Travel: Unexplored Ireland
Far beyond the shamrock clichés, bustling urban centers, and rolling green hills that typify the Ireland of everyone’s mind, resides one of the country’s best-kept secrets. County Donegal, a remote region of Ireland in the northwest, is both sparsely populated and spectacularly beautiful. And in terms of adventure, this area has it all, from hiking in Glenveagh National Park to sea stack climbing to coasteering. Here are three ways to reconnect with nature and try something entirely different—at any level of adventure you choose.
If you like to swim and scramble on rocks, there’s nothing on the planet that beats coasteering. The venerable outdoor school Garten Outdoor Education Center suits you up in a wetsuit, lifejacket, and helmet. You traverse (move sideways) on big hand and footholds, along coves and headlands characterized by not-quite vertical cliff walls. If you fall, it’s just a few feet drop into the water (and the temperatures are surprisingly comfortable) — or, you can climb up higher for some world-class cliff jumping. Trips are generally a half to full-day, and can be modified for beginners, intermediate, and advanced adventurers.
Sea Stack Climbing
You don’t have to be an experienced climber to get to the top of these rock towers that rise just off the rocky coastline of Donegal. In fact, this could be your first climbing experience. There are more than 150 sea stacks along this stretch of Irish coastline, small to large towers of rock that you reach by a rubber raft. The views are spectacular — crashing waves and majestic summits. Outings are generally a half to full-day, and can be tailored for experience levels of all type. Unique Ascents, a first-rate outfit, provides world-class expertise in everything from hill hiking to sea stack climbing to Tyrolean traverses (think zip lines).
Given the spectacular views and inviting terrain, there should be a more glamorous word for hiking in Ireland. Witness Glenveagh, the second largest national park in Ireland. Slieve League Cliffs (or Sliabh Liag in Gaelic), sits on Donegal’s southwest coast; the cliffs are some of the highest in all of Europe. You can park you car and walk along the top of the cliffs and take in spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, Donegal Bay, and the Sligo Mountains. You can do a short, two-mile outing to the viewpoint, but more experienced hikers should keep heading to One Man’s Pass, which loops around onto the Pilgrim’s Path. The other five-star hike travels up Mt. Errigal in Glenveagh National Park. The route takes you up a gentle trail to the 2,464-foot summit with outstanding views of the coastline. The pinkish quartzite rock, bounces off the surrounding peaks of Glenveagh. Perhaps after you explore, you can offer a more magnanimous term to capture the gob-smacking scenery you just saw simply by putting one foot in front of the other.
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