Running from the Cloghaneely district, which adjoins Gweedore, the north Donegal coast holds some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole country, where the battle between the elements is often startlingly apparent. Overshadowed at first by the bleak beauty of Muckish Mountain to the south, the main road from Gortahork to Milford passes through verdant countryside as it meanders around the deep bays and inlets and alongside the glorious and often deserted beaches which punctuate the shoreline. On the way, the Plantation town of Dunfanaghy provides a good base for exploring one of the coastline’s two breathtaking peninsulas: Horn Head, with its rugged, sea-battered cliffs; and, further to the east, Rosguill, almost circumscribed by the marvellous Atlantic Drive.
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Horn Head is magnificent, an almost two-hundred-metre rock face scored by ledges on which perch countless guillemots and gulls and small numbers of puffins. The best view of the cliffs, sea-stacks and caves is from the water, but the cliff road is vertiginous enough in places to give you a good look down the sheer sides. To get here take the slip road at the western end of DUNFANAGHY village; it descends to skirt the side of a beautiful inlet before rising steeply to go round the east side of the head. A spectacular vista of headlands opens up to the east – Rosguill, Fanad and Inishowen – but none can match the drama of Horn Head’s cliffs, their tops clad in a thin cover of purplish heather. Alternatively, you can walk from Horn Head Bridge, 800m from Dunfanaghy on the Horn Head road, and head west across the dunes to Tramore Beach. Then follow the sheep track north, passing two small blowholes called the Two Pistols and then a much larger one, McSwyney’s Gun, so called because of the power of the sonic boom produced by the explosion of compressed air from the cavern. Erosion has occurred over the years, however, and you’ll be lucky to hear anything these days. Continuing onwards, you’ll come to Pollaguill Bay and beach. The next wondrous site is the more than twenty-metre high Marble Arch, cut by the sea through the base of Trawbreaga Head. Horn Head itself soon becomes visible as you ascend the next headland.
The walk as far as here takes around three hours from Dunfanaghy and you can either complete the whole circuit of the peninsula or head back by road.
The Rosguill Peninsula
The Rosguill Peninsula
The route onto the extremely beautiful and very manageable Rosguill Peninsula starts by the side of the church in Carrigart, 13km northeast of Creeslough, and passes rabbit-infested dunes at the back of a tremendous and usually deserted beach. At the top of the strand is DOWNINGS, a sprightly holiday centre patronized mainly by Northern Irish tourists, with caravan sites hogging the rear end of the beach and holiday chalets creeping up the hillside behind the village. Downings’ main street heads northwards to become the panoramic Atlantic Drive, which runs around the headland and also makes for a stupendous thirteen-kilometre walk. The range of views encompasses the essence of Donegal – rugged landscapes in constant tussle with the Atlantic Ocean – though, sadly, this is becoming increasingly blighted by large numbers of new-build houses and caravan sites.