Our seven night itinerary is designed as a circuit to cover the whole peninsula (200km approx) and is our recommended holiday. Inishowen is often described as ‘Ireland in Miniature’ and this route shows that to best advantage. For those who want to really explore Inishowen and get a true feel for the area the seven night itinerary is the best option. This gives you plenty of time to make the most of your Donegal adventure and see the sights at your leisure – with plenty of cycling too!
The tour starts in Culdaff, and you will be enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of McGrory’s, a family-run hotel. We recommend you arrive in time to enjoy your included evening meal and take a walk along Culdaff’s beautiful blue flag beach. Guests who are using the Derry/ Londonderry transfer can avail of this service at any stage throughout the day. For those of you who are driving parking is available at McGrory’s for the duration of your stay. The Cycle Inishowen team will also be paying you a visit to deliver your bicycle, give a brief safety talk and answer any questions you may have. Tonight you get the detailed itinerary booklet and all the information on the following day’s cycle route, which you could look through that evening while relaxing in the Front Room Bar.
Culdaff to Redcastle
Options of 27.5km, 40km or 50km
The day starts with a short loop around the area just inland of Culdaff. This gives you a chance to visit some ancient monuments and get a feel for the historical importance of the area, while getting acquainted with your bicycle. Having warmed up, you then take the road to Moville, the ancestral home of Field Marshal Montgomery which he referred to as ‘his dear old Irish home’. This is a pleasant seaside town where you can stop for lunch or ‘Paint a Pot’ in the studio with Moville Pottery. Your own painted mug makes a great authentic souvenir to take home. The Putting Green on the village green is great value for a fun game of crazy golf and has an outdoor café.
What we would then recommend is to continue on up the coast until you get to the fishing village of Greencastle, from where you can take the Foyle Ferry over to Magilligan Point in Co. Derry, Northern Ireland. This short ferry ride is a great chance to admire the view of the coast, it’s free to take your bicycle and there is a great restaurant on the other side. Magilligan is also home to a Martello tower, dating from the Napoleonic era and still in superb condition. The ferry runs every hour so you can easily sail right back again having satisfied your curiosity.
Once you’re back on Donegal shores you can visit the 14th century castle from which Greencastle gained its name, or spend some time in Inishowen Maritime Museum and Planetarium at the old Coastguard Station. Then follow the coast along the Foyle as far as Redcastle, where you’ll be staying tonight, or alternatively take the longer but quieter hill road. The Redcastle Hotel is right on the sea front and as well as your evening meal Cycle Inishowen customers will have the use of the gym and swimming pool. There is also a luxury spa if you feel you deserve a little pampering to relax those cycling muscles, or if you feel up to it you can take in a quick round of golf!
Redcastle to Burt
27.5km or 32.5km
Leaving Redcastle behind you take the coast road towards Derry/Londonderry. This road follows the Foyle just above sea level, providing you with great views across the water at its widest point. After Quigley’s Point you turn off and take the quiet road to Eskaheen, which skirts the mountains to the north. This starts with a climb but soon rewards you with absolute solitude, a great mix of ascents and descents, and some fantastic views down on the city of Derry/Londonderry. This route navigates around barren hills and mountains, forestry and farmland, and is a great chance to go off the beaten track. You can follow these country roads right down into Bridge End, where we recommend you eat in the award-winning Harry’s Restaurant. The food is excellent and it is all sourced locally from Inishowen suppliers, guaranteeing freshness with a real taste of the area.
Leaving Bridge End you join a national cycling route which leads you up the Grianan Hill. This is a decent climb but the cycling route has picked out the best approach. At the top of Grianan Hill lies the Grianan Aileach, a ring fort built on an ancient site. This National Monument sits atop the hill commanding the most incredible views of the area. The structure has been re-built and restored regularly and you can still climb the interior stairs to the upper ring of the fort and look out at the amazing views of the Foyle and the Swilly. Up to seven counties can be seen from this point and it is a treasure of Inishowen. The ascent is challenging, but on a clear day is well worth it.
