Sunday, 30 March 2014

Donegal Town. Donegal Bay. Murvagh Beach.St John's Point Walk. Ireland Part One.

Back in Ireland once again at the kind invitation of Graeme who likes a full carload sometimes to share the cost of car hire for travelling around Donegal and his collection of friends are always happy to oblige, the passengers this time being myself, another Bob, and Sandra. Flight out from Prestwick to Derry- Londonderry then car to Donegal where Graeme has a house. Flights worked out at under £50 return- under £10 train fares from Glasgow and £25 in Sainsbury's for a weekends food and drink. Car hire each under £20. Total cost around £100 pounds for everything. Pretty good for four days exploring Ireland. This is The Blue Stack Mountains under snow seen from Murvagh Beach. As usual only one small day sack on plane via Ryanair without crampons or ice axes.( costs extra to carry them in cargo hold of plane)
Marion, Graeme's girlfriend, met us at the house next day and took us on a guided tour of the Donegal Bay area as she knows Ireland extremely well having lived in Donegal a long time. This isn't us but four dog walkers, the only other people to brave the elements as the wind here would have cut you in half. We didn't stay long due to wind strength and intense cold but it looks a great area for exploring as Murvagh Beach is part of the huge Donegal Bay Estuary with sand dunes, numerous islands, complex deep water channels and sand banks. At low tide the sands stretch for miles with great views of the surrounding mountains and the Slieve League sea cliffs, some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe which we climbed on our first visit trip to Donegal back in November 2012 also featured on this blog.
Handy zoom in map here of the area. St John's Point is the long thin peninsula just to the east of Killybegs where it says North Atlantic on the zoom in. The best headland cliffs and walk are near the Lighthouse at the tip which is almost an island in itself. Murvagh Beach is east of this, a curving arm of land which encloses the islands in  Donegal Bay near Donegal town itself.

Murvagh beach had a few Ringed Plovers hunkered down in the sands. Just shows you how tough these little birds and others have to be as the sands were like a sandpaper storm near the ground and the wind-chill here was below freezing.
Oystercatcher looking for things to eat. They don't actually favour oysters much so the name is slightly misleading.
After our brief visit here Marion and Graeme suggested going out to St John's Point, a  seven mile long peninsula that sticks out into Donegal Bay on its Northern coastline near Killybegs, which is the largest deep water fishing port, not only in Donegal but in Ireland.   Killybegs is also famous for its tapestries and carpets.
St John's Point was a good choice as the weather had been a mixed bag so far of strong winds, sunny intervals, hailstone and sleet showers. Most of the peninsula cliffs around the headland are composed of Karst limestone beds lying at various tilted angles and exposed to the full force of the wild Atlantic Ocean as the nearest land mass out to sea is either South Greenland or Newfoundland and the North East coast of Canada. The waves here have a long way to travel across the ocean and they build up a decent swell. The last time I observed an ocean swell and waves this impressive was in South Australia off Cape Catastrophe visiting my sister. Luckily the weather did us proud and the sun came out for a couple of hours allowing us to do this excellent coastal walk around the headland in fine conditions.

A good omen was spotting this small flock of Brent Geese. I had to look these up as I cant remember seeing them before. They breed in the high arctic, Greenland and Siberia but winter here in estuaries and coastal margins. A hardy bird of the real tundra. This was taken at Coral Beach which was a lovely spot and very popular with sub aqua divers as St Johns point has some of the clearest coastal waters anywhere in Europe.
This is the Coral Beach and dive boats. It was very sheltered here out the wind and this is where you park but where we were going was out to the headland and past the lighthouse which is a great walk with world class scenery . Another advantage of this walk in conditions like this is that you can actually see the bad weather storms approaching from a long way off out to sea.
Some of the huge rolling waves crashing into St John's Peninsula.
A view from the tip of the headland.
Another giant roller approaching- Slieve League in the distance. In some parts of Australia they'd have folk out here surfing between the great white sharks, I kid you not as I watched in amazement as young teenagers jumped off the harbour in Adelaide with a couple of sharks nearby. They chased them away by dropping bricks on them from the pier. If you grow up with dangers every day you become immune to them.
Graeme and Bob near the lighthouse. Marion and Sandra had turned back by this stage as it was still fairly windy and we had all enjoyed a brief but frisky hailstone storm which dampened their enthusiasm somewhat so they headed back to the comforts of the car and the more sheltered beach.
The men were still keen however and completed the full traverse.
Not being familiar with the area I didn't have a clue what I was looking at here through the zoom but I thought I recognised Benbulben in the distance which we climbed on a previous trip during a visit to County Sligo. (February 2013 on this blog). The light was pretty hazy but Graeme thought he could pick out Mountbatten's castle on its promontory which came as a surprise to me. I knew of course he died in Ireland as it was in all the papers but I couldn't have told you the location or the County after this length of time. I didn't even know it was in this part of Ireland it  happened. Everywhere you travel here however the past is not far away. I found this interesting article link which gives you a local point of view on an event which made headlines around the world.
The tip of the headland facing the Atlantic. Only a few hours walk but an absolute cracker on easy grass cliff tops with stunning scenery, especially if its a bit wild. On the last stage back it was a bit too wild however as we got caught at the end in a savage hailstone deluge that swept towards us with real ferocity and we were very grateful when Marion and Sandra appeared in the car to rescue us from further onslaught by the elements.
 A distant view of Killybegs.
The limestone bedding plane tilted at an angle into the sea.
On the way back we visited Donegal Town which is worth a visit if you are in the area. Donegal Castle is very impressive as it sits above the river in the middle of the town.   History and good photos here.
A view looking upriver at Donegal town itself.
Old Castle Bar on the main street beside the castle.
And a sunset to end the day. What more could you ask for.
Another video from Australian brother- sister duo Angus and Julia Stone. This is almost jazzy folk with a experimental scat feel to it and the one handed trumpet solo halfway in is extraordinary. Fantastic musicianship from all concerned and so different from the usual predictable fodder that passes for music in the current charts. This song grows on you as well after a couple of plays.


