Tag Archive Wild Atlantic Way

Wild Atlantic Meditation – Harness the Power

Roger Holmes No Comments

Wild Atlantic Meditation brings me home. It brings me to myself. Something magically transformative occurs when meditation is combined with  the power and serenity of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the Donegal coastline on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

I meditated for the first time high on a clifftop, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, at Port and Glenlough in Donegal. The seascape views from up there are simply stunning. That initial experience inspired me to create this blog, and embark on a journey of self-improvement and discovery. Id like to share a little of that Wild Atlantic Meditation experience with you.

After crossing the Atlantic over and back for two years while Yesi and I dated, following our October 2016 wedding in Donegal, I moved to New York City and we eventually decided to set up our home from home in the city that never sleeps. That move hasn’t been easy. There are times when I feel like a bird in a cage. When you go from wandering on remote coastlines, enjoying the fresh Donegal sea air, to living in an apartment in Queens, New York, you need to have something to ground you. I miss home, I miss family and friends, and I miss the powerful healing affect of those winter storms as they roll in from the Atlantic. But Wild Atlantic Meditation brings me back almost every day – back home and back to myself.

I often close my eyes and imagine that I am in the ocean, watching as the winter swells in the Atlantic send perfect waves rolling towards one of Donegal’s many beautiful beaches. In what I have come to call Wild Atlantic Meditation, I play the scene in slow-motion within my mind. As a wall of water starts to build to create a wave, I breath in, feeling the power generated by the wave standing up against a stiff offshore wind. I feel the power behind that breath as it fills not just my lungs, but my whole body and mind. I imagine the ocean smells and the unique freshness of the air on the Donegal coastline.

As the wave reaches the point of no return, I pause the scene, and hold my breath for just a second, right as the first white tips are appearing at the top of the wave. And then…aware of the power that it has created within itself, I let go. The images play slightly faster now, as the wave crashes forward under its own weight and momentum. As this happens, I breath out. Often, as I imagine the white horses galloping forward towards the coastline, I mimic the sound of the cascading water by blowing out through my lips. I maintain that breath and sound until the white foam has washed up on the sandy beach. I imagine how refreshing that wash up onto the beach is.

There is then a moment of complete serenity, before the water eventually succumbs to the back rip, and I again imagine that I am out beyond the break point, watching another wave building in tandem with my breath. Waves in a good swell often come in sets of seven, with the middle five being the most intense. I normally never make it to number five. After three or four deep breaths in tandem with imagining the waves breaking on the Donegal coastline, I am able to reach a meditative state. And it is pure bliss.

One of the interesting findings from oceanology is that waves do not actually move any matter most of the time. The water mostly remains in situ, and it is the energy which is transferred from one place to another. Perhaps only at the top of the wave as it breaks, and as the last foam reaches the high point on the shore, does the water actually move. I find that interesting when I think about the theory behind Wild Atlantic Meditation. The energy crosses the ocean, even if the matter does not. I like to compare the harmonic motion and oscillation created by energy moving across water, to the transformative affect it has regarding meditation.

I arrived in New York City as winter was taking its grip, and Donald Trump had just been elected to the office of president. As the winter wore on, and Yesi and I decided that I would file for a green card so that we could stay together in New York, there was a serious air of uncertainty creeping in. There was (and still is) much talk of stricter immigration policy. It would have been so easy to get down about it, especially since I am sitting around in an apartment most of the time, as I do not yet have permission to work. But Wild Atlantic Meditation has eased that intense feeling of uncertainty, and made the transition and the waiting manageable.

I don’t think it is coincidence that I draw solace from Wild Atlantic Meditation. For tens of thousands of years, water has played a pivotal role in human development and improvement, especially in a spiritual capacity. Water rituals are used in just about every organized religion. We flock to the ocean to get away from our busy lives, be it on vacation or on a day trip. We sit by it, walk in it, swim in it and sail on it. The salt water is one of the best natural healing aids for a variety of dermatological conditions. But I believe the ocean can also cleanse and heal our minds in the same way or better than it heals our skin.

