This article is part of the series of blog posts and video guides exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
This blog is the fourth in the series, exploring the South and South West of Donegal. Click here for an overview of the entire route.
Summary: The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500km (>1,550 mile) tourist route along Ireland’s Western coastline, from Malin Head in Donegal in the North to Kinsale in the South. It connects significant historic, cultural and geographic features into a manageable road trip from staggering clifftop vistas to golden strands and stunning lighthouses.
VIDEO GUIDE to South Donegal
Leaving Fanad Head
I woke very early after my first experience of so-called ‘wild’ camping at Fanad Head (check that blog). I could hear snatches of languages from all over Europe as keen photographers made their way to the lighthouse to catch the perfect snap on a (rare?) sunny morning. By 7am, I was ready to start up the campervan and head South. Of all of Donegal, I know the North much better, so this was a chance to explore some places new to me and get to share them with you!
I was driving along and spotted one of the rust red Wild Atlantic Way signposts coming up on the road ahead. I stopped in to find a glorious view across the water to Doe Castle.
Without a giant telescopic lens, I did struggle to capture an up-close picture of the castle to share with you (you can find information about it here), but I appreciated the effort the tourism authorities had put into creating an Instagrammable image (even if you can’t quite see the main feature!).
I’m sharing this because the history does seem quite fascinating. Check out the infographic below – interesting to see this story framed as an Irish Romeo and Juliet.
The colours in the sky boded well for a day of exploring Donegal.
Please note: this post may contain affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission if you go on to buy something. Please note this is at NO extra cost to you. Also anything we link are items we have used or experienced on this or previous trips and all Patrick’s reviews are independent and unbiased.
I wanted to stop at the coastal town of Dunfanaghy, somewhere often mentioned in guidebooks of the area but a place I don’t recall visiting. It’s a recommended stop for a lunch or dinner and there are plenty of accommodation options if this area suits you (click for details). I showed up before 9am on a Sunday so, to be fair, nothing was yet open. For camper vans, there is, however, a large car park beside the golf links on the strand. I was taken by the sense of big sky here and some incoming showers did little to deter the people heading out for their game of golf! Mixed weather is the norm in these parts.
FILL UP (TANKS AND TUMMIES)
If you like to get on the road early like me, make sure to keep your fuel tank and your tummy filled up. Not every small Irish town has a fuel stop or food stop open early in the morning and there’s no point in risking it. If you do see a place and you may need fuel soon, just top up.
Not every stop on your road trip needs to be a formal one. I found a section of gravel to pull in my campervan because I was driving along past Mount Errigal and I just wanted to stop and take a picture. I’ve known this cone-shaped mountain for a couple of decades and enjoy the sweeping vistas that it punctuates. It’s the most southerly of the series of mountains known locally as the Seven Sisters. See below for hiking advice.
HIKING: MOUNT ERRIGAL
At 751m high, Mount Errigal should provide experienced hikers with a 2-2.5 hour challenge.
The terrain can be a bit of a challenge. The opening segment (from a carpark off the Gweedore to Letterkenny Road) used to be considered boggy and the scree on the mountain can be hazardous. As of 2022, a gravel path has been added so that the climb can be done in running shoes rather than heavy hiking boots.
The Wild Atlantic Way Signs
A note about signs!! The Wild Atlantic Way is signposted just about everywhere, on national roads and on local routes. You’ll come to recognise the extended W shape (see the sign above) which is a useful quick visual. At certain junctions, this will be accompanied by the letter N for North or S for South, which I guess will be helpful for certain road users.
Sitting along an extremely bendy and dangerous road, the viewpoint at Glengesh Pass faces out to an extremely special view. It sits between the villages of Ardara (11 mins) and Glencolumbcille (25m) on a route surprisingly popular with motorhomes (this route took a long time to drive due to the amount of passing problems).
Parking & Facilities
There is not so much a formal car park as a place to pull in at the viewpoint. There’s enough space for perhaps 3 or 4 cars (depending on how they choose to park). Occasionally, there is a coffee van, which is a great way to keep fuelled (though it does restrict the space available).
There are no toilet facilities. However, as you can see below, there are a number of picnic tables for public use. Handy for that coffee, or if you’ve brought food along.
The infographic game seems to be consistently good along the Wild Atlantic Way.
This roadway is also a cycling route and, for those fit enough to make it up this extremely hairpin-filled hillside on two wheels, the viewpoint does give you a pay-off. I have to say I was happy to do it on four wheels, and even then there are some heart-in-mouth moments. It’s worth saying that drivers really do need to watch out for cyclists coming from both directions – the road is a dangerous one.
Beyond the village of Glencolumbcille in the far South-Western corner of Donegal lies the village of Malin Beg, a beautiful coastal location deep in the Gaeltacht heartland (Gaeltacht – Irish-speaking areas of Ireland).
It is known for the Silver Strand, a horseshoe-shaped bay with the most spectacular shape, rich green foliage and lapping waters.
I did reach there on one of the nicest days of the year, so I think I did get very lucky! There is excellent parking for vehicles of any size right at the strand, just make sure to drive on through Malin Beg until you reach this larger car park. Don’t be tempted to follow any other detours first!
Glencolumbcille Folk Village
The road out of Malin Beg returns drivers to Glencolumbille and, right at the heart of the community, lies a lovely attraction that is worth visiting, the Folk Village.
The attraction is made up of a series of traditional Donegal thatched cottages, with a substantial amount of original farm equipment and the materials of everyday life. The smell of a turf fire lingers in the air and, for me at least, it’s reminiscent of an Ireland that I don’t get to see quite so much.
If you haven’t had time to visit the Famine Village at Doagh, then this is a stop worth making.
My final stop of the day (yes, I visited all these places in just one day) is one of the most visited attractions in the South of Donegal, Slieve League.
Slieve League is the second highest set of sea cliffs in Ireland (601m) and among the highest in Europe. A car park sits at the entrance to the attraction but beware! It’s often full and the nearest alternative car park is quite far downhill (a substantial hike just to get to the top car park). So arrive early!
It’s just over 1km to hike on paved tarmac from the car park to the viewpoints at the top of the hill. This is mainly uphill. If you have additional needs, and are driving, special permission can be given to a small number of cars to drive to the top of the site. The viewpoint is perfectly situated to give the most stunning vista along the sea cliffs
The day was just perfect, with just a few clouds scudding past. Although it looks quiet, there was a huge amount of people there. A further hike extends beyond the main viewing platform (which you can see below) on a slightly rocky path suitable for more experienced hikers.
I was able to capture some beautiful drone footage here so it’s well worth you checking out the video from South Donegal (see the link at the bottom of this page). One thing I was glad to find after my little hike in the heat was an ice-cream van. Is it just me or does the price of a cone seem to go up and up?! I have to say, it was delicious and well worth it!
Make sure you’ve subscribed to the newsletter (see below) and pop back to see the next in this series of guides to the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.
Find the accompanying video for this article below: