Stage 4: Aran Islands to Malin Head

Day 11: Aran Islands to Castlebar. (118km 585m)

The strong north wind was still blowing after our two day sojourn on the Aran Islands so once again we modified our route to make the best progress North towards Malin Head which was our next objective – but still about 600 hilly km away .

Rossaveal didn’t hold any attractions – like a cafe – so we set off into the teeth of the north wind heading for Maam cross. The scenery was very interesting with lots of small lakes against the backdrop of the Connemara National park.

Beautiful scenery in Joyce country

At Maam Cross we started to climb a 5km hill. This was very hard work into the strong wind and almost just as hard pedalling downhill as the wind was so strong we could not freewheel. Luckily at Mamm Bridge there was a nice cafe with coffee and pastries and after that the route became more easterly. That’s the great thing about cycle touring – things change. If it’s horrible it is unlikely to last forever!

The scenery improved as we rode along Lough Corrib.

Lough Corrib, County Galway.

It became reminiscent of the English Lake District.

Lough Corrib, County Galway.

At Ballinrode we decided the easiest way to make progress North was to take the N84 directly to Castlebar. The surface was good and there wasn’t much traffic. We did it in 3x 10km bites with a snack and rest in between.

Snack and stretch stop at Ballyhean.

We reached Castlebar feeling quite battered by the weather but with plenty of food and a good sleep we were raring to go again the next day.

Day 12: Castlebar to Rathcormac, just North of Sligo. (113km 700m)

June 14th was our first warm day. We changed into mitts and discarded our jackets and buffs. There was no rain on the forecast and even the north wind was lighter.
The first section of the day was along Lough Conn to Ballina. It was a pretty road with a good surface and we flew along it enjoying the warmth and relief from the strong headwind of the last week. We enjoyed the spectacular and unexpected great scenery through the series of Loughs.

Lough Conn, County Mayo

Ballina was bustling with busy traffic but we were able to slide off on a local road to Ballina Quay which was lovely. The road had just been resurfaced and though it undulated there was nothing very steep and by this stage in the tour we were pretty fit!

Ballina Quay. The estuary of the River Moy in County Mayo

The estuary opened out into Killala Bay.

Killala Bay County Sligo.

We were now fully exposed to the Atlantic and as such the beaches hereabouts are renowned for surfing. Seaweed baths are also a thing. Tradition along the west coast of Ireland holds that the practice of bathing in hot water and seaweed provides relief from painful symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis.

It had turned out to be a very pretty warm sunny day and as our route headed east we got our first view of the hills of Donegal miles away across Donegal Bay.

Donegal bay with the hills of Donegal in the distance.

We were back on the Wild Atlantic Way at Easky in the County of Sligo.

O’Dowd Castle at Easky Pier on the Wild Atlantic Way. County Sligo

Easky is a popular tourist spot because of the scenery and water sports.

Surfing is a popular attraction in Easky. The village is known for its surfing areas, including two reef breaks. Easky has hosted the World surf kayaking championships. They wouldn’t have had anything to play with when we were there, as it was unusually flat calm. That North wind again.

Our onward ride toward Sligo was very picturesque with fantastic coastal scenery and views across Donegal Bay. Great weather.

Donegal Bay

We cycled around Aughris Head and moved into the coast of Sligo Bay.

Looking back to Easky from Aughris Head

As we approached Sligo our timing wasn’t great and we hit the evening rush hour so it was very busy. We had hoped to go out to the lighthouse at Rosses Point but we didn’t have the energy so we stayed at Rathcormac ready to head North into Donegal the next day.

Day 13: Rathcormac in Sligo to Glenties in Donegal. (95km 1,100m)

The view of Benbulben from our window was magnificent. We were in Yeats country and we were happy to see that the North wind had finally dropped away and the day was warm and sunny.

Morning view of Yeats Country Benbulben had dominated the skyline the previous day.

We rode mostly on the main road as far as Bundoran which got us into Donegal very quickly. Once off the main road we enjoyed beautiful views out to Donegal Bay.

Donegal Bay surfing

Bundoran has been a popular seaside resort since the eighteenth century. It is a world renowned surfing area.

Bundoran. A world renowned surfing area on a no wave day

Our route followed delightful remote small lanes with no traffic all the way to Donegal. However, it soon became clear where everyone was – downtown Donegal. It was very busy with lots of tour buses, traffic and people. We didn’t stop for long and headed for the hills.

Our route north followed small quiet lanes which joined the R282 towards Glenties. The day was so warm and sunny that the tarmac was melting. This was not a problem we had envisaged in Donegal. We were also a bit dehydrated and sunburned when we finally arrived at Glenties.

Day 14: Glenties to Dunfanaghy (96km 1100m)

The view as we came over the hill towards Lettermacaward gave great promise for the day ahead.

Our first view of the Donegal coast that lay ahead. Lettermacaward

Gweebarra bay

We managed to stay on small quiet lanes whilst retaining great views of the coast. There were also great views of the mountains inland particularly Mount Errigal.

