As Halloween passes and the month of November edges us ever deeper into winter, there’s a stillness in the air. It’s as if the season is quieting us, in preparation for the busy festive season to come. No bad thing to have some chill down time before the Christmas rush.
The mornings of early November have been still and calm so far. In coastal areas, waters are like a millpond and there’s a sea mist hanging over the rooftops. In the countryside, rays of winter sun are colouring the last of the leaves golden and amber as they cling steadfastly to their branches. Ireland is very peaceful in November. A perfect time to take a short break to charge up the batteries before the festive celebrations begin in earnest.
A drive round the Donegal section of the Wild Atlantic way is a superb road trip this time of year. The ocean can be unpredictable, so you don’t know if you will get big rollers or gentle lapping waves on the many golden beaches of this coastline. Makes it all the more fun because whatever the Atlantic is doing, you can be sure it will be it’s magnificent self in all its guises, and quite breathtaking to observe. The boglands of this area are a wonder to drive through also – their bog grasses glowing orange and copper in the mist. Never think that Ireland on a misty or ‘soft’ rainy day does not have colour. These boglands will prove you so wrong! In fact they look their best in the kind of weather and climate which has shaped them. Centuries of tradition lie in these vast preserved natural areas. You may see local turf cutters, collecting the ‘turf’ (peat) they have cut by hand from managed turf bogs. This is made into slabs for the fire, and you’ll always detect its sweet heady smell in the air as evening falls and fires are lit for the night. You’ll see stacks of hand cut turf piled high, outside nearly every home in rural and coastal Donegal. And you can’t beat a cosy pub with a turf fire for the epitome of an Irish welcome.
Places of interest in Donegal include the beginning of the designated Wild Atlantic Way road tour, which begins in Muff, Co Donegal. If you start at the beginning, you’ll traverse the Inishowen Peninsula and stunning vistas around Malin Head. Check out visitinishowen.com for things to see and do.
As you make your way around the route, you’ll pass the village of Rathmullan, situated on Lough Swilly. The home of Rathmullan House, a beautiful and gracious country house which has direct access to the sandy beach Lough Swilly, accessed through the house gardens. Rathmullan also has its own walled kitchen garden, which grows much seasonal fresh produce to compliment the wonderful fish and meats of this region. All this can be enjoyed in The Cook and Gardener Restaurant. In November, a two day break at Rathmullan House brings an opportunity to learn about brewing with the local craft brewers of Donegal. The Kinnegar Brewing Academy at Rathmullan House takes place on 27th and 28th November.
The Sliebh League Cliffs are also magnificent on the southwest coast of Donegal – some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe – much higher than the famous Cliffs of Moher in Co.Clare. At Ti Linn Cafe and Sliebh League Centre, you can learn all about them while having homebaked treats and tea or coffee.
On the journey to Glencolmcille, boglands come into their own. These areas off the mountain pass road would have been used to graze animals some six thousand years ago, and that still goes on today. There are unique wild flowers and plants, plus bogland wildlife to be seen by the very patient of eye! Caution is always necessary in bogland areas, which are not advised for walking for anyone unfamiliar with this territory. But it is possible to get a sense of the expanse of wilderness just by walking, cycling or driving on the road through them. Glencolmcille Folk Village gives a glimpse of past life in this remote and unspoiled region. Glecolmcille also has a world class beach – An Tra Bhan, which means Silver Strand – you can guess why when you see the gleaming sand.
Other Donegal based Good Food Ireland members include The Lemon Tree Restaurant in Letterkenny town, a super family restaurant where the cooking features all Donegal has to offer, including freshest fish from the port of Killybegs. Harvey’s Point Hotel and Restaurant on the banks of Lough Eske makes the perfect spot to unwind amid mountain scenery and calming lakeside views. This is a magical area for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Donegal Town is not far away from the hotel, and from here a short drive to the Blue Stack Mountains which dominate the landscape.