This is possibly the nicest coastal walk in Ireland

Even in poor weather there is something magical about the scenery on this moderate walk on Glen Head, Co Donegal

Normally the promotional photo for a hike aims to attract, often with sunlit mountain and sea and a high blue sky; and it works especially well if it features a distant summer-clad hiker taking it all in. Unfortunately, the hiker seduced to our west coast by such a photo can be in for a disappointment!

And so it was for us in mid-August in Glencolumbkille: a moist warm sector airstream had narrowed our world to a 200m deep slot between grey sea and grey sky. Within this space, as we drove to our start point in Glencolumbkille and to our carsplit finish in Port, mists rose and fell over wet hedges and heather, all seeming to make for an unattractive hiking prospect.

Except that, just north of the Napoleonic Watchtower on Glen Head, we quite unexpectedly happened upon an utterly beautiful world that had our heads and hearts reeling. Why was that, we asked ourselves? Well, the beauty that came to us that day on that wonderfully wild and ragged coastline, between the low grey sky and a swirling, noisy sea of dramatic white and sky-grey, was not “picture postcard perfect”, but magical in its ever-changing, elemental play of cloud, sound, sea and rock. And it brought home to us the wonder of the shore and sea, especially our Atlantic Ocean, as walking companions or backdrop in all but the very worst of conditions.

Take at your ease

This is a short but enthralling walk, possibly the nicest coastal walk in Ireland: it’s a walk to take at your ease, to stop, look around, sit and listen. We started at Biofán, about 1.5km from Glencolumbkille, and progressed in low mood and mist to the signal tower just north of Glen Head. Soon we were in from under the curtain of mist, with truly awe-inspiring Sturrall pitched before us. Easy cropped grass underfoot allowed us safely to admire this shattered quartzite sea arête, with its fresh and ancient scars of battle with the wildest of Atlantic storms. Below and around it were surf-girdled sea-stack remnants, some undercut into dramatic sea arches. Wraiths of mist rolled up its windward flank, obscuring the sea but seemingly accentuating its sound - a great place to stop for lunch and to appreciate the immense privilege of just being there.


Soon great stream-cut ravines interrupted the route, forcing encircling swings inland or aerobic descents and ascents, until the wild shore of Port came into view. By now for us, the mist had thickened, adding even more to the age-old elemental “feel” of the place.

We meandered carefully the indentations of the coast, staying inside a restraining ditch and fence, joined the marked trail to our car in Port and stood beside the memorial to the 19 crew members lost on the “Sydney” in November 1870. Meanwhile, the arriving rain and enshrouding mist, and thoughts of the terror of the sea as well as its beauty, added a sombre note to the end of our hike!

Walk for the Weekend: Glen Head to Port, Glencolumbkille, Co Donegal

Map: OSI Sheet 10

Start: Beefan, Glencolumbkille

Finish: Port, Meenasillagh

Effort: 5kms, about 3hrs, about 220m of ascent

Suitability: easy to moderate, care needed on off-trail sections near cliff edges, especially in windy weather.