Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Breathtaking views reward hikers

Inishowen, Ireland's northernmost peninsula, is worth a detour

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A visit to Derry must include at least a few days to explore nearby Inishowen, the Republic of Ireland's northernmost point.

Off the beaten tourist path, the peninsula's hills, spectacular white-sand beaches and coastal cliffs offer views that rival or surpass any other in Ireland. Its world-class golf courses, kayaking, hill walking, spas, arts and crafts, driving and cycling routes, and Celtic and early-Christian sites represent something for everyone:

Hill walking

Inishowen benefits from several of Ireland's National Loop Walks, well-marked trails that vary in difficulty and take walkers through a spectrum of spectacular scenery. Of note:

Inishowen Head Walk. The eight-and-a-half-kilometre trail runs along steep coastal cliffs and offers breathtaking views, including Scotland on a clear day.

Urris Lakes Loop. The six-and-a-half-kilometre walk is strenuous but its beauty takes the breath away. Hidden lakes emerge from around bends and vantage points offer panoramic views of the ocean and white beaches.

Butler's Glen Loop. This 10.5-kilometre walk is quite challenging but worth the work. Coastal scenery and hills ease the strain of the steep slopes.

Mamore Gap Walk. This 15-plus-kilometre walk is not looped, but the steep, long incline to the Gap is a must for the views.

Beach and coastal walks

There are many coastal walks that meander along wonderful beaches you might have almost entirely to yourself. Of note:

Moville Shore-path and Sli na Slainte. The easy two-kilometre walk follows the rugged coastline of Lough Foyle, with sandy coves tucked in along the way. It starts at Moville, a lovely town with a lively music scene, and ends at Greencastle, a beautiful fishing village with great, fresh seafood spots.

Buncrana Shore-path. This easy three-kilometre path follows Lough Swilly to the large, sandy beach at Stragill Strand.

Malin Head. Ireland's northernmost spot has several trails of varying degrees of difficulty. The views are hypnotic, especially at Five Finger Strand, an expansive white-sand beach extending to dramatic cliffs.

Celtic and early-Christian historical sites

The peninsula abounds in important sites and tracking them down is the perfect way of exploring the area. The ideal base hotel is McGrory's of Culdaff. Owner Neil McGrory has an encyclopedic knowledge of the sites, the most important of which are described in his book Inishowen: A Journey Through Its Past -- Revisited. In it, you'll get descriptions of the sites along with directions. (McGrory's also plays host to world-class musicians and has weekly Friday night traditional sessions.)

Sites of note:

Grianán of Aileach

The 4,000-year-old ringfort is spectacular itself and offers wonderful views from its perch. The giants of Inishowen are allegedly sleeping underneath. Amara Farmhouse is a good place to sleep nearby.

Malin Well and the Wee House of Malin

The rugged coastline of this site is without peer. Behind the ruins of an old church are a hermit's cave and a statue of Our Lady of Inishtrahull. One of the rituals associated with the site involved men and women making a yearly summer pilgrimage to swim naked and wash off each other's sins.

Greencastle

In the beautiful fishing village of Greencastle, the ruins of this 1305 castle on the shore's edge are a must-see. McGrory describes how its location was intended to ward off attacks from Scotland.

Inishowen 100

This scenic driving and cycling route takes travellers down narrow roads and into fascinating nooks. It's an ideal way to see the peninsula's coastal towns, unrivalled views and Celtic and early-Christian sites.

Golf

The peninsula's coastal and hillside terrain means its golf courses are challenging and beautiful, particularly the Ballyliffin Golf Club, which is world renowned. One kilometre away is the Ballyliffin Lodge Hotel, an ideal family-friendly base with a leisure centre, spa, lively bar/restaurant and quieter lounge.

Kayaking

A rocky shoreline guarantees outstanding kayaking. There are several outfits serving the area.

Spas

The small area has a good offering of spas and wellness centres that offer a range of treatments and holistic therapies.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 D4

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