A Walk for the Weekend: circuit of Tory Island

This dramatic place off the Donegal coast is perfect for bird-watching and gentle walking

Tory Island: The island, 11km off the Donegal coast, is a rugged slab of rock that rises to dramatic tors at the eastern end

Tory Island: The island, 11km off the Donegal coast, is a rugged slab of rock that rises to dramatic tors at the eastern end

 

For gentle walking in spectacular oceanic surroundings, with some bird-watching and ancient mythology thrown in, Tory Island is a perfect place to spend a summer weekend. The island, 11km off the Donegal coast, is a rugged slab of rock that rises to dramatic tors at the eastern end, and it has an elected king, Patsy Dan Rogers, who is not only an accomplished artist but a fine accordion player.

My walk starts in the village called West Town; follow the road eastwards out of the village through a wasteland of harvested bog scattered with great clumps of montbretia in July. After a few hundred metres, cut left across to the dramatic, sundered sandstone cliffs and continue eastwards until you reach the road again, which takes you down to the beautiful cove at Port Doon, said to be the site of a battle in prehistoric times between the Fomorians and the Nemedians.

Turning north, pass the scanty remains of a couple of Iron Age huts and cross a double ditch to enter what was, two millennia ago, an extensive promontory fort. It is called Doon Balor after the legendary Balor of the Evil Eye. The highest point is a great place to sit and look around, taking in Horn Head and the cliffscape of Donegal, beyond which the cone of Errigal is easy to identify, and to its east, the bulk of Muckish Mountain. Reaching northwards into the sea, like some fossilized sea monster, is a narrow and tall, many-faceted slab of quartzite that ends in a stack called Tormore. Horizontal faults in the cliff-face are inhabited by kittiwakes, fulmars and guillemots. Just below you is a grassy cliff top where puffins nest.

Return to Port Doon and continue westwards along the shore, past a turlough lake that is a bird-watcher’s delight, and follow a grassy road back past East Town. Continuing through West Town with its ruined round tower, bear left at a fork in the road. The air here on summer’s evenings is filled with the call of corncrakes, and lapwings nest all round.

As you approach the western end of the island you begin to hear the thunder of the Atlantic bursting on to Tory’s western shores. The lighthouse here was built in 1832, and to its north a lonely graveyard can be found, surrounded by a carpet of spongy seapinks.

Retrace your steps and head northwards along the track towards the tiny chalet perched high on Ardlaheen Point, that artist Derek Hill used as a studio when he stayed on Tory.

Ardlaheen Point is a beautiful place, a good spot to sit and look and listen. The Outer Hebrides are a hundred miles beyond the far horizon, it’s another 400 to the Faeroes, and 700 miles away, slightly west of north, volcanic Iceland lies.

Head east now, towards the cluster of houses and the ruined round tower that marks West Town. It won’t be long before you are relaxing in the hotel bar enjoying refreshments, and there may be a céilí later.

Distance: about 10km
Terrain: quiet roads and turf and rock.
Accumulated ascent: about 90 metres.
How to get there: The Tory Island Ferry (074 9531320) runs regularly in summertime from Bunbeg pier and Magheraroarty Pier.

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