Experience northern legends and landscape
At the most northern tip of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll find the Inishowen Peninsula, a diverse and beautiful landscape with a 160km round-route of sea-sculpted coastline. Bordered to the north by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east and west by loughs, it’s home to low mountains, bog lands and wild weather. Its unspoilt beauty means you can really feel disconnected from modern life.
For most visitors this loop is best enjoyed over multiple days, however very keen cyclists could complete it in less. Here we have broken it down into four days, which makes for a very leisurely exploration. If you’re an experienced cyclist, you could easily combine two days together, quickening the pace to five hours of cycling per day. As it’s a loop, you can begin at any point but we start at the small village of Muff. If you are not beginning at Muff, simply read from the closest landmark to your hotel, B&B or rental.
Day 1: Muff - Bridgend - Speenog - Inch Island - Buncrana / 2 hours 20 minutes cycling / 38km
Starting out at Muff, head south west on the R239 for 8km to Bridgend. About 5km in, you’ll see a sign for Letterkenny at the old schoolhouse at Drumhaggart. Follow this sign to Bridgend and along this road, you’ll see the ancient fort of Grianán of Aileach in the distance. Situated on a hilltop 250m above sea level, the view from the stone fort of Aileach is breathtaking. The origins of the Grianán of Aileach fort date back to 1700 BC, the time of the Tuatha de Danann, who invaded Ireland before the Celts and constructed stone forts on top of strategic hills. It is thought that St. Patrick visited the site in the 5th Century to baptise the local chieftain. From here, you can cycle for 20 minutes to the Old Church Visitor Centre at Speenogue to learn about legends in Irish folklore – kings, queens, heroes and warriors of Irish past.
Afterwards, head back up the turn for Grianán of Aileach and look out for the brown sign marked ‘Inch Wildlife Reserve’ before taking the R2389 and follow the signs along the Slab Road for Inch Island. You will come to a small car park where you will spot the causeway which links directly to the island. When cycling along the Slab Road, you may notice that it’s particularly flat. If you were standing there 200 years ago, you would either be stuck in the mud or buried under the water of Lough Swilly. The surrounding farmland was reclaimed from the sea over 160 years ago and eventually developed into some of the richest farmland in the country.
If mythology isn’t your thing, travel from Bridgend towards Burnfoot along the R238, passing the small village of Burnfoot where you will see signs for Inch Wildlife Reserve on the left hand side of the road before reaching a slip road which connects to the island.
Lough Swilly Marina at Fahan, Co. Donegal
If you are making the pilgrimage to Grianán of Aileach, know that it is a steep climb that will take 20 to 30 minutes extra to complete. Along the island’s causeway road, once again you’ll see Grianán of Aileach high on the hill above Burt. Enjoy spectacular views across Lough Swilly to the marina at Fahan and Inishowen's main town, Buncrana. Inch Island is a birdwatcher’s paradise – due to its wildfowl sanctuary, the whooper swan, Greenland white fronted goose and greylag goose can be spotted roaming around.
Leaving the island, head for the blue flag Lisfannon Beach to watch or take part in a spot of wind or kitesurfing. The town of Buncrana follows after a further 20 minutes travel time. With plenty of places to rest up, great food and drink and a vibrant music scene, it’s the perfect spot to kick back and spend the night.
Mamore Gap, Co. Donegal
Day 2: Buncrana - Dunree - Ballyliffin - Malin - Ballyhillin Beach / 3 hours 31 minutes / 52km
Leaving Buncrana, cycle 40 minutes to Dunree, before tackling the twisty Gap of Mamore on the way to Ballyliffin which is a further 40 minutes again. On the way through to Clonmany, you’ll come across Glenevin Waterfall. Ballyliffin itself is great base for exploring the area’s sights. Take your pick from Doagh Famine Village, Fort Dunree Military Museum,or Carrickabraghy Castle, which was built by the O’Doherty family to protect the Inishowen lands in the 16th century.
From here, it's a further 30 minute cycle to Malin Head, the most northerly tip of Ireland where panoramic views include islands of Inistrahull and Tory, as well as the Scottish hills on a clear day. Rest a while in the beautiful wagon at Caffe Banba, for a warming cup of coffee, hot chocolate or tea, with some cake for sustenance.
The beach at Five Fingers Strand, Co. Donegal | Image via visitderry.com
Just 18 minutes cycle from Malin town is Five Fingers Strand, a beautiful expanse of beach sheltered by high cliff edges that rise 500ft. The Strand takes its name from the five sea stacks that are visible – especially at low tide – at the northern end of the beach. The wreck of The Twilight, which sank in 1889 en route from Newfoundland to Derry, can also be seen when the water is low. The dunes at the back of the beach are the largest of their type in Europe. From the cliff top view point at Knockamany Bens, you can spot dolphins or at a certain time of year even the spectacular Northern Lights – sign up to Aurora Borealis alerts for Ireland here. Treasure hunters should head east to Ballyhillin Beach, via Knockamany Bens, where semi-precious stones line the shore - serpentine, jasper and cornelian and more.
Day 3: Ballyhillin Beach - Culdaff Village - Tremone Bay - Kinnagoe Bay / 2 hours 20 minutes cycling / 36km
From here, the only way is south! Along the route, there are lots of gorgeous bays and picturesque villages to break up this leg of the journey. Set off to Culdaff village and its blue flag beach, which will take just over an hour. Here you can stop to fish and learn how to fillet and cook your own catch with Oliver from Go Fish (just email firstname.lastname@example.org in advance to book your place). Then it’s a further 30 minute cycle down twisty roads to the remote Tremone Bay, a great spot for rock and shore fishing.
Tremone Bay | Image via Trean House
Rest a while and enjoy a paddle, before continuing to the long and sandy Kinnagoe Bay beach just a further 35 minutes away. Here one of the Spanish Armada’s ships sunk in 1588. Looking down from the road to the beach and its wild waves, it’s not hard to see why.
Day 4: Kinnagoe Bay - Stroove Beach - Moville - Muff / 2 hours 14 minutes /40 km
From Kinnagoe Bay, follow down the road for 35 minutes to Stroove where the Inishowen Lighthouse watches over this once busy shipping lane that took emigrants to America and Australia. Take in the glorious views over Lough Foyle across to Magilligan as you make your descent. Catch your breath on Inishowen Head on the Inishowen Head Walk or continue on towards Moville.
The final journey from Moville to Muff is one hour. If you’d like to use your hands rather than your legs for a while, stop at Moville Pottery to decorate your own piece of local hand thrown stoneware as a memento of your trip. While in Moville, a visit to the Cooley Cross is essential. The historical site contains the ruins of an old church and the ‘Skull House’; a small building with a stone roof that houses human remains. The village of Quigley's Point is the final option for a refreshment stop on the way back to Muff.
Between Tremone and Moville, stop at Magilligan Point View to take in panoramic views and vistas.
Head to Pollan Bay, near Ballyliffin, to windsurf, surf or simply have a swim.
Past Buncrana, follow the road to Dunree Head where you’ll find the Fort Dunree and Military Museum. Here you can discover the locality’s history in vibrant and interactive displays.
South of Speenoge, you’ll find Manorcunningham View which boasts spectacular views of Lough Swilly. Take a picnic for the benches and relax a while.
Just outside the village of Culdaff, you’ll find the Bocan Stone Circle, a mystical place of worship for millennia.
Find places to stay along the Inishowen Peninsula by searching ‘Donegal’ or each town’s name in our handy directory, and find Donegal bike rentals here.