Summer Visitors

I managed to sneak over to one of our main Donegal headlands just as lock down was coming to an end.  I was pleasantly surprised to see so many summer visitors who have flocked to our shores and have taken up residence along the cliffs for the summer. Thousands of sea birds.

It’s hard to remember seeing such big numbers of nesting birds along the cliffs so it just might be a bumper year for them. The main type of sea birds nesting at this site are Northan Fulmar, common Guillemonts, Shag’s, Cormorants,  hundreds of Razorbills and the odd stray Puffin.

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Luckily I did manage to get some snaps with the long lens from the sea kayak but not along the main cliffs as they were to exposed to the wind and it was impossible to keep position or stay upright holding the camera for long. The GoPro footage below gives a better idea of the number of birds flying about the place. I hope to get back out there  again a few more times before the summer is out to see and experience this amazing spectral again.


Donegal’s Rocky Whitewater Slides

High in the foothills of the Bluestack mountains you will find one of Donegal’s best loved kayaking secrets, a succession of several rock slides known affectionately as the Slabs. Getting the right water levels to run this section of river is notoriously tricky at the best of times and the Slabs are classed mostly as continues grade 3 white water and up to grade 4 on high water, so a good level of knowledge and ability is required to run this river. Here in this footage we are running the Slabs and the lower part of the river on medium water levels ( grade 3 ) Music is by Speckled Red. Enjoy the ride!


Sunny Winter Surf

Winter can be the best part of the year for kayak surfing on the Atlantic coast of Donegal, below is some footage from a November kayak surf at a completely deserted Dooey beach. Not only is the sun shining but the water temperature is pretty good and some nice waves coming into the beach.


Gola Island Donegal

kayak on the rocky/sandy beach Gola Island Donegal

Sea kayak landing on Gola Island

Gola Island (Gabhla) is a mid-size island 2km from the mainland of Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) in N.West Donegal. Uninhabited since the 1960’s its peak population of approx. 169 people lived on the island in 1911-1926. Gola’s lost way of life and heritage remains in the form of stone cottages with original examples of Gabhla longhouses (the island’s vernacular cottage architecture). Although some buildings are derelict they are rich in history and people are starting to return to the island and renovate houses as holiday homes with the aid of recently installed mains electricity. During the summer months the population can swell up to 35 people or more and visitors can relax with refreshments from the cabin shop and admire the views.

Chart map of Gola Island Donegal

Gola Island map/chart


With its tranquil beauty Gola is starting to attract many visitors from walkers, cliff climbers, artists, photographers, birdwatchers and those interested in ecology. A short paddle over by kayak or boat ride on the the regular ferry ‘The Cricket’ which leaves from Magheragallan (Machaire Gathlan), Gweedore will take you to the island from Easter and throughout the summer months. Gola, one of the more accessible islands boosts many natural features  including pebble/sandy beaches offshore islands, sea stacks and caves.



Gola Island Donegal sea arch Scoilt Ui Dhugain

The sea arch of Scoilt Ui Dhugain

Highlights include a big sea arch ‘Scoilt Ui Dhugain’ at the North side of the island along with a memorial to islanders lost at sea. At the southern end near ‘Port na Crin’ there is a  harbour and the old school, this area attracts many different varieties of seabirds.  On the western side of the island there are fine examples of sea cliffs, sea stacks and caves. The popular ‘Twin Cave’ Buttress is about 20 metres (66ft) high of granite rock facing the Atlantic. The highest point on Gola is Knockacullen at 690 metres. Another highlight facing due west onto the Atlantic is the beautiful sandy beach – Traigh Mhachaire na nGall.  Gola has spectacular views of other nearby islands and of the mainland including ‘Errigal Mountain’ in the distance. The best time to visit the island is when there’s some movement on the sea as this makes the the island seem more alive and is well worth exploring.    

Kayaking in Donegal sea kayaking in Donegal kayaking Gola Island Kayaking Umfin Island

Approaching the Island by sea kayak

Gola Kayaking.

There are many approach routes to Gola Island from any suitable get in location  (slipway or beach) between Bunbeg harbour and Bun an Inbhir harbour. A one way trip from any of those two points gives a great opportunity to take in all the islands in the Gweedore group in one memorable trip. A more simple trip can be had from leaving Magheragallan and then a straight forward paddle across to the harbour on the east facing side of Gola Island. This eliminates any tidal planning and tides at this point are fairly weak.  Magheragallan is subject to swell and the rocky beach and the slipway at Maghergallan can encounter some dumping surf, and  obviously beware of strong offshore winds when planning a return trip from Gola island.

Traigh Mhachaire na nGall bay Gola Island Donegal sea kayaking

Traigh Mhachaire na nGall bay on the western side of Gola Island.

