It’s a beautiful spot and the staff in the shop were exceptional. I received a detailed hand made map to the Great Pollett Sea Arch and a beach recommendation of Ballymastocker which is close to Portsalon beach. Both are superb. We had the best fish and chips at the Pier restaurant in Portsalon. Put it on your ‘to eat’ list.
The Great Pollett Sea Arch is worth a visit but it is a good walk to reach it and the walk back is uphill so be aware of this. Again, it reminded me of a pirate movie scene. We spent the afternoon body boarding at Portsalon beach. We drove back across Harry Blaney Bridge and began our packing for going home to Dublin the next morning. We had five fun filled glorious days in the north coast of Donegal. It really left a mark on us all and it is truly a special part of Ireland.