Another way to spend St Patrick’s Day

Just one of the spectacular views.

SAINT Patrick’s Day 2018 will be remembered as being the day Ireland secured their third Grand Slam title with Joe Schmidt’s warriors putting England to the sword at Twickenham.
While some Irish supporters were lucky enough to secure tickets for the game, many more watched events unfold from the comforts of their sitting rooms or local hostelries.
For a select group of less that fifty though – of which I was privileged to be one – we had to make do with Michael Corcoran’s commentary on RTE Radio One as we found ourselves scattered haphazardly across a hillside somewhere in South West Donegal.
We too were warriors (in our own minds as least!) – men and women who put our health and well-being on hold as part of the 2018 Ardara Walking Festival.
With short, medium and strenuous walks available, we chose the tough but breathtakingly beautiful walk from Port to Maghera, often described as being one of the best coastal walks in Ireland.
I’ve undertaken many walks around Slieve League and south Donegal since moving to Ardara fifteen years ago but this was the first time to sign up for the beast that is Port to Maghera.
According to hill-walking brochures the walk takes seven hours, the distance covered is 16km, you climb 620 metres and suitability is described as hard!
In the past I’ve seen photographs of Tormore Island which, at 148 metres high, is Ireland’s highest sea stack. I’ve also read a lot about the remote valley of Glenlough where American artist Rockwell Kent lived in 1926, and young Welsh poet Dylan Thomas spent a summer some ten years later.
Before the weekend I had never seen the ruins of the cottage where both stayed nor the spectacular sea stack.
The trek, although challenging at times, provided breath taking views that really have to be seen to be believed.
When we were dropped off at the very end of Ireland’s most remote public road end, adjacent to the deserted fishing village of Port, we really should have known better.
For the next eight hours (you should never read the brochures!) we battled against a fierce, bitterly cold easterly wind blowing into our faces as a second group of walkers headed towards Glenhead on a less strenuous four-hour dander.
The coastline offered spectacular scenery as we made our way towards the valley of Glenlough, skirting the shore of Lough Anaffrin and the old ruined cottage once frequented by both Kent and Thomas, before following the Glenlough River back towards the Atlantic’s edge which is home to Ireland’s largest raised shingle storm beach.
Tormore Island soon came into view and it stood head and shoulders above a large collection of sea stacks and skerries known as the Land of the Giants. Our guide lets us know that both Cnoc na Mara and Cobblers Tower are within this collection.
It’s here where we make our first scheduled stop of the day, taking time for a hot cup of tea and a sandwich before heading off uphill once more towards 300m high cliffs. We were told that the rock in this area is quartzite, metamorphosed sandstone, formed by heat and pressure during tectonic movements.
Continuing along the coast with Slievetooey on our right it’s not too long before we find ourselves plodding through a boggy plateau which circles around Lough Adoochro.
Lough Croaghballagh is the next land-mark while all the time we’re captivated by the sheer scale of the Atlantic before Arranmore, Dawros Head and Loughros Point (eventually) come into focus.
It’s not too long before we find ourselves looking down on to the beauty that is Maghera Strand and a truly magnificent panorama of the entire Ardara parish in the distance.
There’s still the guts of an hour to walk but I’m back in familiar territory. I can clearly see the pier at the bottom of the Point across the bay only to remember that it’s more than seven miles outside Ardara!
It’s all downhill from here which gives us all the opportunity to catch our breath before rediscovering the harsh fact that descending puts more strain on one’s knees and ankles.
Seven hours into the walk I finally realise the true value of trekking poles which, needless to say, I don’t have.
Sore and exhausted there’s plenty of windburn on the face as I arrive back at the bus shortly before 6pm some eight hours after we were dropped off in Port.
Trekking poles, a new pair of walking boots and even one of those fancy mats – one’s to keep your bum dry when you stop for a break along the way – are among the items on the wish list ahead of the 2019 Ardara Walking Festival.
I’ll be back, complete with my dodgy knees!

Harry Walsh

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