A lot can happen in a year!
You can of course follow the second stage of Nick's walk on his Instagram pages.
He will update the "Walk on the Wild Side" blog on his return from Ireland.
The 8th: Southern Donegal: Murvagh, Rossnowlagh and Bundoran
On paper, one of my toughest golf club-carrying walks to date was the 28km from Killybegs into Donegal Town; but fortunately the decent weather had returned and once again I was able to imagine the road rising to meet me and the wind always at my back (or maybe the mushrooms I'd had for breakfast caused me to hallucinate) ... Either way, it proved to be a relatively painless walk via Dunkineely and Mountcharles - and Donegal Town itself is quite charming.
If I woke with a spring still in my step, this time it was caused by the allure and magic of Murvagh: the marvellous 'hidden-in-the-woods' peninsula setting of Donegal Golf Club to the south of the town just beyond Laghy. It had been at least two decades since my last visit to Murvagh (as everyone seems to call the club) yet I was greeted like a long lost friend and treated like a favourite son. The golf course - a very challenging and true links - is one of the finest in the north west and its well-bunkered 4th hole will test most golfers' mettle. Well, it certainly tested mine! But it was a lot of fun nonetheless.
From Murvagh I journeyed to Rossnowlagh and was joined by my wife Teresa as I took a couple of days' rest. There cannot be many more relaxing or more beautifully appointed places than the Sandhouse Hotel which overlooks Rossnowlagh's magnificent beach - and we were blessed with amazingly fine weather. In addition to generally unwinding there, we had the coincidental good fortune to bump into a fellow long-distance charity trekker. Ten years ago Stuart Hamilton (and friend) walked across the United States from coast to coast: a 5,000 mile trip that took them the best part of two years - partly because they were forced to stop midway when Stuart had to be treated for cancer. While I'm loath to direct you away from this Blog, I recommend you some time view their very entertaining and brilliantly illustrated website, walkingthestates.com. And Stuart, if you are reading this, there's no truth in the rumour that I have recently acquired the site walkingthestates-withgolfclubs.com.
So after a splendid short stay in Rossnowlagh, it was time to hit the road again. I've already mentioned how pleasant and surprisingly mild the weather was in Rossnowlagh, well it grew even more pleasant, and long before I'd reached Bundoran I was adding a second coating of sunscreen lotion (yep, late March in northwestern Ireland and I'm trying to avoid the pink lobster look). The sunset in Bundoran that evening was astonishing - as much purpley-blue as reddy-orange, and it capped what I suspect may be the finest three consecutive March days ever experienced in County Donegal.
And it was my last evening in Donegal. The following morning I played the par four, Stroke Index 4, 4th at Bundoran GC with the amiable Adam, one of the club's professionals - it being my eleventh 4th hole of this Wild Atlantic Way campaign - and I then set off in the direction of Grange which is over the border in Co Sligo. (Actually it's the other side of Co Leitrim since you pass through a thin sliver of that county en route).
So as I head into Co Sligo, a very big thank you to the 11 clubs of Co Donegal and their Members - every one of whom made me feel exceptionally welcome.
A selection of the images featuring here can also be viewed on our Instagram pages
Just when I was beginning to think this trip might have to be postponed due to a lack of inclement weather (well, I'm supposed to be be walking the Wild not the Mild Atlantic Way) along came St Patrick's weekend ... And finally, the acronym WAW could also stand for 'Wet and Windy'. I made it to Portnoo on the Friday; my bones ached and my feet were sore - but there's little else I can tell you about St Patrick's Day itself.
Saturday was grey and misty; however it was a little less wet and windy and I enjoyed an early morning visit to Narin & Portnoo Golf Club. The 4th here is the Stroke Index One hole and the very affable and laid back Director of Golf Daragh Lyons showed me how to make a routine four. I then set off down the road to Ardara, an archetypal small Donegal town that likes to style itself "the best village in Ireland" - a claim hotly disputed by the similarly named Adare in Co Limerick.
Despite the damp, Ardara was in festive mood: the pubs were alive with music and Sunday's St Patrick's parade was colourful and well attended. The south west corner of Donegal is very Celtic and the landscape is dramatic. Glen Head, just beyond Glencolmcille, reminded me of the rugged north Cornish coast (think Poldark) although the area is more famed for its saints than its smugglers.
Talking of the fabled and famous, the Cliffs of Moher (which I will visit on the second leg of this golf-walk) are known the world over and, along with the Giants Causeway, are probably Ireland's best known natural wonder. And yet, the cliffs at Slieve League - located midway between Glencolmcille and Killybegs, are TWICE the height of the Cliffs of Moher. Apparently these massive cliffs at Slieve League were difficult to access until quite recently, but they are without doubt one of the Wild Atlantic Way's greatest treasures. Not too many golfers, I suspect, will have ventured here with their clubs in tow; but then as you know my golf bag and I are joined at the hip (my ceramic one, that is). Having been amazed by Slieve League I headed towards Killybegs, where I was greeted by a combination of sun and snow - plus plenty of fishing boats and numerous happy seagulls.
A selection of the images featuring here
can also be viewed on our Instagram pages
Travelling from Rosapenna to Dunfanaghy you pass through some varied and interesting scenery (the views of 15th century Doe Castle are especially fine) and the terrain is not too hilly; if you throw in some good weather, it makes for a very pleasant golf-walk. I stayed at the family-run Arnold's Hotel in Dunfanaghy, and while this Blog will not often highlight my accommodation, I am most grateful to Arnold's - and Bill Arnold in particular - for the exceptional welcome I received.
With a backdrop of gorse-clad hills and bordered by an impressive dune system, Dunfanaghy Golf Club's setting is a little reminiscent of Ballyliffin's (minus Glashedy Rock). My friendly foursome set off to play the 4th hole quite early in the day. It was more than a little breezy out on the links but, in keeping with special pre-arranged GG4C conditions, the wind was at our backs, and we all coped fairly well. After hoisting the WAW 4-Flag (Dunfanaghy becoming the 7th club to do so) I bid my farewells, and departed in the direction of Falcarragh.
Donegal is one of Ireland's largest counties and, as I wandered further and deeper into it, the words 'vastness' and 'wilderness' came to mind ... I was in a land of giant peat bogs and massive mountains, including the wonderfully named Muckish Mountain and the mystical, Lord of the Rings-evoking, Mount Errigal.
I rested in Gortahork (Tolkein surely came here too) and the following day continued on to Bunbeg. Having walked for perhaps two hours the next morning, I hadn't seen many people until I reached the village of Dore near Crolly where I was suddenly surrounded by a group of well-wishers who ushered me into the Ionad Naomh Padraig Community Centre and then proceeded to force-feed me tea, cake and biscuits. Actually, I found visiting here incredibly uplifting and thought-provoking. In addition to organising a broad range of community-focused and community-building activities, the centre runs a charity called 'Coiste Scaoil Saor o Aisle', or in English, 'Break Free from Cancer'. I only spent an hour at the centre yet I was struck by the innate goodness of all the people I met - from the volunteers and full-time staff to Maire Ui Chomahaill who manages Ionad Naomh Padraig ... And I hope Maire will forgive me if I describe her disposition as saintly.
During the first 10 days of my walk I lost count of the number of times people asked me if I was planning to visit Cruit Island ...."It's the most stunningly situated and spectacular 9-hole course in Ireland - if not Europe", they kept telling me. I had heard of Cruit Island prior to this trip, but had never visited before. Well, it certainly didn't disappoint. And I don't think the claims are excessive. Not too many course critics would describe it as a great layout - it has too many eccentricities and too little length to be regarded as such; but if you're looking for a fun, exciting, and dramatic game of golf - played in a beautiful and almost surreal setting - then Cruit Island is a must-visit.
Before I left Cruit Island, to overnight in Dungloe, the skies darkened and signalled that the weather was about to change. I was 14 days into my trip and - some would say amazingly - I had enjoyed 13 dry days ... But now I was about to discover why the word 'Wild' was placed in front of 'Atlantic' and 'Way'.
"You might want to think twice about walking in early March", I was warned, " ... The weather can be awful fierce." Well, not on my watch. At least, not so far. The weather had been mild in Letterkenny and it turned pleasant when I began walking northwards in the direction of Rathmullan ... and the further north I walked, the more marvellous it became.
Midway between Letterkenny and Rathmullan is the picturesque town of Ramelton. I somehow managed to slip while descending the steep slope into the main street and landed firmly on my backside. Fortunately it resulted in no lasting damage to man or golf clubs; and when the staff of Whoriskey's Eurospar store proceeded to 'mother me' with such concern and kindness, it crossed my mind that perhaps I should fall over more often.
The road from Rathmullan to Portsalon, much of which is known as 'Fanad Drive', is spectacularly scenic. Otway Golf Club, with its 9-hole course just beyond Rathmullan wasn't on my initial schedule of clubs to visit, but since I was going to walk past their front gate, it seemed a little rude not to call in .... especially after I was trapped in a pincer movement by Hazel driving to intercept me from the north and Martin from the rear. However I'm glad I was persuaded because Otway is not only a very friendly club, but the course is charming in a 'caught in a time-warp' sort of way: 'Royal Otway', as it's fondly known, was formed in the late 19th century and little appears to have changed over the years. The 4th is a tough downhill par three - and now the first 'short hole' to fly the GG4C 4-Flag.
As quaint and fun as Otway is, the golfing jewel of the Fanad Peninsula is Portsalon - surely one of the most magnificently situated golf courses in all Ireland. If you approach from the south, as I did, you are treated to an amazing view over Ballymastocker Strand - once rated 'the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world', and Portsalon golf links lies immediately adjacent to it. The 4th here is a classic links hole that tumbles through the dunes ... A real joy to play in the early evening sunshine.
As you leave the Fanad Peninsula, the route from Portsalon to Rosapenna takes you across Harry Blaney's Bridge - a fine feat of engineering that is very exposed to the elements. By car, it's invariably a straightforward crossing, but I can attest to the fact that it's fairly hairy to walk over with a set of golf clubs on your back. The wind really gusts at the highest point, and suffice to say you find yourself needing to take a much wider stance.
Rosapenna awaits on the other side of the bridge, just beyond Carrigart. The Casey family - beginning with Frank Snr and now guided by Frank Jnr and his brother John, have turned a little-known 18 hole golf facility with modest accommodation into one of the premier golf resorts in Europe. In addition to a luxurious new hotel, there are now 45 golf holes to savour at Rosapenna, including the best holes of the original Old Tom Morris layout and Pat Ruddy's thrilling 'up, over and roller coasting through the dunes' Sandy Hills course. As you can see from the below image, I tried to rip into my drive at Sandy Hills' 4th having deluded myself that I might get to within 50 yards of Frank or John's tee shot. Unsurprisingly, my hip groaned and my ball disappeared into the thick stuff. Still, my trip to Rosapenna - and our planting another Global-Golf4-Cancer 4-Flag, was an immensely enjoyable conclusion to my first week walking and golfing the Wild Atlantic Way.
A selection of the images featuring here
can also be viewed on our Instagram pages