Going coastal in Inishowen
Exploring the wilderness in the northernmost point of Ireland is exhilarating
Catherine Mack (third from left), on her Far and Wild kayaking adventure. Photograph: Harvey Futcher
Navigation skills required. Catherine Mack in Inishowen. Photograph: Harvey Futcher
The audience cheered at the end of Jimmy McLaughlin’s rendition of Dear Old Inishowen, not only because of his fine a cappella accomplishment but also because he was singing it in McGrory’s front bar in Culdaff, the heart of his dear old Inishowen (mcgrorys.ie). He was here because his family was the subject of an RTÉ series called Dúshlán 1881 – Living the Eviction, about famine evictions from the nearby village of Carrowmenagh, and they were having a screening in the hotel to celebrate. I was here to begin exploring the wilderness that remains all around this northernmost point of our island. And right now, in this cocoon of Culdaff, my cultural immersion was like an unexpected and delicious appetiser.
My ultimate aim for the weekend was to get to Inishtrahull, the northernmost island in our waters, just 10km off Inishowen’s Malin Head. I was to kayak to this deserted island with new adventure company Far and Wild (farandwild.co.uk), which is based in Derry. It explores Inishowen in the most eco-friendly ways possible: by paddling, hiking and, most exciting of all for this recent convert, coasteering.
Coasteering is a good, old-fashioned way of traversing a coastline: by clambering through sea arches, swimming across otherwise inaccessible inlets and jumping off rocks into the waves. “I’m sure my mother warned me not to go away for weekends with men like you,” I shouted down to Lawrence McBride, founder of Far and Wild. I was still warm and dry on my rocky perch and he had just jumped in, and was waiting patiently for me to follow suit – which I did, and loved every second of my boldness.
The weather was also bold that weekend, however, and after several checks with the coastguards, the Far and Wild team of expert guides decided we wouldn’t be able to get to Inishtrahull. They might jump off rocks and kayak into the waves but they aren’t stupid. From beginning to end, I felt secure in their knowledge and expertise. “Because the conditions are extreme and unpredictable up here, our itineraries are never fixed in stone,” said McBride.
I loved this organic interaction with nature and, in particular, that they include wild camping as part of their break. You never know in advance where you might end up sleeping at night but, if our chosen bay at White Strand was anything to go by, these guys don’t settle for any old patch. There was soft and sheltered grass to pitch on, a stony beach to create a camp kitchen and no one around for miles. Let’s not forget the stunning views across Trawbreaga Bay, the Isle of Doagh peninsula with Fanad Head glistening beyond that and Mount Errigal towering above west Donegal in the distance.