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.























Donegal Sea Arches.


Hole on the horizon along the Donegal coastline.

The west Donegal coastline is full of holes. Most are in the form of caves and sea arches (not to mention a few tunnels thrown in for good measure). Take the sea arches; there are a lot of them dotted around the coast and islands of Donegal. Hundreds in fact that are  fairly undocumented, with only a few being in any way known about. I’m just scratching the surface here by pointing out some of my favourites that I have come across on my travels. Most are coastal and attached to the mainland or islands, but there are also lots of free standing sea arches as well. Let’s start with a few Donegal Island arches.

In no particular order:

1. Oileán Glas is an island that sits of the SW side of Arranmore Island. It is steep sided and its SE corner is cut by a huge deep archway that brings you through the island and out the other side to the open Atlantic: amazing! In fact Arranmore has a lot of arches and I will go into more detail in an upcoming overview of the island.


Oileán Glas which sits of the back of Arranmore Island this archway cuts right through the island


The cauldron and it’s archway on Umfin.


  2. Off the coast of Gweedore, amongst the Islands, is the gem of Umfin Island. At the back of Umfin is the Cauldron, a barren rocky area of cliffs and ledges where the Atlantic gets seriously churned up in any swell. The breakers are swallowed up by the high, narrow, archway which juts out into the ocean. It’s easy to walk out to this archway and stand on its summit. At the top of the arch there is a hole, conveniently placed to allow a glimpse at the churning water below. Umfin is also almost cut in two by another lovely archway near the rocky landing spot; so walking across this archway can link one side of the island to the other.

3. Tory Island has some mammoth archways one of which cuts through the Anvil, which is a long finger of rock that juts out from Tory Island close to its north eastern tip. Dramatically situated and purely formed, it’s like a gateway to the island’s rugged northern side. For paddling through this archway you need to get your tides right as it dries out on low water!


The Anvil archway on Tory Island is the gateway to it’s northern side.

4. Owey Island’s big archway is a stunner and is nestled on the Islands eastern side in a small shallow bay surrounded by  rock pinnacles and sea stacks. One of these sea stacks has an ancient face on it that looks out  towards the mainland, always watching Errigal mountain in the distance. If approached from the south the arch is hidden from view until the last minute.


The Owey Island arch



The tall arch on Inishdooey.


5. The magical Inishdooey Island, is the middle Island passed on the way out to Tory from Magheroarty on the ferry. Inishdooey has a fine, tall, narrow, and elegant hidden archway that is tucked into a cut on its eastern side; although it can be quite hard to find from the sea. It can be tricky to get through, especially at low water or in any swell. The Island is also home to an amazing huge collapsed cave which resembles a amphitheater, open to the sky (pictured in the previous blog post). A must visit Island.







6. At Glencolmcille, just north of the signal tower on Glen Head, sits the Sphinx arch; located in a sublime bay of grey and green cliffs. It’s a many faced god and takes on different guises when approached from different angles. It can take on the appearance of a cat-like creature ready to pounce on it’s prey, especially when approached from the south close to the cliffs.


The many faced god. Sphinx arch Glen Head


Hornhead sc

The dark and foreboding Horn Head short cut

7.  Horn Head is an amazing place to paddle with many fine arches and caves. My favourite is an arch-come cave which cuts off the last corner of the journey before the Horn Head bay. It takes you out into a deep, dark cut with a big cave opening on its opposite side; you feel as if you are hemmed in on all sides by towering cliffs: sublime!





8. Crohy Head has an iconic freestanding arch which has appeared in many a dreamlike photograph. It’s set in a bay strewn with boulders and rocks in a super shallow area. It’s complemented by a huge double archway only a short distance away which is an added bonus.

James Bristi stack (3)

Crohy Head freestanding arch

9. The Doorway Arch is situated due south of Loughros Point, part of a small island with a square archway at the entrance to an enchanted bay. It’s the southern entrance to the Slieve tooey coastline which is a mecca for sea kayakers in Donegal. We always say that this doorway leads into another world resembling something out of the Lord of the Rings films.



The Doorway to another world



10. The Transformer and the Guillotine are both situated along the Slieve tooey coastline – the stretch of coast between Loughros Point and An Port. Slieve tooey has more sea arches, sea stacks, caves and waterfalls then you can shake a stick at. One of the many archways along this cliff-bound coast that always catches my attention, is the Transformer arch. You can see the resemblance to a transformer from the picture. Also pictured is the Guillotine arch (you can see where it gets its name from the picture). Remember please, don’t show too much neck when passing through the Guillotine!           


Watch your head going through the Guillotine arch


The iconic Transformer arch along the Slievetooey coastline.