Up on the western coast of Donegal, Cruit Island is linked to the mainland by an old stone bridge. As you explore it feels like there’s a picturesque scene around every corner, from white sand beaches to dramatic rocky headlands overlooking the sea. It’s between two of these striking outcrops that Joshua had his first adventure, experiencing a Tyrolean Traverse with the expert guides at Unique Ascent. An adventurer’s dream, a Tyrolean Traverse is a little like a zip line and allows you to fly through the air in remote and dramatic locations, enjoying striking scenery in the safe hands of the guides.
After a quick climb to the top of the peak, Joshua and his friends saw the line stretched between two headlands, soaring over the water as the waves crashed below.
“When I saw the set up for the first time, I couldn’t even imagine flying over it,” says Joshua. “It looked so much higher than it was, and it certainly felt a lot higher!” But when the moment came to make the leap, he was ready. “You just had to go for it. It was definitely an exhilarating experience.”
After the thrill that came from pushing himself off the rock and flying through the air, there was a natural pause at the halfway point before he reached the other side. “I just stopped there for a couple of seconds to take it all in. It was incredible. The waves were crashing over the rocks and I was watching them from above. That moment really did describe the Wild Atlantic Way for what it is. I didn’t want to leave.”
“We would have happily done it over and over again. The guides were really sound and they explained everything really well. You fully trust them.”
One of their guides was the owner of Unique Ascent, Iain Miller, who spends his days taking people around the most striking places along the Donegal coastline. “What Cruit Island provides is outrageously beautiful coastal scenery,” he says.
“There are more sandy beaches than you can poke a stick at. Then you have rock climbing, kayaking, swimming, you name it. Anything you can do in the outdoors you can do in this area.”
“I view the west coast of Ireland as one of the world’s capitals of adventure sports. What we have on the west coast is absolutely unique. We might paddle through a group of basking sharks or we might see an orca, you never know. That’s the best thing about it.”
After the adrenaline rush of the Tyrolean Traverse, Joshua and his friends headed to Ahoy Café in Killybegs for a feast of crab burgers, calamari and chips. “Every time I go to Donegal I stop by Ahoy. The food never lets me down and the people are so friendly.”
Following the Wild Atlantic Way down to Sligo, Joshua set off for another new experience, riding horses at Island View Riding Stables. At this location right by the foothills of Benbulben, you can take the horses out on the beach itself and ride over the sand to their private island.
“Getting to ride a horse with my friends on a beach was just an incredible experience. You could see Classiebawn Castle in the distance and the reflections on the water were magical. I can’t even describe how beautiful it was. The horses got into the water as well which was so cool. It was very therapeutic.”
While out on the beach, they each got to bond with their horses and get a sense of their quirks, with Joshua’s even taking a quick break to play in the soft sand.
“All of the horses have completely different personalities,” says Ursula Schweiger O’Connor, the co-owner of Island View. “We know each and every one of them inside out, as most of them were born here.
“People love the connection with the horse, the movement of the horse, just being one with a different species. It’s almost like you’re sharing a body. That’s the unique thing about it.”
“I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I wouldn’t get up on the board at all, but we had a really good teacher and I got it after five or six tries. It was such a crazy experience being able to stand on the board, as the water sweeps you across the waves. I just let out a big shout straight away. It was a great feeling.”
It’s a reaction that a lot of people have when they hit the waves.
“Everyone just gets such a buzz, especially first timers,” says Eddie Moran, owner of the Strandhill Surf Experience. “Being in the ocean is exhilarating. I think what people love is the experience of catching their first wave, of actually standing up and riding the wave the whole way to the beach.”
It’s not just surfing that Strandhill is known for. Just a few steps from the shore, Voya Seaweed Baths has long been a favourite among locals and visitors alike. Here, you’ll find antique rolltop baths filled with piping hot seawater and freshly harvested seaweed, for an experience that’s the perfect antidote to an afternoon spent in the sea.
“I thought it was going to be slimy and sludgy but it was so relaxing,” says Joshua. “As soon as you get into it your body just melts. It’s the perfect way to wind after an outdoor activity.”
Just a few doors down is another local favourite, Shells Café, where people pop in for a hearty brunch or wedge of homemade cake after riding the waves or strolling along the beach.
With Knocknarea rising behind the dunes and the waves crashing against the shore, this stretch of coast is a dream setting for an afternoon stroll.
“The Donegal and Sligo coastline is absolutely incredible,” says Joshua. “It’s not something that you see anywhere else. You can explore this area for years and keep finding amazing locations. There’s so much beauty there, it’s crazy.”