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Experience a Show Stopping Display of Colour with an Autumn Walking Break in Donegal

Donegal is a wonderful destination on the Wild Atlantic Way, especially if you love a good adventure! Whatever the time of year there really is no better place to be than Donegal. Immerse yourself in the wonders of nature and take a break from the fast pace of daily life with a walking holiday in Donegal this autumn. Each season brings newness to the many rich and vibrant landscapes in County Donegal and autumn brings a particularly show stopping display of glorious colour to Donegal. This is the perfect time of year to wrap up and go walking. There are many waymarked ways, national looped walks, coastal paths, island loops and mountain walks. If you are looking for a relaxed paced stroll or a more challenging hike, Donegal has something for everyone. Here we bring you a selection of some of the best walks in Donegal to enjoy this autumn that are suitable for all.

Inch Wildfowl Reserve is in Inishowen and features a scenic pathway around the lake edge with panoramic views of the surrounding agricultural landscape and wetlands. Nestled in the shadows of Scalp Mountain on the eastern shores of Lough Swilly, tucked neatly behind Inch Island, you will find Inch Wildfowl Reserve. Once part of Lough Swilly the area was drained and reclaimed for farmland, each winter the site hosts thousands of migratory birds. The conditions here are perfect for over-wintering geese, for whooper swans and nesting gulls, for ducks, grebes and wading birds. The site includes a popular 8km looped path with seating, viewpoints and a number of bird hides open to the public. Three car parks are available to visitors including a disabled viewing area and coach parking. An Grianán Hotel is not far from Inch Wildfowl Reserve if you plan on staying overnight in the area. 

Ards Forest Park this time of year is awash with beautiful autumnal colour. Located between Creeslough and Dunfanaghy, Ards Forest Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Donegal. It is 480 hectares in size and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Ards Forest Park has much to discover with sandy beaches, rivers, viewing points, nature walks, picnic and play areas to enjoy. Ards Forest Park has a number of trails, the Arts Heritage Trail is 3.5km long, the nature trail and the green trail which are both 3km long and the Red Trail which is 13km long. This walk includes some shortcuts back to the starting point should the weather change. Ards Forest Park offers a display of autumnal colour this time of year that rivals many of the world’s most famous autumn destinations and you may even catch a glimpse of local deer that roam freely through the forest year round. You will find an excellent map of Ards Forest Park on the Coillte Irish forestry website along with many other path and trail maps. Check out the family run Arnold's Hotel in Dunfanaghy for some amazing autumn/winter break offers.

* Thanks to Dan Palooga and Arnold's Hotel for the amazing photos of Ards Forest Park in Autumn.

As the autumn rain falls, this increases the flow of Glenevin Waterfall near Clonmany making the waterfall especially vibrant at this time.  Glenevin is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Donegal; this is the perfect place for some autumn exploration. Walk along mature deciduous woodland pathways that are safe and well sign-posted. Against the backdrop of the rugged high ground of Raghtin More, a walk up Glenevin Valley is exceptional. There are various picnic areas and footbridges dotted along the well maintained pathway. This walk is suitable for all abilities as it is not too strenuous, but and it offers an array of autumn colours in this wooded stream valley. The perfect place for photography or painting enthusiasts to hone their craft. The walk takes you to Glenevin Waterfall where you will be rewarded with the glorious sight of the gushing waterfall; one of Inishowen’s most spectacular natural attractions. Find out more on the region from Ballyliffin Clonmany Tourism on Facebook.

For more breathtaking autumn colour, get on your walking boots and head out to tread the pathway at Burtonport Railway Walk. This is a 6 km route through one of the most wild and remote areas of Donegal with panoramic views. Follow the route of the railway line to Burtonport as it runs along Muckish Mountain from Creeslough to Falcarragh. The natural colours of autumn are awash across the heath and hills this time of year. This walking route takes in lough Agher and cuts through rocky outcrops where you can observe some of the engineering fetes involved in the construction of the original railway line. The route has a gradual elevation and is mostly level with the downhill trend heading in the Falcarragh direction. Cosy up in one of the 'heated' wooden pods at the Wild Atlantic Camp in Creeslough for a unique autumnal nights stay.

