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So You Think You Know the Surf Coast?

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A heady mix of wave-thrashed coastline and lofty mountain views, the Wild Atlantic Way’s Surf Coast is the place to revive your soul, reinvigorate your mind and, with a bracing dip along its salty shorelines, it can even rejuvenate your body.

Spanning Donegal Town, all through County Sligo and down to Erris in County Mayo, this spectacular coastline boasts poetic icons, wonders for wetsuit lovers, exhilarating hiking trails, not to mention a rich, living history and plenty of friendly locals.

Most famous as the home of Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats, whose grave can be visited at leafy Drumcliffe Cemetery, this glorious part of the Wild Atlantic Way is a joy to discover. The Surf Coast isn’t just for surfing, it’s for strolling, tasting, exploring, walking and thoroughly embracing too.

Here are just some of the salt-aired discoveries to be made along this sensational stretch.

  • Slieve League, Co Donegal

Mullaghmore Head

One of the Wild Atlantic Way’s 15 Signature Discovery Points, windswept and wonderful Mullaghmore Head is the place to surf, angle, ramble, swim or simply take in the might of those crashing swells. Perched on the Mullaghmore Peninsula, this exceptional beauty spot is where wild waves, some of Europe’s very best, are known to reach up to 30m.

From here you can see Donegal’s looming sea cliffs Sliabh Liag, the regal silhouette of Classiebawn Castle, idyllic Inishmurray Island and plenty of hardy ocean-worshippers too. With its rocky cliffs and resplendent 8km of sandy beach, Mullaghmore Head is a stunning coastal enclave that makes a life by the sea a tempting one indeed.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

If you’re looking for soaring peaks, then look no further. The Dartry Mountains tower up from the land near the coast’s edge, forming a geographical presence that can’t be escaped as you journey past Sligo Town.

Truskmore is the region’s largest peak but the flat-topped and unusual Benbulben – with the toe-like shapes of its sloping sides – is probably the most memorable, not least due to its role in WB Yeats’ poetry.

Mighty Knocknarea though is possibly the most famous. A ten-minute drive from Sligo Town brings you to the base of its 327-metre climb, which can be undertaken from several different angles. Up on Knocknarea’s even peak, you’ll not only find fantastic views but also the 5,000-year-old burial tomb of none other than formidable Queen Maeve of Connacht. Marvel at this ancient man-made cairn and embrace the arresting panoramas over what Yeats lyrically proclaimed “The Land of Heart’s Desire”.

  • Surfs at sunset, Co Sligo


Down on the other side of Knocknarea, follow the wooden boardwalk that guides and elevates hikers off the rougher slopes and you’ll spot captivating Coney Island. Located just a couple of kilometres from the mainland and only 400 acres in size, this compact little island is owned by five families and boasts a novel population of just ten.

Those looking for some on-water action can access the island via boat but those with a rambler’s heart will enjoy taking advantage of low tide, when the island and the mainland are connected by beach. Fourteen pillars were constructed on the beach in the 1830s to guide vehicles across at the correct point, where they won’t sink in the sand!

Once over on Coney, you’ll find a pretty beach and one lone pub, Michael J Ward’s – which, given the population, is only open at weekends. Take a stroll and spot the rabbits the island takes its name from (coinín is the Irish for ‘rabbit’), or visit the Napoleonic star-shaped forts. Of course, a refreshing dip is always on the menu and Carty’s Strand is an ideal spot. A wildly beautiful idyll, Coney Island is off-grid personified.

Surf Shores

Well, they don’t call it the Surf Coast for nothing. Donning a wetsuit and braving the waves is an unmissable way to spend the day. The coastal stretch that encompasses Bundoran and nearby Mullaghmore Head is world-renowned for drawing pro surfers and plenty of dry-land observers.

People the world over come to witness Mullaghmore’s fabled wave, known as Prowlers, in action, as well as for scores of international watersports events. From the red-gold beach of picturesque Strandhill, to lively Easkey and Enniscrone, this coast is a bona fide mecca for those who long to feel the reinvigoration of that saltwater spray.

And if hanging ten isn’t your thing, you can always give stand-up paddleboarding, kitesurfing or kayaking a whirl. With dozens of surf schools and watersports operators to rent boards, wetsuits and take lessons from, even a reluctant landlubber has very few reasons not to take the plunge.

  • Voya Seaweed Bath, County Sligo


Back on the mainland, a scenic Surf Coast drive can be quite the exhilarating open road experience. Sligo's glorious Gleniff Horseshoe route is ideal for walk and driving, and despite its small six-mile loop stature, is a seriously memorable mountain road destination.

A great place to start is the town of Grange, starting at Ballintrillick with its dramatic views up to the Dartry Mountains. Looming high above the road like a green velvet cloak, the mountains are punctuated by streams, often shrouded in mist and splattered with black mounds of bog; the word beautiful doesn’t quite do them justice.

Local lore takes centre-stage, as the drive’s star attraction is Diarmuid and Gráinne’s Cave. Mythical lovers according to ancient Irish folklore, the lovers were chased for many years by Diarmuid’s best friend, the famed hunter-warrior, Chief Fionn MacCool. With Gráinne considered the most beautiful woman in Ireland, MacCool also desired the beauty as his wife. The cave, this highest in Ireland, is said to be the last resting place of Diarmuid, who died there after being attacked by a wild boar. A fantastic sight, the cave is fully visible from the road but, due to its very steep incline, it’s best to enjoy it from a suitably flat distance.

Seaweed Soak

While the Surf Coast is indeed a dream for lovers of the outdoors, one way to get your outdoor fix is by bringing a bit of it indoors! Kick those boots off and sink into a Voya Seaweed Bath, a truly serene place to unwind.

One of the Wild Atlantic Way’s rather unique experiences, the baths were established by Neil Walton, a local and former Australia-based professional triathlete. When Walton’s time as a pro-sportsman came to an end, he returned to his Sligo roots and focused his sporting abilities on open-water swimming.

His training, daily, year-round swims in the bay in front of his house, led Neil to look for new ways of aiding his recovery and performance. That, combined with a background in sports science, brought him to the health benefits of seaweed. Absorbing seaweed’s iodine raises the alkalinity of the body and its negative ion count, resulting in overall mental and physical health benefits.

An hour soaking in a bath of seaweed, followed by a full-body massage, leaves you revived and refreshed, and you don’t need to be a sports fanatic to enjoy it – this pampering treat is for everyone. The baths are also used to help alleviate stress, relieve skin conditions and are beneficial in the treatment of muscles and joints. Who knew that escaping the travails of modern life was just an Atlantic view and a tub of seaweed away?

This is just a snippet of what the Surf Coast offers. A corner of the Wild Atlantic Way that tempts with an exciting blend of outdoor activities, welcoming locals and off-the-beaten-track sights, by immersing yourself in all three here, you can really experience the essence of what this epic coastal route is all about. Prepare to feel a world apart, reinvigorated and truly uplifted.

Discover yet more ways to experience the Wild Atlantic Way with Things to Do.

Source article: Follow the Adventure to Sligo’s Surf Coast

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