Going coastal in Inishowen
Exploring the wilderness in the northernmost point of Ireland is exhilarating
Mind you, I would have slept in the back of a kayak I was so tired at the end of the day. After we realised that Inishtrahull wasn’t going to happen early that morning, and we got clearance from the coastguard, we headed off in our state-of-the-art kayaks from a tiny inlet, just east of Malin Head, where an ancient well, church and hermit’s cave called “The Wee House of Malin” marks the spot. I was in the front of a double kayak with McBride who, along with another of their kayaking experts, Gareth Blackery, guided confidently and firmly. “Paddle straight into the swell, not alongside it, and you’ll be grand,” he shouted as I relished each stretch I took into these Atlantic extremes.
We paddled like this for a couple of hours, admiring the cliffs and sea stacks from afar, but staying clear of the white water which smashed against the coastline.
Then suddenly it hit. Although the waters weren’t crashing out here, they were definitely swelling. My stomach started to move in syncopation and, almost without warning, I was feeding my breakfast to the fish. “Better out than in,” McBride said, reassuring me that this was normal but it was best to be sick onto the spraydeck which covered our kayak rather than over the edge. There is always a tipping point in a kayak after all. A quick splash of the face with seawater and I was right as rain and ready to tackle the next headland.
I even tackled lunch, a picnic prepared by the company, which we had on Breasty Bay, tucked in behind some whale-like granite slabs to provide shelter from the omnipresent winds. This was the point when I remembered my extra warm layer tucked into a dry bag with my lunch. Never have fleece and a flask felt so welcome.
After a couple of hours of more kayaking farther west, we let the current carry us into the more placid Port Ronan, where the team had cleverly shuttled our minibus earlier, so that we didn’t have to transport camping gear on kayaks.
Farren’s Pub, our nearest drinking hole before zipping ourselves up for the night, was also a welcome shelter from the wind, after pitching and pasta-ing at the beach. This is Ireland’s most northerly pub, and there is nothing like a day’s kayaking around Malin Head to get the conversation going in a region that is pretty much off the tourist trail. When we told them that we might be swimming in the sea tomorrow, they just gave us another hot whisky and looked on sympathetically.
No sympathy was needed, however, and no skills either for the next day. After a fine sleep, with layers of down and fleece to combat the untimely near-zero temperatures followed by a vat of porridge, we started a hike down the beach in the direction of Five Finger Strand, a few headlands away.