After our final night of camping, we packed our things, said goodbye to the Wilsons at Sleepy Hollow Campsite and made our way ultimately to Donegal Town via a few extreme short cuts.
The first of our stops was the Glengesh Pass, sometimes referred to as Glen of the Swans, is a route which connects Glencolmcille to Ardara. Glengesh is one of two glaciated valleys that sculpt the Northern verge of the Banagh Peninsula, a high pass with an elevated view of Loughros Beg Bay and Mulmosog Mountains.
A beautiful route filled with hair pin bends to the top, along the road old cottages and farms can be seen, along with sheep that wander the area (and sometimes the road). A pleasant unspoilt well worth taking.
The route is best viewed by travelling from Ardara to Glencolmcille, this works out at roughly 15 miles, with a stop at the car park at the top view point. The route is very popular with cyclists and is roughly a 6km ascent. Very picturesque and a feeling of stepping back in time – to a place where there was more time.
Our next stop was Killybegs, the largest fishing port in the country and the largest on the island of Ireland. From here you can get views of the scenic harbour and vast mountainous tract which extends northward. You may also not be able to breathe for the smell of fish wafting from the ranks of giant trawlers moored within the port, you have been warned.
Killybegs is also famous for it is tapestries and carpets as the Donegal Carpet Factory had the biggest loom in the world, the factory was closed in 2003 but reopened in 2006 as the Maritime & Heritage Centre. Providing a unique experience for visitors with information on the carpet making industry but also the fishing industry. Famous carpets include such places as Dublin Castle, The Oval Room at the White House, the Vatican, Buckingham Palace, regal homes and foreign embassies throughout the globe.
A short drive later we arrived in Donegal Town, a tourist hub with plenty of places to eat and shop. The area was invaded by the Vikings in the 8th century and they used it as a port. This invasion is where the town got its Gaelic name, Dun nan Gall, meaning “Fort of the Foreigners”. The Vikings built a garrison in the town, thought to have been in the grounds of where Donegal Castle now stands and that’s where we ventured first.
Opening hours and admissions vary from different times of the year, but there is a sign outside the castle entrance where it’s updated. When we arrived in September they were open from 10am – 6pm with last admissions at 5.15pm. Admission was € 4 each for two adults and within the castle there are toilet facilities with disabled access also. Donegal Castle is a self guided tour with sheets of limited paper to read while you walk around. No gift shop and no WiFi is available.
The castle itself is stunning; with the stonework being locally sourced limestone with a blend of some sandstone. The Castle was the principle residence of the great royal family of the O Donnels, who ruled the kingdom of Tir Chonaill from 1200 until 1601.
The most notable feature of all was in the Banqueting Hall, where there lies an elaborately sculptured fireplace (mid-17th century) regarded as one of the finest of its kind in Ireland.
After exploring the castle and its grounds, we made way to our fabulous hotel!