Take in a breath of refreshing Atlantic sea air with a walk along Buncrana Shore in Inishowen. At 2.3km one way the Buncrana shore-path is a traffic free walk along the coast that follows the shoreline of Lough Swilly between Buncrana and Stragill Strand. This beautiful area was the inspiration for John Newton’s famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ and it is easy to see why Lough Swilly was his muse. New information panels along the route tell the tales of the many years of maritime history and heritage of the area. Buncrana shore walk is a gentle path alongside beaches, an old military fort called Ned’s Point and there are picnic areas plus a children’s play park along the way if you fancy a stop off. Spot the local coastal wildlife and take in the panoramic views that are simply unforgettable. Warm up with a hot chocolate and delicious home bakes at Tank and Skinny's coffee shop after your coastal walk or relax and unwind with an overnight stay in the Inishowen Gateway Hotel in Buncrana.

Autumn in Donegal is a season that is wild and untamed and brings to mind the Shelley poem ‘Ode to the West Wind’! Start planning your Wild Atlantic Way autumn walking adventure in Donegal on www.govisitdonegal.com

Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed”

Island Hopping Adventure Breaks on the Donegal Islands

The Donegal Islands have a special place in the hearts of many people, both in those that can trace their roots here and those that have visited from other places. Islanders that have left will always be connected to them and those that remain keep the island tradition and culture of the past alive. The Donegal Islands are unique places on the Wild Atlantic Way where the Irish language still thrives and the heritage of past island life is preserved. Peace and tranquillity can be felt the moment you step foot onto any of the Donegal Islands and time stands still.  

With 1134km of coastline, Donegal has a lot of islands and is the ideal destination for an island hopping adventure break! On North West coast of Ireland in the Irish speaking Gaeltacht region you will find many of the Donegal Islands including the two largest islands, Tory and Arranmore. You can also find Gola, Inishbofin, Inishfree, Island Roy, Rutland, Inishkerragh, Owey and Inishirrer. Inishtrahull Island is the most Northerly island off the coast of Ireland and Inch Island can be found in Lough Swilly.

Inishtrahull Island (Inis Trá Tholl) is located off the coast of Malin Head, Co Donegal, the most northerly point of the country and the last sign of Ireland that most who emigrated to America from Derry ever saw. The island is now uninhabited by people but is a haven for wildlife.  The rocks on Inishtrahull are 1.7 billion years old and the geography of the island is more like that of Greenland and parts of Scandinavia than Ireland.

Only one mile from mainland Donegal is Gola Island (Oileán Ghabhla) has been inspiring artists and photographers for many years. Gola is the perfect place to find sanctuary in the still quietness of its stunning shores. Breathtaking coastal landscapes and towering cliffs offer adventure seekers a paradise to explore. With natural habitats, wildlife watchers delight in the sights of Gola. Rock climbers indulge in some of the best climbing in the world on Gola and walkers journey along the Bealach na Gaeltachta trail. Visit Loch Mhachaire na nGall, a small lake that nestles in the hills and once was filled with wild eels. Get to Gola by ferry, departing from the pier at Bunbeg (Bun Beag) or Machaire Gathlán.  

Inishbofin (Inis Bó Finne) ‘the island of the white cow’ is a tranquil oasis far removed from the rush of modern life. Located two miles off the mainland of Donegal, Inishbofin has beautiful white sandy beaches and some really unique cliffs and caves. It has not been long since electricity and running water were provided on the island in 2002! Step back in time on Inishbofin and listen to the spoken Irish of the island community. Inishbofin is famous amongst bird watchers as the island is home to the rare and elusive corncrake and barnacle geese who fly here from the Arctic each Autumn to remain for Winter. Hundreds of wild rabbits can be found frolicking in the fields of Inishbofin.

Arranmore Island (Árainn Mhór) offers an abundance of activity holiday options with something for everyone. The island is seven square miles in size, has approximately 470 resident inhabitants and is just three miles off mainland Donegal. From Burtonport catch one of the car and passenger ferries to the island. Arranmore is a particularly popular spot for divers and deep sea anglers. There are many paths and trails, rugged cliffs and long white sandy beaches. Flora and fauna thrive on Arranmore Island. Steeped in history, the island’s music, song and dance traditions keep the heritage and culture of Arranmore in the hearts of many. In summer the island hosts some fantastic festivals such as Swell Fest. Enjoy a Sea Safari boat trip to discover the marine life around the island. You will find a warm welcome on Arranmore Island and no shortage of things to see and do. Don’t miss it!

