Donegal's camino | 

Stunning scenery and local celebs turning out to serenade walkers made the new trip a joy

Donegal’s ‘Camino’

Donegal’s ‘Camino’

Jim Gallagher Donegal Camino Travel Dec 12

Jim Gallagher Donegal Camino Travel Dec 12

Jim at Malin Head

Jim at Malin Head

Daniel O’Donnell with some fellow hikers

Daniel O’Donnell with some fellow hikers

Stunning views along the tour

Stunning views along the tour

Mickey Joe Harte sings for his fellow walkers

Mickey Joe Harte sings for his fellow walkers

Jim Gallagher

Spectacular cliffs, crashing waves, warm sunshine and dozens of hikers in fluorescent colours …I could have been on the Camino in Northern Spain.

But this was no foreign trip but an eight day walk across some of the most stunning scenery in Ireland.

I was on the inaugural walk of what has been called the Donegal Camino which starts at Malin Head on the very northern tip of Ireland and stretches down to the incredible Slieve League cliffs, the highest in Europe, at the southern end of the north-west county.

The original caminos are a large network of ancient pilgrim routes heading to the burial place of the James the Apostle - Spain’s patron saint - in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The trails collectively are known as the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James)

Our walk was not one continuous trail but a selection of day hikes across some of Donegal’s most wonderful scenery.

Jim Gallagher Donegal Camino Travel Dec 12

Jim Gallagher Donegal Camino Travel Dec 12

The aim was to show off the county at its finest while raising much needed cash for the Cancer Care West charity in Letterkenny which looks after cancer victims and their families.

The walk, which is to become an annual event in the first week of September, was organised by Donegal Association stalwart Peggy Stringer, her good friend Deirdre McGlone, former owner of the renowned Harvey’s Point Hotel in Donegal, and TV personality Noel Cunningham, the hotel’s former general manager and now its Hotel Ambassador. He is also the current Donegal Person of the Year.

What made this event different from walking festivals around Ireland was the entertainment organised along the way.

Mr Donegal himself Daniel O’Donnell turned out for a day’s hike on the beautiful Arranmore Island where he serenaded walkers before and during their day-long march.

Daniel O’Donnell with some fellow hikers

Daniel O’Donnell with some fellow hikers

One song was a rendition of Dark Island, delivered with his mother’s home, Owey Island, poignantly in the background.

Former Eurovision singer Micky Joe Harte, who performed We’ve Got the World in Riga as Ireland’s entry in 2003, turned up to do an acoustic version of The Proclaimers’ famous song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) on a mountainside near Lough Salt.

He also sang a few songs, including his Eurovision entry, a former Irish No.1, in the gorgeous Olde Glen Bar & Restaurant, Carrickart, where he joined us for dinner the night before.

Famous Donegal singing sisters The Henry Girls had walkers in raptures in Glenveagh Castle in the National Park of the same name one afternoon when the sun blazed down as if it was the middle of July.

They thought they were only there to provide background music but the keen audience had other ideas and soon everyone was singing along.

Mickey Joe Harte sings for his fellow walkers

Mickey Joe Harte sings for his fellow walkers

We also had the good fortune to have dinner in Leo’s Tavern near Dungloe, home of the Brennan family and Clannad, the first night that live music was allowed following the pandemic. Moya Brennan, (patron for Cancer Care West) thanked the walkers for their efforts and sang a haunting song in Irish.

Our week of walking began on a Saturday with a 19.3km trek around Malin Head, starting off at Farren’s Pub on the peninsula with two terrific guides, John McGroary and Joe Coyle (www.walkingireland.ie) who led us throughout.

As usual there was a musical send-off – along with tea and scones provided by Farren’s – before nearly 50 walkers began the six hour trek which took us to the very tip of Ireland and its spectacular rocky coastline.

Heading south we passed a farm where visitors can walk South American alpacas and passed one of the most beautiful beaches in the county, Five Fingers Strand underneath the highest sand dunes in Europe.

We ended up at the picturesque Lagg Church which sits all alone in a sea of green fields where we had parked our cars in the morning before taking a mini-bus to Farren’s to start our walk.

Jim at Malin Head

Jim at Malin Head

Many of the group overnighted in the well-known McGrory’s hotel and bar in Culdaff with dinner in the award-winning Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffen.

The next day we took the Lough Swilly ferry from Buncrana to Rathmullan on the neighbouring Fannad peninsula for a shorter and less arduous 15km trek.

The starting point was the magnificent Ballymastocker Strand which never fails to impress. You turn a corner high on the coast road heading north along the Wild Atlantic Way and suddenly far below is this magnificent and almost deserted beach. Only today there was a sea angling competition going on so there were a few more bodies than normal.

The walk took us across the sands and some quiet rural roads to the beautiful Fannad Lighthouse at the northern tip of the peninsula, an historic building where you can now book accommodation.

We spent the night at the Beach Hotel in the holiday resort of Downings and had dinner in the award winning Olde Glen Bar and Restaurant in Carrickart.

Stunning views along the tour

Stunning views along the tour

Next day saw us tackle the rugged hills around Lough Salt before driving on to Dungloe and the lovely four-star Waterfront Hotel where some of the friendly staff joined us on one of our walks later in the week.

Glenveagh National Park next day was one of the highlights of the whole trip because the scenery is so stunning and the sun was splitting the stones. We hired cycles in the park which allowed us to cover even more ground.

From there we headed to Burtonport in late afternoon and caught the ferry to Arranmore Island where dinner and a party was planned in the famous Early’s Bar. It didn’t disappoint.

The 14km loop walk around the island the next day was something special, with Daniel giving a few songs and Early’s providing an impromptu picnic at the beautiful lighthouse atop some spectacular cliffs.

Then it was back on the ferry to Burtonport and a drive to Ardara where walkers tackled the 17km from Port to Maghara the following day.

The last two days were spent tackling the beautiful Glencolmcille Tower Loop and visiting the well known folk village and then the magnificent Slieve League Cliffs via the renowned Pilgrims’ route to the top for some majestic views.

The week ended with a grand finale dinner in the famous Harvey’s Point Hotel, a regular winner of Ireland’s Hotel of the Year Award.

And what a way to finish our action-packed adventure. This walker is already looking forward to next year.

TRAVEL FACTFILE DONEGAL CAMINO ■ The Donegal Camino organisers are busy planning the 2022 route and details will be available soon. If interested, email deirdre@mydonegal.ie or call 087 7934466. ■ One trip that is looking likely is for the same week as 2021 (September 3-10). ■ Donations to Cancer Care West can be made on idonate.ie/donegalcamino


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