Inishowen: Ireland's last wilderness
- Recommended for:
- Activity, Food and Drink, Short Break, Budget, Expensive, Mid-range
For a short break, the Inishowen peninsula is perfect. This area of Ireland has an unspoiled charm and spectacular, rugged scenery, from impressive headland fortresses to long, deserted beaches
It may be just 50 minutes from Prestwick by air, but head northwest on arrival at Derry airport in Northern Ireland and you are quickly transported to a land of breathtaking scenery and mythical mysteries, where both the hands of the clock and the seagulls fly backwards.
Travelling along the coast road by taxi to the town of Buncrana, the gateway to the Inishowen peninsula, or 'Ireland's last wilderness', as it is sometimes known, I was more than conscious that any prior sense of urgency had been left behind at the airport and overtaken by an air of carefree expectation. This state of Nirvana was purely temporary, as the taxi driver did his best to prove that not all of the best stunt drivers came from America.
After depositing my gear in a comfy room at the Inishowen Gateway Hotel, there was plenty of time to head to the nearby Drift Inn restaurant, a former railway station, for an excellent dinner and an evening of music and craic in the adjoining bar. In the morning, about five hours after drifting out of the Drift Inn, it was off for a quick nine holes of golf on the course adjoining the hotel.
The busy family resort of Buncrana has plenty to offer. It is the largest town in Inishowen and has always been a tourism haven, with three miles of sandy beaches, two castles, two golf courses and a large choice of fine hotels, guesthouses, bars and restaurants. The area is also popular with fishermen and walkers. The fishermen in the area are renowned for their conservation efforts and the Crana River is one of the best places in Inishowen for spring salmon, as well as giving walkers an ideal opportunity for both riverside and woodland walks.
Heading north from Buncrana, the first port of call is the Fort Dunree Military Museum. Set on a headland overlooking Loch Swilly, the fort was built in 1798 to counter the threat of French invasion and has been a military museum since 1986. It is here that you will encounter first-hand evidence of seagulls flying backwards, a phenomenon that soon becomes the norm as you head northwards.
It's well worth negotiating the winding road to Fort Duncree. There is a fascinating display of military memorabilia and artefacts and the history of the fort is told using the latest DVD and interactive technology. This spectacular location is also rich in wildlife, and there's a museum that houses a small restaurant with panoramic views of the coastal headlands and the seagulls flying backwards.
If you're a golfer, the Ballyliffin Golf Club is a must. A few miles north of Fort Dunree, Ballyliffin host two outstanding and contrasting links courses, and is regarded as one of the finest golf complexes in the world. As a high handicapper, I can assure you that with incredible dunes and constant coastal winds, you need a lot of balls to play this course.
If ever there was a location to host the World Kite Flying Championships, then it must be Malin Head, just outside Malin Town and Ireland's most northerly point. I had, of course, heard of Malin Head before. Mainly on the shipping forecasts, where mention of the sea area of Malin was invariably followed by "Atlantic storms and winds are expected to reach 100mph". The guidebook suggests that the area is popular with windsurfers. A bit dodgy, if you ask me. One wrong turn, catch a prevailing wind, and next thing you know, you're sending a postcard from New York!
The most obvious attraction at Malin Head is the old Admiralty Tower at Banba's Crown. The views are spectacular: from here, you can see Tory Island, Horn Head and even catch a good sighting of Paps of Jura and the island of Islay.
Another gem in the area is the Wee Bar of Malin Head, situated in the Sea View Bar-Restaurant, Ballygorman. It is a difficult concept to describe, being a cross between a village corner shop and a bar. The meat counter doubled as the bar, whilst the shelves were stocked indiscriminately with BP oil, washing powder, biscuits, whiskey, vodka, gin, a ship and a nun doll - although not necessarily in that order.
I soon found out that Inishowen was full of surprises and Doagh Famine Centre, on the Isle of Doagh, was certainly one of them. Firstly, Doagh Island isn’t really an island, but it does host some spectacular scenery and long sandy beaches. You cannot travel to this part of the country without a visit to the Famine Centre. Disneyland it ain't - but with a diverse range of attractions, it endeavours to show Ireland as it was, in an uncommercialised sort of way. The other surprising thing about the Doagh Famine Village is that every year, from November to December, it metamorphoses into Ireland's Lapland and also manages to fit in a bit of matchmaking and catering for funerals.
Heading back to the airport in Derry, I decide to spend the night at McGrorys in Caldaff. This modern, family-run hotel, situated in the village, is the ideal location for golfing, angling or just lying around the Blue Flag beach, which stretches for miles. The hotel hosts a weekly traditional music session and the restaurant offers superb seafood as well as serving some of the best steaks in Ireland.
Heading south through the towns of Moville and Muff, I am again surprised that I have managed to cover so much in just a few days. And as I took off from Derry, surprise, surprise - the seagulls were no longer flying backwards.