TAKE A DRIVE ON THE WILD SIDE
Ireland’s west coast offers a drive through spectacular scenery, castles and monasteries, fine golf courses and an open road all the way to Dublin.
As you fly over the United Kingdom, England’s fields are a patchwork of colours, but Ireland is a solid, deep green. Little wonder that it is known as the Emerald Isle. My journey to Ireland was to take me from Belfast, in the north, along the far western shores that face the open Atlantic Ocean – a 2,500km route now known as the Wild Atlantic Way – and ending in Dublin. The Way actually starts from Donegal in the north and finishes in Cork in the south. The route is well-marked and runs through villages, towns and cities, revealing some of the jaw-dropping scenery that frequently brings Hollywood movie makers to Ireland’s shores.
The journey begins quickly. Just 10 minutes from the small and efficient Belfast City Airport, you arrive at Culloden Estate, formerly a bishop’s residence and now a five-star luxury hotel and spa dating back to 1908. The estate retains a manor house feel, and a full Irish breakfast is the perfect start to the day. Belfast has seen a lot of development in the last 10 years, yet it still retains its sense of history. A museum dedicated to the Titanic is located on the shipyard in which the legendary ship was built. At night, bars that date back to the 1800s serve pints of Guinness amid streets lined with traditional gas lamps.
Filmmakers have loved Ireland for years. Recently the TV superseries Game of Thrones featured a spot north of Belfast called the Dark Hedges, a small farmer’s road with imposing, intertwining beech trees lined along either side. This extraordinary site serves as The King’s Road in the show. Private tours of this and other such locations can be arranged through luxury concierge firm Adams & Butler, which includes big name celebrities among its clientele and can arrange everything from helicopter transfers to genealogy research.
Travelling along the coast road, I head towards Portstewart, passing the Portrush golf course, the home course of Northern Irish golfer Darren Clarke and the location of next year’s Irish Open. I continue through County Derry in Northern Ireland and over the border into County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. Little changes as you cross the border – there are no checkpoints or gates, simply a change of speed sign from miles an hour to kilometres an hour, and the first signs of the Wild Atlantic Way. From here, you can explore the many loughs (lakes), bay and glens that make up the desolate but awe-inspiring coast of Donegal, a county worthy of exploration by car (supercar if you can manage it).
Find the full article in the February issue of The Peak.