If you are a proficient and well equipped paddler doing the round of the island you would need fairly settled conditions as the south, west and north sides of the island are swell magnets and the back of Gola is subject to lots of movement so careful planning of the prevailing conditions is a must.

Paddling highlights include.

The paddle around Gola is quite contrasting from pristine sandy beaches to rocky  shallows on the eastern side, then cliffs, caves, sea stacks as you go around the Island and great views back to the mainland and the other Donegal Islands.

There is a shelf of rocks between the offshore Torglass  Island and Gola on the south side of Traigh Mhachaire na nGall bay ( Magheranagnll on os map and chart ) which gives a splendid inside passage into this beautiful bay with its west facing sandy beach which is a possible landing place on the western side of the island. On the northern side of the bay  there is a sea tunnel well worth exploring if conditions allow which has a tight corner so day light is not visible through to the opposite side. 

Gola Island Kayaking Donegal sea arch of Scoit Ui Dhugain

Kayakers paddling through the sea arch of Scoilt Ui Dhugain on Gola Island.

On the northern side of the island tucked into a small cove and not easily found from seaward  is the impressive Scoilt Ui Dhugain sea arch and it’s possible to paddle through it if the swell will allow. The arch can dry out around low water.  


Enjoy your visit whichever way you travel to Gola Island. We will be reviewing our next Donegal Island soon and hope you will come along with us.

James and Angela.























Kayak Surfing. Donegal to the World Championships.

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Winter Kayaksurf at Narin Strand Portnoo

Donegal is a great place to be a kayaker with a huge range of stunning coastline from cliffs to unspoilt offshore islands, pristine beaches and practically hundreds of lakes and fast flowing rivers that makes Donegal a playground for paddlers. It’s also a great place to surf, it has plenty of swell generated by the Atlantic ocean which means lots of waves hitting onto our unspoilt, coastal beaches and reefs. Added to Donegal’s normally mild winters means that you could actually surf all year round.

Kieran McDyre Kayak Surf Magheroraty

Donegal surfkayak Irish champion Kieran Mc Dyre in action in his HP kayak

Can you surf a kayak? You surely can! Any type of kayak can surf, it’s just that some surf a lot better than others. If your kayak is bulky, heavy or has a lot of volume it might be a struggle to get a lot of performance out of it, but it still would be fun to try. The best kayaks to use on the waves are the high tech lightweight composite competition kayaks like the high performance ( HP ) short boat which features a flat bottom sharp rails, short tail and fins and the international class ( IC ) long boats that are hard carving surf machines, but both of these types of kayak take some time to master and are relatively expensive to buy.


Early days just starting out in summer at Rossnowlagh a nice friendly beach.

If you’re new to surfing and just starting out, it’s a good idea to pick a quiet, safe beach where you won’t get in any other water users way, then it will be easier to stay within your own comfort zone. Have suitable clothing for cold water immersion like a wetsuit, wear a buoyancy aid and a helmet which is a must for kayak surfing

Comp 1 Portrush 2016

Ulster Paddlesurf Competition held in Portrush

There is a definite history to paddle surfing in Ireland stretching back to the 1980’s with regular competitions taking place involving surfkayakers and waveskis run by the likes of the Ulster Paddlesurf Club and Paddlesurf Ireland with both clubs sending teams and individuals to National and International competitions over the years. The biggest competition in Ireland is the Irish Paddlesurf Open event held every year at Easky (on the left hand reef break), Co. Sligo with paddlesurfers attending from the UK and Europe alongside the best Irish surfers.

Robbie Marblehill

A competitor in action at a regional event held at Marblehill Donegal

This year (2017), Ulster will be the venue for the World Surfkayak Competition (20th-28th October) based in Portrush, involving the best teams and individual kayakers from around the world. The event is being organised by the Canoe Association of Northern Ireland. This event offers a great opportunity to see the finest paddlersurfers in the world competing against one another in both the team and individual heats whilst executing radical and dynamic moves on the waves. At the event three paddlers from Donegal Sea and Surf Paddlers Club (based on the rugged NW coast of Donegal) will be taking part and are being supported by Rapid Kayaking. The three Donegal paddlers are James O’Donnell, Kieran and Denis Mc Dyre. All three have competed in the past at national and international events and we wish them well in their endeavours at the 2017 World Surf Kayak Championships.   

James Denis Kieran with fellow surfkayaker Conor O'D

Members of Donegal Sea & Surf  Paddlers Club who will be heading to the 2017 World Surfkayak Championships to be held in Portrush in October. from R to L Kieran, James, Denis and fellow Donegal Surf Kayaker Conor O’D