Take a trip to Tory Island (Oileán Thoraí) by ferry from Magheroarty (Machaire Rabhartaigh), an inhabited craggy island eight miles off Cnoc Fola (Bloody Foreland) with panoramic coastal views. First occupied more than 4,500 years ago in Neolithic times, Tory island has a long and varied history. Said to have been the stronghold of Balor na Súile Nimhe (Balor of the Evil Eye) a mythical warlord who features in island folklore, Tory has a fascinating story to tell and Tory Island has no shortage of storytellers!  Ancient customs survive on Tory. The island even has its own King or Rí Thoraí. Walking, rock climbing, wildlife watching and cultural activities all make up an adventure on Tory. Whatever your favourite activity, Tory is a place of adventure.

Food and Hospitality with Real Heart in Ireland’s most Northerly County

My native County of Donegal took another significant step towards establishing itself as one of the country’s foremost regions for food and hospitality with the triumph of its first ever Signature Dish Event. Based in the picturesque surroundings of Harvey’s Point, this was a showcase not only for the very best of local cuisine, but the story behind it. Because excellence, to me, means more than sourcing the best of fresh local produce;  more than superb, innovative cooking and the warmest hospitality; it’s sharing the very heart and inspiration of each and every signature dish served at table.

      That’s always been the ethos at the heart of my cooking and that inspires and guides my latest venture, the Foyle Hotel project in the beautiful village of Moville on the shores of Lough Swilly that opened for business this summer. While many years and awards away from being even nominally a ‘newcomer’ to the profession,  I was delighted to accept the prestigious Newcomer of the Year 2019 title for the Foyle Hotel at the Georgina Campbell Awards in Dublin earlier this autumn. 

It was a validation not only of my own philosophy and professional practice but of each of the thirty six staff employed there and of the formidable kitchen pairing of Head Chef Derek Creagh,and Head Pastry Chef Monto Mansour,
        It was a further delight to be invited to assume the prestigious role of Master of Ceremonies for the groundbreaking Donegal Signature Dish event at Harvey’s Point. This celebration of culinary excellence brought together a selection of Donegal’s most talented chefs, food suppliers and trade representatives, together with guest food writers and bloggers, in a superb location.
    Hosted by Donegal County Council in association with Donegal Tourism, the aim was simple yet its results were stunning-to celebrate Donegal food and fresh local produce and to promote the people who champion it – chefs, restaurants, suppliers and artisan producers. Restaurants across the county were invited earlier this year to submit their signature dishes. From these, we formed a menu for the event. The dishes had to consist of Donegal sourced ingredients and feature on the current or seasonal menu.

     The final, mouth watering tasting menu comprised a balanced selection of ten dishes from around the county. Each chef also had an opportunity to share the story behind the dish with the audience.

The Head of the Tourism Unit of Donegal County Council, Barney McLaughlin, reflected afterwards:
       “We are delighted that the chefs in the county have risen to the challenge to participate in this exciting event. This is not a competition but an opportunity to 
showcase the best that the county has to offer; it’s about working together to promote quality food in Donegal and send a message out to our local people, guests and visitors that Donegal does food well.’’

       It really does. I hope I’ve inspired you to pay a first or welcome return visit to my native county. See you soon.

    Chef Brian McDermott

    Participating chefs comprised a veritable Who’s Who of Donegal’s finest:
Chef Gary McPeake - McGrory’s Hotel, Culdaff
Chef Christopher Molloy - Lemon Tree Restaurant, Letterkenny
Chef Anthony Armstrong – Nesbitt Arms Hotel, Ardara
Chefs Chris McMenamin and Colin McKee – Harvey’s Point Hotel, Donegal Town
Chef Paul Brady – Castle Grove Country House, Letterkenny
Chef Marco Letterese – The Olde Castle Bar, Donegal Town
Chef Ian Orr – Browns on the Green, Letterkenny
Chef Brian McMonagle – Arnolds Hotel, Dunfanaghy
Chef Karl Murtagh – The Silver Tassie Hotel & Spa, Letterkenny
Chefs Joe & Brenda O’Hora – Benny & Co, Ballybofey