The Glebe Blog said...

Another excellent post of a beautiful part of the world Bob.
I think fifteen year had passed before I went up Donegal way in 2012, but it seemed in that time there'd been millions poured into new roads and houses.
Still a great place off the beaten track as you've shown here.
Passed by and through Killybegs, but never stopped in the area, the missus had Glencolumbkille in mind. We only stayed one night in a B and B, fascinating place though. Folk who have never visited the north and west coast of Donegal get a shock the first time, It's another world.
That does look like Benbulben, you'd have been a little closer than when I get a picture from Cuilcagh Mountain.
Called in at Mullaghmore Harbour quite a number of times, a lovely peaceful place. I should have a picture of Classiebawn too somewhere. We were in Ireland on that black day when Warrentpoint exploded too. As an ex British squaddie, no amount of Guinness could help me the rest of that holiday. We were over there too when the Omagh bomb went off.It was the last day of our holiday and we were making for Dublin in the morning, another sad end to what had been a fantastic two weeks. I could understand a lot of the resentment from both communities, but I could never understand the taking of innocent lives. Who said violence breeds violence ?
I'm much happier with peace !

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
Interesting you mention the roads and houses. I've had 3 trips now to Donegal and each time I'm amazed at the quality of the infrastructure, public buildings and houses built during the Celtic Tiger years of the 1990s and early 2000s.County wide they look far better than the equivalent Scottish estates. I know Ireland has suffered badly during the recession with jobs and house prices deflated but in general the place still actually looks more prosperous than Scotland and research on the internet backs this up. "Ireland today ranks among the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita" Wickipedia quote.
Meanwhile the British Con-Dem government here continue to demonise the most vulnerable groups in society via the bedroom tax and disability welfare cuts to claw back £500 million from the poorest households while ignoring the £35 billion that UK Big Business avoided paying in tax. (This Saturday's Newspaper headline quote) And the austerity drive has many years to go yet for the ordinary citizen in the so called 4th richest country in the world. (I've never seen any evidence of that kind of wealth flowing into my neighbourhood in my lifetime) Many of the estates in the central belt of Scotland and Ayrshire, as you know, are still in the same static condition that they were left in after the closure of all the heavy industry and mining in the 1980s.
I mention this fact as I watched a TV programme recently called Mind the Gap- London vs. the rest which highlighted how "The United Kingdom" is actually two separate economies. London and the southeast where all the best companies, jobs, and infrastructure is relocating which is leaving even big cities like Manchester and Liverpool shirking in population as a consequence so what chance does Scotland have of begging for a few crumbs off the table. The city of London is growing at 50,000 to 100,000 new residents a year and is a major global player but that means a huge chunk of any UK money must be ploughed into roads, housing, public transport and schools just to keep the place running. That's adding a town the size of Inverness or Cambridge every year
to greater London without even counting the rest of the south of England which also has an expanding economy. Plus the flood defences down there will probably need strengthening year on year which is fair enough. Meanwhile many industrial cities In Scotland and the north of England are still shirking. Liverpool has half the population now that it had at its height.
This obviously becomes relevant with Scotland shortly having to decide if it wants independence. Lots to consider then- which is why I thought I'd stick this down here rather than contaminate an actual post about Ireland :o)