We slept soundly in our beautiful suite at the Abbey Hotel and feeling refreshed, headed downstairs for breakfast in their Market House restaurant. After being tempted with an array of hot and cold dishes we were ready for the day ahead and a morning stroll around the attractive small town of Donegal.
Our walk took us to Hanna Hats of Donegal where we were given a tour of the workshop. This local business is steeped in history as it was established in 1924 by David Hanna and is now run by Eleanor and John Patrick, the third generation of the family. It is Ireland’s last operating headwear workshop where each hat is handcrafted by a skilled team using many of the original age old traditions.
Visitors are welcome to the workshop to browse and purchase the beautiful Irish tweed hats and caps and take a look in the factory to observe the cutting, sewing and pressing processes. At the final stage each hat is quality inspected and then steamed using a hand held iron.
We couldn’t return home without taking a little piece of Donegal’s history with us, but what to select as we were spoilt for choice. With the help of Eleanor, we finally decided on a stylish Slieve League tweed hat and a vintage tweed cap both of which fitted us perfectly and felt so comfortable to wear.
Our walk then took us past Donegal Castle which towers over the River Eske. For most of the last two centuries the majority of its buildings lay in ruins but the castle was almost fully restored in the early 1990’s. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit but as Donegal is such a gem of a town and a place we had fallen in love with, I’m certain we will be returning for a longer stay before too long.
After checking out of the Abbey Hotel, we popped our luggage into the car and then took a final walk along the quayside soaking up the splendid views across to Donegal Bay. Boat trips operate from here during the summer months, yet another reason for us to come back soon.
Our plan for the morning was to visit the Slieve League cliffs and on the way we made a brief stop in Killybegs. The town is Ireland’s largest fishing port but don’t let that put you off as although it’s a working harbour it’s very pretty and a walk through the small town is also of interest.
The maritime museum was the former home of Donegal Carpets who supplied royalty, palaces and the White House. On display is the longest carpet loom in the world where eight weavers would have worked, sitting alongside each other in a line.
Back in the car again, we continued onto the Slieve League Cliffs approximately an hour’s drive from Donegal Town. The cliffs which are also known locally as Sliabh Liag Cliffs are three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and stand at 1,972 ft (601m) making them one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe.
There are several options for parking at the cliffs. Parking at the visitor centre is free of charge and from there it is a 45 minute walk up to the viewpoint. Visitors can also drive slightly nearer to a small pay and display car park (€5) just before a set of gates that is used to keep livestock from straying.
We took the easy option of opting for the Sliagh Liag Tours shuttle bus which takes visitors from outside the Ti Linn cafe to the Bunglass Viewpoint with an informative guided commentary in both directions. The service usually operates at 20 minute intervals meaning that visitors can stay as long as they wish.
The short walk to the viewpoint is then fully accessible and from there we enjoyed breathtaking views of the cliffs and being clear we could see across to the counties of Sligo and Mayo. These awe inspiring cliffs are prone to extremely strong winds and the gorgeous tweed hat I’d just acquired was styled a Slieve League design but there was no way I would have worn it on the cliff tops for fear of it blowing off!
There are ruins of a monastic chapel near the summit as the cliffs have been a place of sacred pilgrimage for over 1,000 years. Returning back in the minibus our driver pointed out a 19th century watchtower at the end of Carrigan Head. The watchtower was constructed to defend the north west coast from the threat of a Napoleonic invasion. He also told us that the narrow ledges of the cliffs attract thousands of seabirds in the spring and early summer drawing thousands of birdwatchers to the area. Visiting Slieve League cliffs was a memorable experience and one I recommend adding to a visit to the north west of Ireland.
Back at the visitor centre, we warmed up with cappuccinos in the Ti Linn Cafe which is renowned for its delicious home baked cakes. Next to the cafe is a gift shop showcasing local talent so we popped in there for a look around before returning to the car. On the way to our next location we drove past the beautiful Fintra beach, which even in October looked inviting.
Within less than an hour we’d arrived at Harvey’s Point, on the edge of Lough Eske where we had arranged to have a late lunch. The hotel sits in an idyllic position at the water’s edge amid the backdrop of the Bluestack Mountains just five miles from Donegal Town.
A casual dining menu is served in the octagonal bar lounge which opens out onto the lakeside. From our sunny window table, we ordered a steak sandwich and a chicken caesar salad which were both delicious and although I thought I was being good having a salad, I couldn’t resist pinching a few chips from the other side of the table.
Before leaving, we enjoyed a stroll along the lakeside. Guests were gathering for a wedding and it was amusing watching them totter in high heels by the water’s edge to take photographs. There were a few short showers we needed to dodge but the vivid rainbows that appeared in between them made up for it and were really beautiful.
It was then time to move on to Sligo and to the small seaside resort of Strandhill where we had planned to spend the night. The village is situated at the western base of Knocknarea, a prominent hill rising to 327m (1073 ft), and is regarded as one of the best places to go surfing in Ireland.
Surfing wasn’t on our agenda but a stay at the Strandhill Lodge and Suites was. Located on a quiet road a short stroll from the beach, many of its rooms have stunning views across the bay. Our spacious room was comfortable and equipped with everything needed for a pleasant stay. The views from the balcony were beautiful and I could just imagine how lovely it would be to sit out out with a drink and to watch the sunset on a warmer evening.
As it was falling dark we decided to leave exploring Strandhill until the next morning and instead drive into Sligo town just 15 minutes away. It was a bonus to discover that parking in the town centre is free during the evening and so we set off for a walk along the river bank which looked so pretty with the twinkling lights from its surrounding buildings reflected on the water. The Garavogue River flowing through the town is one of Ireland’s shortest as its journey takes it from Lough Gill into Sligo bay, a distance of only 31 miles (50 km).
After our little walk we were ready to eat and so we headed to Walkers 1781 Restaurant located on O’Connell Street in the Abbey Quarter. Drinks are served in the convivial ground floor pub whilst upstairs there is a buzzing restaurant dedicated to serving fresh produce with a contemporary twist. We received a warm welcome by the friendly team of Emily, Aoife and Leah who looked after us during the evening.
We often opt for a starter and a main, but noticing the yummy desserts passing by we decided to go for mains and dessert. Our duck leg confit and chicken and chorizo tagliatelle were cooked to perfection and both our salted caramel brownie and crème brûlée were spot on and we savoured every spoonful. Run by the culinary pair of Joe Grogan and Grainne Sheridan we’d discovered an excellent, reasonably priced restaurant in the centre of town.
What a day we’d had on our Wild Atlantic Way adventure and with more still to come, we curled up in our comfortable beds for a good night’s sleep.
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