Ireland: Wild West Coast
8 Day Inn Tour
Come explore a part of Ireland that few international visitors have yet to see. The northwest area of the country, dubbed the Wild Atlantic Way, is full of rugged coastal cliffs, verdant forests, ancient mountains, unspoiled loughs (lakes) and rivers jumping with salmon. We’ll cycle through charming small towns and villages that celebrate Irish music, history and literature—in fact we start the adventure in a town that poet William Butler Yeats adored.
Rolling terrain with some longer climbs. Moderate cycling level. Easier with an e-bike.
7 nights lodging, 7 breakfasts, 5 dinners, snacks, hybrid rental bike, van support, cue sheets and electronic GPS files, and trained guides.
Hybrid bike is included in the cost of the tour. Road bikes and e-bikes are an additional $195. E-bike quantities are limited.
Fly in and out of the Dublin or Belfast airports and take the train or bus to and from the start and end of the tour. Aer Lingus also offers twice-daily flights between the Dublin and Donegal airports.
Day 1: We meet in the afternoon in the bustling seaside town of Sligo for a bike fitting, orientation and group dinner. If you come early, take some time to explore the environs, such as the 13th century Sligo Abbey. For spectacular views, take a hike to the summit of Benbulben, the tabletop mountain that puts everyone in awe. 0 miles.
Day 2: Another point of inspiration for William Butler Yeats was Lough Gill, the lovely freshwater lake dotted with tiny islands. One of those islands is the subject of Yeats’ famous poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Our first cycle outing takes us around the lough, with a stop at Tobernalt Holy Well, a natural spring whose spiritual magnetism dates back to 5th century pagan times. Today the well draws pilgrims of all faiths.
As we pedal up the lake’s eastern shore, we will visit Parke’s Castle, a restored 17th century fortified manor home and English plantation. We close the loop around Lough Gill with a gentle climb that offers gorgeous views before the final descent back to Sligo. 28 miles, ± 1873’.
Day 3: “All that’s beautiful drifts away, like the waters,” wrote Yeats in a verse about death. Today’s ride is full of beauty and water as we head north out of Sligo, with the first stop being Drumcliff Church, where you’ll find the poet’s grave and his solemn words that mark it. After passing through the village of Grange, we pedal the scenic Gleniff Horseshoe Loop, a glacier-made valley surrounded by spectacular mountains.
We meet the North Atlantic at Mullaghmore, a surfer’s paradise. You’re welcome to take a dip at the beach if you can brave the chilly waters, or take extra time to admire the nearby Cassiebawn Castle, a 19th century manor house where celebrated British naval officer and cousin to the late Queen Elizabeth, Lord Mountbatten, vacationed. He was notoriously assassinated in 1979 when the IRA blew up his fishing boat in Mullaghmore Harbor.
We’ll keep rolling along the coast until we reach the seaside resort town of Bundoran. 36 miles, ± 1350’.
Day 4: Some claim that Ballyshannon, our first stop on today’s cycling itinerary, is the oldest town in Ireland, having been incorporated in 1613. Archeological digs in the area show human life that dates back even earlier, to the Neolithic period. More recently, however, its legend is tied to the late Rory Gallagher, who some dub as the greatest blues guitarist you never heard of. A statue of Gallagher anchors the town center.
From Ballyshannon we climb inland to circle Lough Eske, a popular fishing lake surrounded by the Bluestack Mountains. We end the day in Donegal Town. Here you’ll have time to shop for wool and tweed, two products that the town is famous for. You can also pay your respects at the Famine Graveyard, resting place for victims of the Famine of 1845-49. Finally, try to fit in a visit to the restored Donegal Castle, one of the most celebrated Gaelic castles in the country, built in 1474. For more than a century, the castle was occupied by the O’Donnell chieftains. 38 miles, ±2050’.
Day 5: We zig-zag north and south, east and west today, first to the inland hamlet of Croagh, then to the coastal village of Bruckless, population 69. Returning to the coast, we stop at Killybegs, an important fishing harbor and source of famed handmade woolen carpets. A museum here is dedicated to both industries.
Heading inland again, our lodging for the next two night is in Ardara, a festival town where traditional Irish music is celebrated year-round. Get a taste of these tunes, along with a pint of beer, at Nancy’s famous Ardara pub. 33 miles, ±2400’.
Day 6: Don’t let today’s hills scare you, as they have a grand payoff, and we will be there to help you if you need it. The first ascent is over Glengesh Pass, where you can savor a wild landscape dotted with farms, cottages and grazing sheep. The exhilarating downhill takes us to the coastal hamlet of Teelin, where we lock up the bikes and hike out to Slieve League, one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, hovering nearly 2000 feet above the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
From here we set out again on the bikes to Glencolumbkille, where the living history museum gives you a real sense of what life was like here in the 17th century. We follow back roads back to Ardara, with a chance to stop and see the Caves of Maghera and Maghera Beach as well as Assaranca Waterfall. 38 miles, ±2900’.
Day 7: Our last ride is an inland journey through the wilderness of County Donegal, and a chance to see peat bogs, farms and the Bluestack Mountains. We will also meet up with the River Finn as we make our way to the twin towns of Stranorlar and Ballybofey. We will celebrate our week of wild Irish adventure with our last group dinner and overnight in Ballybofey. 33 miles, ±2020’.
Day 8: We’ll say our farewells after breakfast this morning. You’ll be at your leisure to take a cab or bus to the airport or wherever else your travels take you. Slán leat!