Small quiet lanes

The coastline off Bunbeg

Bloody Foreland lies about 8km north from Bunbeg. It is named thus because of the intense red hue of the rocks by sunset.

Cnoc Fola is the Irish for Bloody Foreland. Irish is still the dominant language in these parts.

Horn Head in the distance.

The pier at Magherarorty has services to Tory Island which is 9 miles offshore and the most remote inhabited island off Ireland.

The view ahead to the coast and Horn Head revealed showers and indeed we did get soaked through as we rode into our destination for the day at Dunfanaghy

Day 15: Dunfanaghy to Buncrana via Fanad Head (80km 900m)

It rained all night and was still very dull in the morning so we decided to miss out the ride up and over Horn Head and press on towards Fanad Head.

Leaving Dunfanaghy You wouldn’t put your washing out!

We were still following the Wild Atlantic Way closely. I don’t think anyone else was, as there was very little traffic.

Doe Castle viewpoint. The castle was built in the fifteenth century.

Harry Blaney Bridge

In 2009 the Harry Blaney bridge was built at the Northern end of Mulroy Bay allowing for easier access westwards. It was quite windy crossing the bridge but the Irish didn’t even put the windsock up so everything is relative.

Fanad is a peninsula that lies between Lough Swilly and Mulroy Bay. There are only 700 people living in the area. We cycled along quiet lanes with just a few isolated houses. Despite its proximity to large urban areas at Derry and Letterkenny it felt very remote.

The weather had improved and enabled us to enjoy the sensational coastal scenery as we closed on the Fanad lighthouse.

Fanad Head Lighthouse

The location of the lighthouse on the eastern shore of the Fanad Peninsula is exquisite with wild rugged scenery.

Fanad Head with Malin Head in the distance.

The lighthouse was fab but the promised cosy visitor centre with cafe was closed which was doubly sad as a heavy shower joined us at the lighthouse.  From sea level we had a big climb out before riding down the western shore of Lough Swilly. We had imagined that when we were following the Wild Atlantic Way the roads would be very busy with tour buses but this was not the case. There was hardly any traffic at all.

There was one village called Portsalon which had a small shop but apart from that nothing. There is an absolutely magnificent beach here. (The Irish call beaches strands).

Ballymastocker Strand on Eastern side of Fanad

Ballymastocker Bay stretches from Portsalon Pier to Magherawarden. It is a fantastic  beach and was once voted as the second most beautiful in the world – beaten to the top spot by a beach in the Seychelles.

Ballymastocker Strand on Lough Swilly

The view down to Ballymastocker Strand was achieved by climbing a very big hill and our onward ride to Rathmullen had quite a lot of fun descents.

Lough Swilly Ferry

We caught the seasonal Lough Swilly Ferry to Buncrana where we stayed overnight.

Day 16: Buncrana to Moville via Malin Head (95km 1830m)

We were very excited as the climax of our tour was becoming a reality. Malin Head.

We rode up out of Buncrana and made a detour to Dunree Head where there is a fort and a lighthouse.

Wild Atlantic Way Dunree Head

Lighthouse at Dunree Head

The lighthouse was built in 1876 and is 46m above sea level. It is the only lighthouse in the immediate vicinity of Lough Swilly

As we climbed away from Dunree Head towards the Mamore Gap a glance over my shoulder confirmed that we were about to get very wet.

Heavy rain heading our way as we ride towards the Mamore Gap from Lough Swilly

It rained a lot. I can’t tell you anything about the Mamore Gap except to say it is a very big hill. By the time we had descended to Clonmany we were soaked through and very cold. Fortunately the Spar shop in Clonmany had indoor seating with coffee and pastries and didn’t mind us dripping in there until we had warmed up.

Despite its proximity to Derry and Letterkenny this area is still very sparsely populated and undeveloped. We enjoyed riding along the coast.

Inishowen coast near Ballyliffen

We entered Malin Town on a 10 arch stone bridge. The village is steeped in history and it is very picturesque and well kept.

14km !!!!

All we cared about was there was only 14km to go to Malin Head (and it wasn’t raining).

We passed the Malin Head Coastguard Station and the Malin Head weather station. There were a surprisingly large number of cottages.

Malin Head comes into view with its Signal Tower

We rode right round the rugged headland before a last steep climb (people watching so had to get up it) to the actual headland.

Malin Head

We were very pleased to have cycled there. Malin Head is the most northerly point of the island of Ireland and a name familiar to sailors and those who listen to the weather and shipping forecasts.

Here we are at Malin Head. We couldn’t stop smiling.

We carried on riding around the Headland and visited the harbour with its fishing fleet on the lee side of the headland.

Harbour at Malin Head

We still had 45km to ride to our destination at Moville on Lough Foyle. It turned out to have plenty of hills and required a sense of humour in the frequent showers!

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