Off the Beaten Track – Derryveagh Mountains
by Fergal Kearney
I’ve spent a lifetime getting lost – literally and metaphorically – in the Hills of Donegal. From my neighbouring County Derry, our summer childhoods were often characterised by at least one marathon day trip to County Donegal. Two cars, two sprawling families – crammed in with picnics and raincoats – started out early morning to make the most of our day.
My first real memory of totally falling in love with the county was the first and only year that my late grandad James went along for the ride. That journey took us through Barnes Gap, then on to Donegal Town, before ending up on the vast beach at Rosnowlagh. That’s 37 years ago now. But those were the days! Off the Beaten Track – Derryveagh Mountains is my most recent instalment in my occasional series on lesser visited parts of my native Ireland.
The region can be accessed from the epic 1600mile Wild Atlantic Way.
It was only much later when I achieved my own personal freedom that I discovered the very heart of Donegal – the Derryveagh Mountains. On our early childhood trips, there was always the steady presence of Mount Errigal in the distance, but I was a car owner myself before I parked under its mighty peak above the glorious Poisoned Glen at Dunlewey.
There has always been something other-worldly about this part of Ireland and indeed, this part of Donegal. For one, it was never easy to get to. A straight road? Nowhere to be seen. A good surface? Nope. So even if on the map it looked close, it ended up being a journey of mammoth proportions, in particular when the major towns of Donegal and Letterkenny were but specks in the rear view mirror.
Yet that was all part of the adventure. Once across the speed limit sign at Churchtown, a whole different world opened up before us. The huge granite strewn peaks of (what I later knew to be the Derryveagh Range) sitting against a cobalt sky – and sometimes a sky of uninterrupted blue – welcomed us to Glenveagh National Park. Cosseted by these mysterious peaks and accessed only by a dangerous, undulating track that ducked and dived its way through the boggy ground, Glenveagh was dwarfed by its Seven Sisters, not least among them the highest, Errigal.
I was never really a hill walker, so I cannot claim to have scaled Errigal, or any of her neighbours (although I have sat atop Mount Brandon in County Kerry), but fair play to the many who have done so. I believe that the rewards on a clear day are something life-changing, but I’ll have to take your word for it. Nonetheless, even if you aren’t outdoorsy, this is a must visit Irish landscape if only to appreciate its vast scale and its all-pervading sense of isolation and loneliness. Far away from the rush and noise of Belfast or Dublin, here you will find only silence, punctured occasionally by the sound of native birds or the wind through heather.
The Seven Sisters
Each mountain of the Seven Sisters of Derryveagh is worthy of their own legends, with the romantic Gaelic names of Aghla Beg, Aghla Mor, Ardloughnabrackbaddy (whoa there!) Crocknalaragagh, Errigal, Mackoght and Muckish all competing with their own folklore and mythology.
My recent February journey through the Derryveagh Mountains seems to have drawn me more to Muckish than to Errigal this time around. It’s more of a flat-topped affair than a stunning peak, but covered in snow it remains an impressive piece of natural engineering, from any angle. Traversed by narrow tracks, it is easy to stop and be spellbound by the scale of this place, where steep mountainsides first give way to heather strewn bogland before giving way to lush farmland and then the Atlantic Ocean.
Where to Stay
There is an abundance of Bed and Breakfasts and small hotels in the area, including in the main settlements in Derryveagh at Falcarragh, Dunfanaghy and Cresslough. There is also hotel and hostel accommodation at Dunlewey in the shadow of Mount Errigal and overlooking the beautiful Poisoned Glen.
Patrick Gallagher Coaches run a daily service to all main towns and villages from Derry City.
InSite Tours Ireland Ltd. provide private guided tours of the region from Derry or Letterkenny. Call +44 (0)2879 386638 to book. Prices start at £72.00/€85.00 for a five hour tour for up to 3 passengers. Minibus tours can also be arranged.
All Images ©Fergal Kearney 2017. All Rights Reserved.