8 October 2015, Thursday
Today we moved from Inishowen to Donegal Town. On the way, we were going to drop John at the Donegal Regional Airport. And I had a few more adventures planned. 🙂
So we had breakfast in the sunny dining room, then got packed and left around ten o’clock. Drove down to Muff and back across the R239, which we’d found so exciting coming in but was old hat now, and left the peninsula.
You can see the route here. We were on our way to another head—Fanad Head.
On all our Inishowen travels we’d learned to use the paper map, plus John’s mobile phone map, plus the GPS to sort of triangulate where we wanted to go and how best to get there. The GPS alone had a tendency to take us the most direct route—but those were often bad roads (not well taken care of) or excessively narrow and just a little bit frightening. Sometimes you’re just better off taking a slightly longer route but staying on a main road. Coupled with lack of sign-posting (what is the name of this road? who knows?), each destination is an adventure.
But our printed map stopped at the peninsula, so we weren’t quite sure where we were half the time.* I took the pictures, though, and looked them up later.
The further north we went, the smaller the roads got, and the more convoluted the route with sharp turns and confusing road signs. We drove and we drove and we drove. We could see the sea, finally. And then we went over a little rise, crossed a little bridge, and—boom!—there it was. All three of us gasped.
We pulled over, got out, stretched our legs, took photos. Drove a little father, took more photos.
But even here we weren’t all the way there. So we drove as far as we could. Until the road ended.
The sign at the tiny parking turnout reads:
For centuries, Fanad Point has had strategic importance in protecting the Irish coastline and passing ships. The first lighthouse—lit in 1817—replaced an earlier British watchtower. The Navy called for a lightouse after the HMS Saldahna wrecked about 1811. Only the ship’s parrot survived. The present lighthouse dates to 1886. The ruined buildings are the remains of a coast guard station. In the mid-1800s, about 90 stations were built around Ireland. During WW1, Lough Swilly became the main Atlantic base for the Allied Fleet. Fanad Point guarded its entrance.
We all agreed that Fanad Head was worth the drive. The view was spectacular!
See the pretty beach? Immediately west of Fanad Point.
Now we were going to head to the airport, with a stop in Glenveagh National Park. But remember what I said about trusting the GPS? There might have been more comfortable ways to get there, but instead we bounced along on tiny backroads across the top of the Fanad Peninsula, threading our way on the little piece of dry land between Kincrum Lough and the northernmost point of Mulroy Bay. Honestly, I can’t even tell if the road is numbered. (It’s not: it was a private road, I’ve discovered.)
Here’s a look at the map again:
Finally the road turned decidedly south and we crossed Drongawn Lough (a branch of Mulroy Bay) on the very modern Harry Blaney Bridge onto Rosguill Peninsula.
It was picturesque country, to say the least. (Majestic … spectacular … those are closer to the truth.) I’d planned to take us by Doe Castle—it’s a national monument now—but I’d learned just that morning that it was already closed for the season. A view of it is, however, on the Wild Atlantic Way, and we settled for that. 🙂
Then we got back on the road, through ever-changing countryside.
Again, we went from bare hills into tree-covered countryside, from highway to country lane. Just after the bridge above, this …
The history isn’t pretty, though. The estate that forms the bulk of the park was purchased in 1859 by John George Adair, who then built a castle on it in 1870–73. He was rich, and he was, well, an asshole too: Adair notoriously evicted 224 poor tenant farmers for no reason other than he believed they spoiled his view. In 1937 the estate was purchased by American Henry Plumer McIlhenny, who later sold the land to the Irish State; in 1981 the family gave the castle and gardens to Ireland outright.
John and I took the shuttle bus two miles in to Glenveagh Castle, while Gerry declined. (He made himself useful with a camera, though. You’ll see.)
We decided against touring the house and just strolled around outside, admiring the gardens, then found our way to the tearoom for a cuppa. (I have yet to eat in a venue tearoom that wasn’t delish. Yum. I had Banofee pie, which is banana/toffee.)
In one of the gardens I heard a bird singing loudly, very close by the bush I was standing under. I looked and looked and looked—and there he was! I’ve since learned this is a robin. (A European robin?) It’s much smaller than the North American robin, but my Irish and British friends tell me they are very vocal and are unafraid of humans, which was obvious here.
Meanwhile, Gerry was having his own stroll around the park.
Then we drove on toward the coast, along the R251. The rocky terrain was simultaneously bleak and beautiful. Laughing and talking and oohing and aahing. And singing. In the car. 🙂
Slowly we came back down out of the mountains as we approached the western coastline of Donegal, on which sits the airport. No seriously, it is right on the water’s edge (of the North Atlantic). This was definitely an outpost, but was way cool. Getting there, though, was all one-lane roads through bogland—though at least you could see cars coming, it was so flat. We passed residential areas as we got close, nothing commercial. We wondered if these folks commuted by plane to Dublin (there were a lot of cars in the lot but not a lot of people inside).
What a difference from the Dublin Airport! It was peaceful, quiet. I pulled the car around to the lot and then had one of those moments that happen so fast you can’t get the camera booted up quickly enough: as I was leaping out of the car, a flight was taking off. It came right over the top of the tiny terminal, facing me. Loud and close. It was like something out of a movie from the 1950s. That plane was so close I felt as if I could touch it, as if I should be jumping up and down and waving. Definitely a wow! moment, and it was all mine.
The airport was small and uncrowded. We said our good-byes.
Then Gerry and I headed south toward Donegal Town and our next hotel. As we drove away on the tiny one-lane roads, I said, “No one will ever believe this was the approach to an airport.” So we took a photo through the windshield.
There was a lot of roadwork being done on the N56, so it was some tricky driving, but we finally arrived at the hotel. At Lough Eske Castle.
Yes, I really did stop the car and jump out to take a photo. Wouldn’t you?
Inside, everything was very relaxed and very high end. (I felt like a country bumpkin!) Although we did have to carry some luggage up the front stairs, where the trolley was waiting for us. The staff was friendly and fun to talk to. We were checked in in a Donegal minute. 🙂
Oh, and the room! OMG.
And on the table near the window, this …
… and next to it a hand-written note addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Hampson: “Congrats to you both! Hope you have a wonderful stay with us here at Lough Eske.” Yes, they had me at chocolate. 🙂
We ate in the bar, which had a really nice ambience. But they will not cook a burger to order (I had to ask—a burger sounded really good—but I know from experience the Irish overcook beef, particularly hamburgers, and I will not eat another unless the chef will cook it my way) and they were out of Greenore whiskey, even though they were pushing it on their whiskey menu.
So we lingered next to the window in the bar and watched the shadows grow long, and then went upstairs to bed. It had been a very long day.
* Every morning I tried to look at Google Maps before we left the room, but it’s hard to keep all that in your head. 🙂