From there it is an exhilarating descent to the Grianan Hotel, where you will be staying tonight. Just facing the Grianan Hotel is Inch Wildfowl Reserve and we suggest you spend the rest of your day enjoying its peaceful atmosphere, abundance of birdlife and flat, newly- developed tracks – perfect for cycling. The reserve is based on re-claimed land in the shelter of Inch Island, and that area is linked to the island by road on one side and by an embankment on the other. A cycle along this causeway is unbeatable, with views of sea and mountains on either side. The Wildfowl Reserve is of international importance with its regular crowds of migratory swans and geese as well as permanent residents, including otters. We will leave binoculars at your hotel so you can make the most of this opportunity. Also within easy distance for exploring is Burt Castle, a 16th century stone castle; the towers, musket holes and windows of which are still partially intact. When the castle was built the ground it stands on would have been surrounded by water on three sides, making it very secure. Due to its strategic location the castle also has impressive views of the surrounding countryside.
Burt to Buncrana
This morning starts with a circuit of Inch Island, a real highlight of the trip. The road around Inch is an exciting rollercoaster of twists and turns, short climbs and descents through lush countryside. First you follow the coast, with its abundance of birdlife, and then loop down to the far side where there is a small beach with beautiful views up the Swilly, before cutting across the heart of the island to rejoin the road on the other side. You will have the roads almost entirely to yourself as very few people live on the island and most visitors are birdwatchers on foot.
Cycling is an excellent way to see the island with low-impact to the environment, and minimal disturbance to its winged residents. Without the rattle of engine noise you get closer to wildlife without upsetting it. Asides from the local flora and fauna the island also has its own 16th century castle, part of the same defensive group as its neighbour at Burt. In the late morning you leave Inch Island and follow the coast to Buncrana, where you will be staying that night in the Lake of Shadows Hotel. On your way into Buncrana you will be passing the Red Door in Fahan, a luxury country house with a bar and restaurant where you could stop for lunch. If you would rather just continue to your destination in Buncrana there are several cafes there for you to choose from.
Buncrana has the nickname of ‘Amazing Grace Country’, as it has associations with the hymn of that name, written by the slave-trader John Newton. The boat he was travelling on got into difficulties just off Buncrana and he was lucky to escape with his life. This caused Newton to have a religious epiphany and while visiting nearby Derry Cathedral he composed ‘Amazing Grace’. Despite this it took many more years for him to retire from the slave trade, but he eventually did and went on to become influential in the abolition of slavery.
There are several options of entertainment for the rest of the day in Buncrana. While here you can walk the beach, play a round of golf or explore Swan Park. This is a wildlife park located at the mouth of the river Crana. There are walkways on either side of the river and this marks the spot where the United Irishman Wolfe Tone was captured following the 1798 rebellion. Also in this area are the ruins of O’Doherty’s Keep, this building has been dated from the early 1400’s, but with later modifications from the early 1600’s. The Keep was not intended as defensive but was used more as a residence, an offshoot from the main stronghold at Burt. Just next to it is the more modern Buncrana Castle, an impressively named manor house from the 18th century. The Buncrana Shore Path starts from this point, a 2.3km route from here to Stragill Strand. This is a well-developed, off-road route ideal for unwinding by foot or on the bike.
After dinner there are several pubs which often have live traditional music or we recommend a visit to Buncrana Cinema for some old-style pictures. The cinema dates from 1910 and is a trip back in time. Take a seat in the balcony and enjoy the combination of retro-setting and current release in this independent, family-run cinema.
Buncrana to Ballyliffin
Today starts with the toughest cycling so far but the distance is kept to a minimum to compensate, and the amazing scenery makes it well worth the effort. Leaving Buncrana in the morning take the road to Dunree; coastal and quiet, there are different options at this point depending on which gradient suits you best. This route takes you to Dunree Head, the site of a magnificent fort which was the last piece of Irish soil handed back from British rule. This took place in 1938 allowing Ireland to remain neutral during the Second World War. It is now a military history museum which is well worth a visit. The site has superb views and the lure of potentially seeing dolphins. The fort also has a café where you can have some lunch before tackling the challenge of Mamore Gap. This steep climb regularly features on the Irish racing circuit and is known as being a challenge, but never fear, the Cycle Inishowen mobile will be on hand – if you would rather not take the endurance test we can either bring you up the hill to enjoy the view and the descent, or take the bicycle and leave you to enjoy the climb on foot.
