Take a drive on the wild side: Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

For one of the most scenic and dramatic road trips you’ll ever experience, there’s no need to hop aboard a transatlantic flight. Writer Becky Wicks takes a drive on the wild side in Ireland, home to the Wild Atlantic Way – the longest defined coastal driving route in the world at a whopping 2,500 kilometres long.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare. Image: iStock/FedevPhoto

When my friend first uttered the words wild, rugged and untamed she was not, for once, referencing her ex-boyfriend. She was in fact suggesting we get away from men altogether and road trip along some of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. There are 2,000 places to stay along the The Wild Atlantic Way, and all manner of unique and ancient heritage to take on board. A traditional and thriving Gaelic culture, plus amazing local food experiences were all promised, as were a host of activities to get involved in. Obviously we couldn’t do all of it in two days but our first adventure was to travel around County Donegal, taking in Malin Head, Fanad Head and Slieve League.

After landing in Derry, our first point of call was Malin Head – it’s mainland Ireland’s most northerly point at the tip of Inishowen Peninsula and it’s totally magical. As we stood looking down at the crashing waves, watching birds zooming in on the Atlantic winds, we agreed that there’s something about the dramatic crevices in the harsh, rugged headland, and the long, narrow chasm they’ve named Hell’s Hole that commands total respect. Mother Nature calls from every angle.

Fanad Head, County Donegal. Image: iStock/JanMiko

After visiting the Inishowen Maritime Museum and Planetarium, we decided to stay the night and made some local friends in local pub, O’Flaherty’s Bar. We dined on beer (that’s fine, isn’t it?) and tapped our toes to the traditional Irish band that was playing (it’s worth paying a visit just to listen to the live music that the bar’s famous for). A local told us to save ourselves a trip to Iceland and look out for the Northern Lights around Inishowen, as apparently they can sometimes be seen from here on dark winter nights. I even thought I’d caught a glimpse of them when we stepped outside to head back to our hotel – but then again, that could have been the beer…

The following morning after breakfast, we drove along the coastline to the infamous Ballymastocker Bay, once voted the second most beautiful beach in the world. It’s so easy to see why. The views on the Knockalla coastal drive on the way from Rathmullan to Portsalon blew us away. Further along the coast we reached Fanad Head, home of a lighthouse that was built when the unlucky frigate HMS Saldanha sank in the 1800s. This only adds to the romantic charm oozing out of this wildly exposed, windy headland. As we looked out over the grey seals frolicking in the waves below, a friendly passing dog walker stopped for a chat and told us that whales have been seen breaching here, too.

Slieve League, County Donegal. Image: iStock/espiegle

Next up was a two and a half hour journey to the Slieve League Cliffs on the south-west coast of County Donegal. The drive was well-signposted, meaning we had no worries about getting lost as we pumped up the music and snapped the occasional glimpse of sparkling sea on our cameras. There were no mermaids in sight, but the Slieve League Cliffs (or Sliabh Liag in Irish), once we reached them, were an even more incredible reward. As some of the highest cliffs in Europe they tower 600 metres above the crashing sea, and so did we as we left the car and braved the winds to reach the edge on foot. A gust of wind brought out my friend’s vertigo to the highest degree, but she concurred the sensational scenery was worth the jitters. Safe to say, it’s not called the Wild Atlantic Way for nothing.

Words by Becky Wicks

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2 Comments

  1. Lena Andersson says:

    I was visiting Ireland last summer for around trip. What a wonderful place to visit! I felt in love immiediately with this fantastic country! Nature, people, history, culture…its really fascinating… magical…
    Will be back soon!
    Lena from Sweden.

  2. Liz Lawley says:

    I would so love to visit these places. Everything I have read inspires me – the travel, the people all are so friendly.

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