Our first full day in Ireland started off with a drive north from Belfast up to the North Antrim coast.
Along the way we stopped to check out the location used to film the King’s Road in Game of Thrones, the Dark Hedges. We ran into a handful of folks with drones and tripods so it felt pretty touristy, but we were on our way quickly after.
The best part of that little detour was finally getting off the highway into smaller rural roads. I died for the stone walls covered in brambles and flowers. So thankful we chose to come in spring! This route also gave us our first taste of sharing said tiny roads with other vehicles – even a giant bulldozer at one point!
We then made our way up to the Giant’s Causeway, which we’d been looking forward to ever since watching this great video guide to Ireland from Vagabrothers. It was windy and cold, but we arrived right at low tide. We had heard this was key to seeing the most of the rock formations. That, and getting there before the tour busses started dropping off for the day. We climbed the stair step columns out as far as they’d let us go, then sat and stared out at the ocean together. It was one of those places that you never want to leave or forget, and I hope we don’t.
Back into town, our next stop was Bushmills Distillery, the oldest in Ireland. We love ourselves some whiskey, and while Jameson’s was my favorite before this trip, we were fully converted to Bushmills by the end of the tasting. We didn’t get to do a tour of the actual distillery, but the tasting room attendant gave us a great overview of their process while explaining the different options. Definitely recommend it if you’re in the area.
From there we continued down the coast, stopping in Letterkenny for groceries (we lovingly dubbed it Murderkenny after battling rush hour and nearly getting in an accident at a poorly designed intersection). Here we had our first trip fight! Real talk – vacations and logistics are stressful and communication is key. Also eating on a normal schedule, because low blood sugar can really kill morale quick.
Once we left Letterkenny, it got wilder by the mile. Small creeks and streams passed through sheep farms into valley lakes, flanked by rolling hills and fog. It felt like a combination of Texas Hill Country and Oregon’s forests, with rolling hills and tall grasses interrupted by dense evergeens.
An hour or so later we made it to our long-awaited Donegal Airbnb listing, a tiny cottage surrounded by sheep farms deep in the wilds of Donegal County.
Our host Pete gave us a quick tour, noting it was a “bit blowy” out and hoping that we’d get a clear view of the valley at some point in our two day stay. The little cottage was the embodiment of every wistful dream we had of what Ireland could be. Wood fire already going strong, lime-washed stone walls and restored wood floors, gorgeous views from the sofa, and a skylight above the loft bed. Pete explained that he and his wife Anna renovated the cottage from an old barn and lived there for two years while fixing up the main house. The property also has another small cottage – all hand built by him – with a sod roof and gorgeous views of the surrounding valley and hills.
We ate sandwiches for dinner and fed the wood stove. Restless as ever, Daniel pulled me back out into the cold winds for a trek through the boggy fields around the house. We picked our way through, hoping it’d dry up a bit as we got higher, but that’s not how Ireland operates. Bog is bog. We turned back and grabbed more firewood on our way, then just relaxed and read by the fire the rest of the night.
Tomorrow: A trip to the highest seaside cliffs in Europe – Slieve League