We don’t know what the future will hold. We don’t know if I will be allowed to stay in New York. But while waiting for news, and while unable to physically travel home for a visit, I do a ‘Spancil Hill’ or ‘Lake Isle of Inishfree’ by sitting down peacefully in Queens, New York, and using Wild Atlantic Meditation to take me home to Donegal. Perhaps not in body, but certainly in mind. But unlike the homesick rhetoric in ‘Spancill Hill’ or the Lake Isle of Inishfree’, I am not hankering to travel home alone at some undetermined point in the future. It is very much in the now. I am there while I am here. And I am here while I am there.

Sleep in a 200 year old Irish Lighthouse!

Roger Holmes No Comments

It is the stuff that dreams are made of. Literally! Donegal, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, now offers visitors the chance to sleep in a world famous, 200 year old lighthouse. ‘Land Ahoy!! – Fanad is open for business.’

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The iconic Fanad Lighthouse in Donegal, Ireland. Sleep in a 200 year old lighthouse on the Wild Atlantic Way!

 

When it was completed in 1817, the sole purpose of Fanad Lighthouse was to keep people away from the trecherous rocks at the mouth of Lough Swilly. Now the iconic tower is inverting that purpose; luring visitors from all over the world. Having been handed back to the local community by Irish Lights, Inter-Reg funding was secured and Fanad Lighthouse is now well on it’s way to becoming the shining light on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Three homely accommodations are available; ranging from the cozy and romantic Dunree View, with it’s wood burning stove, to the country-styled Tory Island View which includes a queen-sized bed. A stone-flagged patio offers a fantastic location for summer sunset barbecues or panoramic coffee mornings.

Fanad Lighthouse storm

Fanad Lighthouse, Donegal, Ireland, on a stormy day on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Just picture the scene. You could spend your days strolling along Ballymastocker beach (which was once voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in the world). Or playing a round at the majestic Portsalon Golf Club. Or marveling at Great Pollet Sea Arch, taking surf lessons or a fishing trip, or generally exploring the many beaches and attractions on the Fanad Peninsula. As the evening closes in, you get drawn back to your dream cottage by the sea, like a moth to a streetlamp. After dinner and a nightcap its lights out – and lights on.

In the afterglow of what can often be a spectacular sunset over the Atlantic, you can cast your gaze northwards, watching out for an Aurora Borealis display. They have been known to be quite impressive up in these parts. North Donegal is a great place to star-gaze. The Milky Way is often in clear view too, as shown in the image below, taken by Joe Langan in August 2015. But now, it is the moment that you have been waiting for – it is bed time in 200 year old Fanad Lighthouse, on the Wild Atlantic Way.

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All The Way! Bedtime under the Milky Way, on the Wild Atlantic Way. Fanad Lighthouse, Donegal, Ireland. Image Credit: Joe Langan

After you have stoked the open fire to bring a warming flicker to the room, imagine drifting off to sleep, soothed by the sound of the Atlantic waves breaking on the rocks at the lighthouse foundations. All under the mesmeric reflections of the rotating beam overhead. The fresh air and exercise from your daytime adventures, coupled with the hypnotic sights and sounds, will send you into a deep peaceful sleep. It is time to live that dream.

Allow yourself to drift off aboard your pirate ship, sailing two miles due north in search of lost treasure at The Laurentic site. En route from Liverpool to Halifax Nova Scotia during World War 1, the armed merchant cruiser was hit by 2 German mines and went down with the loss of 354 men. The Laurentic had been carrying a secret cargo of 3,211 gold bars, worth a cool $450 million in todays money. By the mid 1930’s most of the bullion had been recovered. All with the exception of 22 gold bars, which are said to be awaiting discovery on the sea bed, within sight of Fanad Lighthouse. A dream payday of $3m should help you sleep easy.

The sound of the ocean lapping the lighthouse, may guide your dream towards that perfect wave you have always wanted to surf. Donegal is a fantastic surf location, and lessons are available at many of the great locations nearby. Or maybe a sea-kayaking adventure, as you search for local fairies or smugglers in the many coastal caves of this rugged coastline. Perhaps you will dream of rowing out to meet the killer whales, basking sharks and friendly dolphins, which have been spotted in this area.

Speaking of Jaws, horror movie fans may get subconsciously transported via their dreams to Point Reyes lighthouse in California, where many of the scenes for John Carpenter’s 1980 movie The Fog were shot. Or to Shutter Island where you join Leonardo di Caprio in hearing his fate at the lighthouse. The more romantically inclined may meet him in their Titanic dream. You might also spare a melancholic thought for the reliable lighthouse keeper of long ago, who was here on his own, on stormy nights, with his supply of paraffin and an eagle eye. He and other heroes like him had many lives in their hands.

The more adventurous visitor could try to time their stay to coincide with one of the many Atlantic storms which batter the Donegal coast every winter. The big waves just off the lighthouse can hit some dizzying heights, and in the right (or wrong) storm, send spray against the panes of glass in your bedroom window.

More likely, given this idyllic location, your dreams will be tranquil, consisting of happy beach days spent walking barefoot by the waters edge, gathering shells and star fish, of picnics and sandcastles. Poetic license may even allow you to meet a Donegal seahorse or mermaid. Whatever it is that you dream of, you can now dream it in Fanad Lighthouse.

Awakening fully refreshed  and motivated, you might take up the opportunity of climbing the 79 steps to edge yourself out onto the suspended platform which surrounds the base of the light – 150 feet above the ocean. From up here, the views over the North Donegal coastline and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, will leave you spell-bound. Selfie sticks at the ready!

The Fanad Lighthouse renaissance, when complete, will include accommodation, access to the tower, guided tours, tea-rooms, a visitor’s center and increased car parking space. There will also of course be an abundance of information available relating to this richly historic and naturally beautiful area.

For 200 years, Fanad Lighthouse has been an iconic image in North Donegal, and for miles out to sea. Now it’s powerful beam is reaching the 4 corners of the world, penetrating dreams, luring visitors to the North Atlantic, where the wild gets put in the way. Fanad is now also a quirkily outstanding new attraction on the Wild Atlantic Way. For many it will be a dream come true. Sleeping in a 200 year old Irish lighthouse will be high up on a lot of bucket lists. What was once a danger averting tower, is now a dreamy lullaby projector. This, is the world’s first dream-inspiring lighthouse.

Sweet dreams!

Wild Atlantic Way – The Signs are Good for Donegal

Roger Holmes No Comments

Donegal has for a long time been the poor relation among the counties of Ireland’s western sea-board in terms of tourism revenue. Be it as a consequence of peripheral remoteness, lack of infrastructure, geographic proximity to the formerly troubled Northern Ireland, or simply due to a lack of marketing, Donegal has been lagging behind its southern counterparts. However, the ‘forgotten county’ may soon be seen and appreciated by millions of people around the world, if the new Wild Atlantic Way signs have their intended impact.

Fáilte Ireland, is to be highly commended for its vision and marketing prowess when conceiving the Wild Atlantic Way brand. Linking Ireland’s most northerly point at Malin Head to the Old Head of Kinsale in the south, via the entire Atlantic coastline, has been a master stroke. The points of interest, hidden gems and seaside towns along the route have since seen a year on year increase of 10%  in overseas visitors.

While Westport, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren and Killarney have traditionally been magnetic tourist hubs, the Wild Atlantic Way aims to get the more adventurous holiday-maker out along the entire west coast of Ireland.

The first wave (pardon the pun) of rollouts from the Wild Atlantic Way project were the updated road signs which help to guide visitors along the meandering highways and byways. The next project milestone was the marketing blast. Fáilte Ireland was very specific regarding their target audience, with huge campaigns launched in North America and Europe, where there is already a palate for Irish vacations. There have also been escorted promotional tours for Asian journalists and bloggers, who have since brought the Wild Atlantic Way into the hearts of millions of potential visitors from newer markets.

By mid-summer 2015 the landmarks themselves received their first aesthetic upgrade, with the erection of unique identification signs. There has been some criticism regarding their visual protrusion. Any protrusion however, is owing more to marketing strategy than design flaw.

The boxed metal signs which incorporate the Wild Atlantic Way logo and the name of each landmark, really do scream out to the visitor: ‘Hey! Photograph me! Show your friends where you have been, and collect photos of the many other signs too!’

This is really clever marketing by Fáilte Ireland. They are using the actual product to market itself. It encourages visitors to capture the names of the places in their photographs, giving the places a very definite identity, a link to a successful brand, and they encourage the visitor to collect photographs at the other locations too. There is no need to ‘check in’ photographs, as this is not so much about digital tagging. It is physical tagging. These tourist photos will be seen by millions, and the name of the place is right there in the shot. Also, for the tourist, the lure of the signs is a bit like football stickers; if a kid gets a few then he wants them all. From this point onwards, you won’t just visit Westport or the Cliffs of Moher, you will visit a single point on the Wild Atlantic Way.

This connection between the unique places and an overall brand is of particular benefit to Donegal. The Cliffs of Moher currently attracts over a million visitors per annum. The other tourist hubs of the west bring that number higher still. If only a fraction of those tourists become aware of Donegal’s undoubted natural beauty and many attractions as a result of the identification signs, then suddenly there is a captive audience. For marketeers, having a captive audience as the result of state sponsored advertising is like shooting fish in a barrel. If 1 million people like to visit the Cliffs of Moher in a year, then selling other cliffs under the same brand should not be problematic.

The spectacular sea cliffs at Sliabh Liag, which are among the highest in Europe, are an obvious attraction. Banba’s Crown at Malin Head has natural beauty combined with the distinction of being Ireland’s most northerly point. Fanad Lighthouse now offers tourist accommodation and the prospect of climbing to the top of the lighthouse itself, where the panoramic views are among the finest on the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

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Fanad Lighthouse, in north Donegal

Lighthouse at St John's Point

Lighthouse at St John’s Point

St John’s Point, which remarkably juts 7 miles out into Donegal Bay, Rathlin O’Birne Island just beyond Sliabh Liag, Inishtrahull Island off Malin Head and the quaint seaside at Stroove all have picturesque lighthouses which are well worth exploring.

Donegal is famed for the many outstanding beaches on its staggering 772-mile coastline. Blue Flag beaches are to be found at the ‘back strand’ in Falcarragh, the shorefronts of Buncranna and Bundoran, at Coral Beach on St Johns Point, at Dooey near Lettermacaward, in Downings, Fintra Beach near Killybegs, Five-Finger Strand (which is home to the largest sand dunes in Europe), the beach near singer Daniel O’Donnell’s home in Kincasslagh, at Kinnagoe Bay where some of the Spanish armada washed ashore, Magheroarty Beach where you can catch the ferry to Tory Island, Murvagh, Pollan Bay near Ballylifin, the surfers’ paradise at Rossnowlagh and at Tra na Rosann.

Ballymastocker Bay near Portsalon, was voted the 2nd most beautiful beach in…wait for it…THE WORLD! Yes you read that right. Ballymastocker was bettered only by a beach in the Seychelles. To put the other beaches of Donegal in perspective, many local folk would not even consider Ballymastocker the most beautiful beach in Donegal! That gives a good indication as to the calibre of beach in the county.

With at least 25 further top quality beaches, among them Bunbeg – home to the iconic Bád Eddie which appeared in a music video by U2’s Bono and Clannad  (1.5 million views on youTube). Donegal has arguably the finest stretch of coastline in all of Europe for diverse, naturally beautiful and unspoiled beaches.

The real beauty is that on any given day, you will have them all to yourself. Indeed, Donegal man William Holmes is so impressed by the splendid remoteness of Tramore, to the west of Dunfanaghy, that he has renamed it ‘Solitude’. Access to this heavenly beach requires a peaceful 1.5 mile trek through forrest and over some of the most expansive sand dunes in Ireland.

Donegal also sits at the top table in terms of golf courses. Murvagh, Naran and Portnoo, Rosapenna, Portsalon and Ballylifen are undoubtedly world-class links courses, and the region also includes some fine parkland courses; notably Barnhill in Letterkenny.

If this wasn’t enough, you can venture further off the beaten track to find some of the most amazing coastal locations that you will ever visit, such as Port and Glenlough, with its barren and breathtaking cliffs, stacks, caves and sea arches. Should the coastline leave you overawed, you can venture inland to the wonderful Glenveagh National Park, climb Mount Errigal, or take a shopping day in Letterkenny which was voted Ireland’s Tidiest Town in 2015. The lovely village of Fintown, where the Foyle and Finn sources are found, snuggles into the northwest face of the Bluestack Mountains, and offers a chilled-out train ride along the serene Lough Finn.