No matter how you get up there you will enjoy the view from the top: it makes it all worthwhile. And what goes up must come down; having reached the top you can now enjoy the exhilarating descent through Urris on your way into Clonmany. You will get amazing sea views and whizz through lush farmland. Take a short detour down to Tullagh Bay, a long beach with excellent surf which is great for a ramble, or alternatively you can continue on your way towards Clonmany and take a walk at the Glenevin Waterfall. This is a beautifully developed trail criss-crossing the stream which leads to a waterfall and pool. There are picnic areas dotted along the site and a tea room at the entrance.
This evening you will be staying at either The Ballyliffin Hotel or The Strand Hotel, Ballyliffin, on the far side of Clonmany. This small village has a big reputation as it is home to two of the best golf courses in Ireland, with an international reputation in the golf world. Ballyliffin is also a surfing hotspot, for the brave at heart who can take the wild Atlantic.
Ballyliffin to Malin
Option of 25km, 30km or 35km
This morning you will explore the ‘sub-peninsula’ of the Isle of Doagh, an outcrop into Trawbreaga Bay with long sandy beaches and quiet roads – ideal for cycling. At the extreme tip of the Isle of Doagh is Carrickabraghy Castle. It formed part of the same defensive network that includes Inch and Burt castles and dates back to the 16th century, standing for over four hundred years against the full force of the Atlantic. Just next to the castle is
a blowhole known as ‘Hissing Rock’. This is a fissure in the rock which sprays the water from the swell up high into the air, if the sea is rough and the wind high this spray can reach incredible heights. If you have seen enough of castles you can take the shorter circuit around the eastern side of the Isle of Doagh. The Famine Village is the biggest visitor attraction on Doagh, this settlement of original thatched cottages has been transformed into an interactive museum experience of life in Ireland from the 1845 famine to the present day. Guided tours are offered daily.
Having explored here you rejoin the road to Carndonagh, which you will be visiting as you follow the outline of Trawbreaga Bay. This town is a good spot to stop for lunch and on your way into the town you will see the Donagh Cross, a very early and unusual example of an Irish Christian cross, with two small decorative standing stones on either side. There are several cafés in Carndonagh to grab a bite to eat before carrying on your way to Malin, where you’ll be staying tonight at the Malin Hotel.
Malin is a very picturesque small town, featuring whitewashed walls, a well-kept village green with antique phone box and an unusual many-arched bridge over the Ballyboe River. As you prepare to cross the bridge if you look to your left you will see a bird-watching hut from which you can spend the afternoon watching the wildlife this ever-changing bay attracts. Directly opposite this on your right is Malin Stables, an equestrian centre offering pony and horse trekking along the country roads or the shore of Trawbreaga. Every summer Malin hosts a raft race to raise money for the local lifeboats; this is accompanied by live music and entertainment on the green. Lily’s Bar and Tearoom next to your hotel is a traditional pub with regular music sessions, now also open during the day as a tea room.
Malin to Culdaff
This is the final day’s cycling and will take you up to Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland and a fitting culmination of your time with us. From Malin you hug the coast alongside Trawbreaga Bay and the beach at Lagg. This is a good, gentle start to what will be a more challenging day.
As you reach the extreme north of the peninsula the terrain grows more difficult and, depending on how much you want to push yourself, there are different route options to choose from. All the options however lead to Banba’s Crown, the extreme tip of the country and the end of the Mizen Head to Malin Head racing route. From here you can have a coffee from the Caffe Banba gourmet coffee van and look out across the sea to Scotland. The sea around Malin Head is an International Research and Conservation Area as it is so popular with basking sharks, especially in the summer time. Other visitors include pods of dolphins and killer whales, so keep your eyes open!
On the peak of Banba’s Crown stands a sulking concrete tower, a World War II lookout station. This building, which was originally Napoleonic but sadly rebuilt, still keeps a watchful eye on the sea below and the stone letters spelling É-I-R-E beneath it – marking us as neutral territory to avoid any airborne confusion in wartime! These days you’d be best to use this vantage point to look out to sea, where between Scotland and the ground you stand on you will see the island of Inishtrahull and the rocks of Tor.
We suggest you have your lunch in Malin Head; there are several options to choose from, before continuing to the fishing village of Glengad. The route then zigzags along, following back roads and avoiding the beaten track, taking you back to Culdaff, where it all began. You spend this final night in McGrory’s Hotel where you started your holiday. You are welcome to use the bikes the following morning before you depart for home or to continue your Ireland adventure.
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