This article is part of the series of blog posts and video guides exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.
This blog is the second in the series, exploring some key parts of Donegal. See the full list of series posts – 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 Donegal
Donegal is the county of Ireland situated in the very North West of the island. In a way, it's misleading to call this blog the ‘Donegal' blog, as I started my Wild Atlantic Way adventure at Malin Head (read that post), which is also in Donegal. However, on this part of the road trip, I covered a lot of ground through the towns and villages of the county and this blog gives us the space to explore those in a little more depth.
where to stay
You could base yourself in one location (e.g., Derry) and visit all of the great attractions in this Donegal post. A one day circuit from Derry could easily take in Binnion Bay, Glenevin Waterfall, the Gap of Mamore and Grianan Aileach. This list is a helpful place to start your accommodation search.
My personal recommendations are at the bottom of this page.
I stayed overnight at the charming Binnion Bay campsite. I could see from Google Maps that there was a way to get to the actual bay or strand on foot, but it wasn't until I set out on the next morning that I realised there was no formal path. The grass mounds in the right of the photo below required hefty footwear to navigate.
After a couple of encounters with some mud holes produced by cows stomping in boggy ground, I did make it to the strand, which was crisscrossed by streams making their way to the Atlantic Ocean. There were very few people around and I had this entire section of the beach to myself.
The only sign of human activity was this abandoned lobster pot, which had snagged on a gorse (or whin) bush to one side of the beach head.
I was there not only to take some photographs and contemplate the wildness of the Atlantic Ocean, but I did have my little DJI Drone with me (click here to see the one I use) to take some aerial video (it's worth checking out the video at the top or bottom of this page to see the fruits of that labour!).
My second stop, not too far from the bay, was Glenevin Waterfall (also known as Clonmany Waterfall), a new-to-me attraction, which is beautifully set up for a (free) visit by visitors of all kinds to the Inishowen Peninsula.
This attraction is easily combined with the 3 other sites in this review, or would make a low-stress day trip from nearby Derry, Buncrana or Ballyliffin. The car park (see the picture below) has plenty of room for regular cars and SUVs, although fitting in a campervan was a bit of a stress. I visited in May, and I can imagine it being quite busy in the summer months.
Speaking of summer, there is usually a Coffee Van available for visitors during the busier tourist period. There are also toilets close to the car park (on the left at the entrance).
It's a short hike from the car park to the waterfall, about 1 kilometre of gradual gradient on a flat gravel pathway. Most hikers would see this as easy to moderate.
The waterfall itself is just gorgeous. Only one other visitor shared the scene with me and there's a lovely small bridge from which to take photographs. The site was extremely well-maintained and is a credit to those who built the pathway and facilities.
I noticed this sign to the left of the waterfall thanking Doris Russo for her contribution to developing this facility. As this is a free attraction, we should all be grateful to generous donors and those who bring our countryside to our attention like this.
It takes about 30 minutes of gentle walking in each direction. You may not realise that there's a great spot close to the car park with ample grass for picnic blankets and a few picnic tables to enjoy a lunch or snack on your own, or with the family. This is definitely a great place to check out.
Gap of Mamore
Only 8 kilometres from the waterfall is the stopping point for the Gap of Mamore, a viewpoint above the ridge in the Urris Hills that presents you with a stunning panorama.
This road was once the only way to get from the townland of Urris to Buncrana and has a colourful history as an easily blockable route for local poitin makers (see the video for more of the story!).
The roadway has a notable gradient of close to 30% and it was hard work to get to the car park in a motorhome. In high season, I wouldn't recommend it, particularly if there is a lot of passing traffic on the hairpin bends. However, if you can get there early or later in the evening when it's quiet, the view is just sensational.
Doagh Strand & Famine Village
My last outing for the day was to Doagh Strand and the Famine Village close by. I spent the first 5 minutes of making my vlog from here wondering if I was pronouncing ‘Doagh' correctly (I felt it might be ‘DOAK'), only to discover it's more like ‘Dough'! Correct me in the comments if you come from there!
Either way, the view in every direction was gorgeous on this sunny/cloudy day. The only sound apart from the wind on the sea was the excited barking of dogs racing across the sand to play.
I had come to the area to visit the Famine Village, which the owner of the campsite had told me was a MUST see. I was quick to come to the same conclusion. There's so much to say about this place that it may warrant its own future blog. However, if you have ever wanted to see inside a typical seaside Irish thatched home from the famine era, then you will be spoiled by the insights, smells and tactile nature of this location.
The man below (Pat Doherty) is not only the principal guide and host, but also comes from this very place and is the brains and motivation behind the entire attraction.
This is a big site and could easily take 2 hours to explore, to include a 30 minute guided tour with the man himself.
Grianan of Aileach
I was just fascinated to visit the Grianan of Aileach, a site I had seen in photographs and on video, but had never experienced myself. I liked it so much that a drone shot I took of this place has become the formal intro to every video I have made about the Wild Atlantic Way.
This site may be the best known monument in this part of Ireland. Certainly the view from here across Lough Foyle and Lough Swilly is stunning on a fine day, but the monument itself is fascinating to even the most cursory of historians.
The fort dates back to 1700 BC and the people who had invaded Ireland before the Celts made it this far (known as the Tuatha de Danann). The site may be associated with their god who desired the fort as a burial mound for his (dead) son.
What we see now was restored in the 1870s. The original would most likely have had wooden construction on the three stone tiers on the inside where people would have lived.
This is another site which I think warrants a deeper blog exploration in the future. Make sure you sign up to the newsletter (see the link at the bottom of the page) to receive an alert to when new blogs come out.
Here's a list of the top accommodation near the Inishowen Peninsula.
Tours & Excursions
You may find one of these tours from Viator a good alternative to planning things yourself.
Find the accompanying video for this article below: