Global-Golf4-Cancer

The 7th: St Patrick's Weekend and Amazing Slieve League

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.


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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.

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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.

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The 6th: Dunfanaghy to Dungloe and a visit to Cruit Island

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.

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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. 

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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'.

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The 5th: The Fanad Peninsula and across to Rosapenna


"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.



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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.


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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.

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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.

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The 4th:  Cancer Care West and making waves in Letterkenny

On paper, the fifth successive day of walking - a 27km hike that would take me from An Grianan to Letterkenny, was likely to be the toughest so far and one that would surely test my dodgy hip. And yet it proved to be relatively painless. I'm sure this had much to do with the fact that for the last third of the journey I was accompanied by Grainne from Cancer Care West, and by 5.00pm it felt great to know that I had cracked the first 100km ... So just 1900 to go now!

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Resting for a day in Letterkenny, my morning included a visit to the town's new Cancer Care West Support centre to learn more about the great work they do there, and it was followed by an in-studio interview with Shaun Doherty at Highland Radio's impressive premises.  I'm told that Shaun's morning show is the country's 'most listened to' local radio programme - which probably explains why about one in four motorists is now waving or tooting at me! A few of them stop and ask me, "Are you the crazy Englishman walking the Wild Atlantic Way with golf clubs?" ... "Well, I don't suppose there's two of us", I reply.

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In the afternoon Letterkenny Golf Club became the third club (and fourth course) to raise the GG4C 4-Flag. I received a warm welcome and very much enjoyed travelling out to and playing the 4th hole with an august group that included undoubtedly the 4-Flag campaign's youngest supporter.

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The 3rd: Negotiating Donegal's North West Passage 

There I was, gently ambling the 2kms or so from my hotel on the edge of Buncrana towards North West GC, when suddenly I was ambushed by the Vice Captain. Sean, a big bear of a man, had determined to escort me the remainder of the way to the club. We passed a lady who was accompanied by two large dogs (she pretended they were out walking) and then around the corner a large posse of Members was waiting by the club entrance gates.... There was clearly no escape. 

Moments later I realised this was simply the North West Golf Club way of doing things. It is how they treat visitors: first they capture you, and then they overwhelm you with hospitality. They also take their golf pretty seriously, mind you. The club is one of the oldest in the country and the golf links - which from a distance seems quite flat but on closer inspection is anything but, has been described as 'the St. Andrews of Ireland'.

So to the 4th hole, which at North West runs fairly adjacent to the shores of Lough Swilly. It's a deceptively tricky two-shotter that features a fiendish fairway cross-bunker and a raised plateau green; and yet the hole was tamed by Eileen, the Lady Captain, who holed a putt of fully 60 feet for a winning four. The general consensus among her male playing partners was that the ball would have travelled 90 feet had it not thundered into the back of the cup ... I know, sour grapes beside Lough Swilly.

True to form, the aforementioned posse of Members made it very difficult for me to leave North West - or should I say that they and everyone I met at the club made it difficult for me to want to leave. But I still had the best part of a day's walking to accomplish, and so reluctantly I hauled my golf bag onto my back and headed off down the road.


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The 2nd: From Malin Head to Buncrana, via Ballyliffin

If you check out National Geographic magazine you will see that County Donegal - and its upper reaches especially - has recently been rated 'the coolest and hippest place to visit on the planet'. That is some accolade and made it a perfect place to start my 2,000km walk around the Wild Atlantic Way. 

As you might imagine, on an early March morning it can be fairly windy standing beside Banba's Crown at the exposed northerly tip of Ireland - moreover having a set of golf clubs on your back doesn't help you balance on the rocky outcrops; but a small party had gathered to send me off in style, and for my wife Teresa and elder son George to be among them meant a lot to me.

With Ballyliffin GC having two championship 18 hole courses I had decided I would play the 4th hole on both layouts: one on Saturday the 4th after my walk from Malin Head to Malin, and the second the following day after I'd returned to Malin and walked to Ballyliffin - each leg being just under 20km ... I mean, only a foolish person would attempt to walk that entire stretch in one day so soon after a hip operation, right?

Just as it was a special moment to set off from Malin Head, so it was to play the 4th on the Old Links at Ballyliffin at 4.00pm on the 4th March. I have been a Member of Ballyliffin since the early '90s - back in the days when it had just one golf course and a tiny clubhouse ... Now it's one of the premier clubs in Ireland. The spectacular Glashedy Links may be regarded as the more modern championship test - and it's a mighty one - but the characterful Old Links with its crumpled duvet-like fairways will always be my favourite. 

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I'm not sure the R&A would have approved of the mixed 10-ball that played down the 4th hole of the Old Links on Saturday, but it was a lot of fun: Bryan Northey the Captain of the club hit the first ever Global-Golf4-Cancer 4-Flag campaign tee shot (he won't forgive me if I don't mention how he striped it down the middle), and naturally I hit the fourth. The golf photographer Matthew Harris was there to record the moment - which again felt very fitting since it was Matthew who first introduced me to Ballyliffin all those years ago.

If Saturday was blustery and mainly overcast, the weather on Sunday was a cross between St Tropez and San Diego - it was, truly! And a glorious day was made even more glorious by the kindness and generosity of the Ballyliffin GC membership - many of whom have already donated monies to Cancer Care West, the beneficiary of this inaugural Global-Golf4-Cancer 4-Flag campaign.

Yesterday, 'Day Three', I walked from Ballyliffin to Buncrana. Talk about coming down from a high ... I have to say it was a very tough, grey day. My right leg ached and the occasional driving rain didn't help. But I'm fortunate that I've always managed to find silver linings within clouds and yesterday they took the form of the many motorists and cyclists who waved or stopped to wish me well. A good number handed me money too (I hope Cancer Care West accept soggy euro). This morning I am due to play the 4th hole at North West Golf Club and at 11.30am I'm told Highland Radio wish to speak with me ... So a great opportunity to further spread the word - and that essentially of course is what this Wild Atlantic Way golf-walk is all about.

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"May the road rise to meet you; may the wind be always at your back"

... Or as some in this wondrous land would say,  "go n-eiri an bothar leat" 

The 1st: March 4th - the day I am due to march forth - has arrived.

I'm not sure there will be a great deal of marching today but I am looking forward to setting off at a gentle pace from Malin Head this morning. It's the start of a walk that will ultimately take me to the Old Head of Kinsale ... a 2,000km-plus journey around the west coast of Ireland on the evocatively named Wild Atlantic Way. I will have a bag of clubs on my back and I'll be calling into 40 golf clubs en route and playing just their 4th hole. I know it's a slightly crazy (OK, make that very crazy) thing for a 56 year-old to do - especially one who had a hip replacement operation as recently as the 5th December and who hasn't done much walking before. But if you've reached this far into this website you'll know that it's all for a superb cause; one that's very dear to me. 

Looking out of the window, it's still dark outside and it's difficult to predict if the wind will be at my back the entire day. The whole of Ireland is in front of me - and yet it feels like all of Ireland is behind me - not to mention a wonderfully supportive family and some amazing friends in various parts of the world. So am I anxious? For sure. Physically ready? Not exactly. But with 'Godspeed' ringing in my ears, I'm going for it!