We woke up to a cloudy, foggy, cold Irish morning, not at all what we had been hoping for when we set off to climb Mount Errigal in Donegal County. But there really is nothing else to do in Dunlewey, so we went anyway. Our bag was full of snacks for the trip, and we were prepared to head out the door, with instructions to ‘just go around back, and you’ll see the path up the mountain!’ This, we learned quickly, was not exactly accurate information. Or, perhaps it was, and we were just really confused. Either way, we did not find the path. Instead, we made our way down the road, keeping to the shoulder, which sounds like it would be boring, but we were surrounded on all side by rocky, curved-top mountains, seven in all, and a perfect view into the valley below, with the fog gradually lifting from around the little stone cottages to reveal the small river flowing between them. We were very much hoping to find the path around the next bend. Or the next one. But no luck.
We did, however, find a little road leading into a small collection of farmhouses and cottages, and complete stillness, except for the distant sound of chickens roaming in a field, and a small dog which barked at us as we passed his house.
We saw absolutely no one until we reached the crumbling remnants of a stone church.
The roof had been removed years prior for safety reasons, and there was no glass left in the windows. But straight through what would have been the door, one could look directly through to the river on the opposite side.
The church, which was built by a loving woman for her husband, is apparently a major attraction, one so major that we’d not even heard of it. But we were pleased to come upon it, and spent a while wandering the small grounds, gazing out into the distant bay, and enjoying the silence of a tourist attraction, with no tourists.
Having greatly enjoyed our unplanned detour, we returned to the main road and attempted once again to find the path up Errigal. Turns out, the kind of clear, marked path that we were envisioning did not exist, or we never found it. We started up the mountain at an arbitrary place on the road, just past the big rock with the sign for Dunlewey in Gaelic. The climb wasn’t bad, for probably three-quarters of the mountain. Grassy, winding, pretty views of the surrounding hillsides and the valley below.
Although a bit foggy, the weather cooperated for the most part, and we did not get rained on. As we neared the top, what little path there was disappeared, and the grass turned to gravel, then sharp rocks all the way to the top, getting steeper before plateauing slightly.
What we had been told was a gentle, hour-long walk up the hill was in fact more like a four-hour effort, path-free. When we reached the top, although the views were excellent, and we could see all the way around, into the valley on one side and the little towns on the other, we were also greeted by hikers with proper footwear, some lovely warm-looking jackets, and walking sticks! We were up there, freezing, with our rain coats and regular walking shoes, feeling like we had seriously missed the information session on how this should work.
And when we asked the properly dressed hikers if they knew where the path might be, they informed us that we were on it, and it was the one and only way up and down the mountain. Very puzzling. Not exactly what I would call ‘tourist-friendly’. We will know for next time.
Also for future reference, plan to spend most of the day hiking Errigal. Bring good shoes, more snacks, and a really warm jacket. When coming back down, try not to fall on the slippery rocks and rip the only pair of jeans you brought to Europe, and do not do as Rachel did and put your foot in a giant, hidden hole in the ground and turn your ankle. No good will come of that.
Because we had expected the adventure to take half as long as it did, we had purchased tickets on a bus leaving early that afternoon. Of course, the timing of that posed a bit of a challenge, as it was already past noon. So after climbing slowly down the mountain (of course the sun came out as we reached the bottom), we ran back to the hostel, grabbed our stuff from storage and walked… back down the road (there’s only one). We were told the bus would pick us up “at the store, just round the corner.” We found what we thought was the store, though no one seemed to know if there would be a bus. And we waited. And waited. And felt a bit like we had been fooled again, by these people who don’t mark their trails and have little sense of time. We stood at the side of the road and watched two vehicles pass us in an hour, both of which had drivers who looked like they would have picked us up, if we’d asked. Eventually, a small shuttle bus arrived. The driver looked thrilled to have passengers, and happily drove his bus – empty, but for us – down the long winding roads, giving us more spectacular views of another section of countryside.