Further up in the Bluestacks, Lough Belshade, one of the most untouched places in all of Ireland, offers the more adventurous campers the chance to really get out into the wild. The Poisoned Glen in Dunlewey is another geological marvel. Best seen from the summit of Errigal, Poison Glen, or Heavenly Glen (take your pick depending on a one letter variation in the Gaelige name ‘An Gleann Neamhe’) is steeped in fairytale and folklore, and even has its own resident ghost – The Green Lady. Geologically, this glen, is a fine example of a glacial corrie (or cirque). In fact, most of Donegal is of geological interest, with many of the area’s mountains and valleys cut from the same retreating glaciers that shaped the Scottish Highlands. There are several examples of raised beach systems which act as a museum on Ireland’s tectonic timeline.

Perhaps history is your special interest. If so, then the 6th century home of the Gaelic Kings at Grianan of Aileach will fascinate you, as will Rathmullan – scene of the flight of the earls in 1607. Kilclooney Megalithic Tomb, near the bustling town of Ardara, is one of the finest such examples in Ireland. Beltany Stone Circle in Raphoe is believed to be two and a half thousand years old. The county is also richly populated by castles and forts, for example Doon Fort, which is built upon a clearly defined crannóg on Lough Doon,and is 4000 years old.

So why, you may ask, is this wonderfully beautiful, unique and welcoming county not on the bucket list of every visitor to Ireland? Well, the term ‘forgotten county’ refers to Donegal’s position on the island, and to the subsequent political and social isolation which occurred after the Republic of Ireland emerged from the fallout of the War of Independence and the Civil War. Donegal is bordered mostly by Northern Ireland, sharing only a 10 mile connection with the rest of Republic of Ireland, and is more than 40 miles from its nearest provincial Republic of Ireland neighbor. Donegal has approximately 3 times as much border with the Atlantic than it has with the rest of Ireland. (hence the county has so much potential as a Wild Atlantic Way destination). Donegal’s social, economic, political and geographical position is a complex subject, and is perhaps better explained by viewing a map.

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Letterkenny, marking Donegal’s place on the map. Note the tiny border Donegal shares with the rest of the Republic of Ireland en route to Sligo, and the county’s long Atlantic coastline.

 

During The Troubles, Donegal suffered greatly due to the hesitancy of many people to venture near the border. Were it not for the sporadic trading upturns as a result of a favorable currency exchange rate against Sterling, things would have been much worse. Donegal is now a fashionable getaway location for many people from Northern Ireland, with the towns of Buncranna, Bundoran, Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy benefiting in particular. But overall, the county has a very different tourism demographic and history compared to its southern compatriots.

A large percentage of the overseas visitors who do come, are actually returning Donegal emigrants. These are the people who have for decades been forced to leave their beautiful home due to economic stagnation, when ironically, actual real tourism could have helped towards keeping them at home.

Traditionally, the overseas tourists who journey along Ireland’s west coast, and often as far as Donegal Town and Sliabh Liag, stop short of continuing their adventure through to the beautiful peninsulas of north Donegal. In many local peoples eyes, this is akin to visiting Las Vegas, and not going the extra little bit to see the Grand Canyon.

When the Wild Atlantic Way was launched, many people in Donegal, especially business owners, were optimistic regarding the prospects of finally getting to take their rightful place on the tourist trail. As outlined above, the area has so much to offer the visitor. The product is there. Donegal is renowned for its friendly people. Visitors to ‘the hills’ probably receive a few more than the usual ‘cead mile failte’  that the rest of Ireland is famed for.

With the arrival of the identification markers and the internet and social media marketing which will follow, Donegal may finally be seen by more overseas tourists. While debate regarding the best locations on the Wild Atlantic Way is subjective, it is certainly the case that when all of the pictures of the new landmark signs are shared and viewed by millions of people around the world, Donegal can certainly stand tall and proud. Thanks to the Wild Atlantic Way, the signs may be good for Donegal at last.

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