Anyone setting out on the famous Appalachian trail in the USA knows the long journey ahead. But did you know that journey ends on the other side of the Atlantic?
It’s 2,200 miles long, and growing. It’s roughly 300 million years old and it’s the only trail in the world to span an ocean. It’s safe to say that the Appalachian Trail isn’t your average walking route.
Donegal on Ireland’s north west coast was officially added to Appalachian Trail maps in 2010. Separated by tectonic shifts millions of years ago the once-shared mountain ranges of North America and Europe are again linked for walkers and hikers by the International Appalachian Trail. From its origins in Georgia the trail eventually reaches land again in the most spectacular way: Donegal’s Slieve League Cliffs.
Slieve League boasts some of the highest cliffs in Europe with the Leagues path leading up to nearly 2,000 feet. That’s almost three times the height of Ireland's other scenic cliffs in County Clare - The Cliffs of Moher.
The Slieve League cliffs include a heart-stopping stretch of trail, the aptly named One Man’s Pass and Pilgrim’s Path, so no matter how experienced a hiker you are, views and vistas are waiting at every path!
Close to the summit of Slieve League is the Eagle’s Nest, boasting the type of birds-eye views the name would suggest. To the south lies counties Sligo and Mayo and the Wild Atlantic Way while to the north sits Mount Errigal and the ‘Seven Sister’ mountains, a landmark in the Donegal Mountain Range.
Local man Sean Mullan brings walking tours all around the region and relishes the reaction from visitors when they reach Donegal’s Appalachian Trail.
“Normally when we get to south-west Donegal, after spending three days in beautiful Antrim with its green fields and wooded valleys,” Sean explains. “The contrast is stark; here it's primordial, next stop America; rock, heather, stone walls, fishing boats, yellow sanded beaches.”
Saints and surf
From the Slieve League cliffs the trail crosses the birthplace of an Irish saint: Columba. The trail brings hikers down from the cliffs to the sandy beaches of Silver Strand and Maghera.
That same path takes in a chunk of the gaeltacht (Irish speaking) region of Donegal. Here the locals are bi-lingual and can be relied on to teach visitors a few words in Irish, accent included to!
It's not just the coastline to disover on this trail. Moving inland, the salmon-rich Owenea river stands leads to the market town of Glenties. Expect warmth, hospitality and pubs. A welcome end to your 73 mile trek.
But to simply label Donegal’s Appalachian route a ‘trek’ doesn’t really do it justice. Sean Murray believes the route to be almost mystical:
“Even when it's misty the atmosphere is magic – more so perhaps – you expect to see some ancient being approaching as you come over a hill,” Sean says. “Naturally I’m prejudiced but I'd say it's the best coastal/hill walk in Ireland.”
Mystical mists and happy hikers. Trust Donegal to bring the magic.