This part of Donegal has frequently been described as a walker's paradise. In Robert Lloyd Praeger's famous 1937 book (the environmentalist's bible) called The Way That I Went, he wrote ..."The best county to walk in, in Ireland, is Donegal". He also went on to describe Horn Head as ..."the finest headland in Ireland".
There is local acknowledgement that there are many fine walks, at all levels, in the county but the jewels in the crown were almost a well kept secret and like so many wonderful natural amenities in this, Ireland's "forgotten county", walking as a recognised outdoor activity has largely been underrated, undeveloped and largely undiscovered or confined to the realm of 'mountaineering', for specialists only.
In recent years there has been a trend to reverse this neglect and it was about mid-2000 that I was encouraged to and wrote a little booklet ... describing simple, country-lane walking that could be enjoyed within a five-mile radius of Dunfanaghy. In 2010 I revised, enlarged and reprinted it, calling it Rambles and Ramblings of a Blow-In and it has become a very popular little publication within the local area.
Walking, Hill Walking and Mountaineering.
It's important at the outset to distinguish between these terms for two very important reasons: one to do with safety ... and one to do with encouraging the greatest number of people to partake of and enjoy some physical exercise, particularly in such a beautiful area as this is.
To deal with safety first ... one should never forget that although, by international standards, our mountains could rightly be categorised as hills, they are killers (literally) of the unwise who do not appreciate the dramatic changes of visibility and temperature which take place with little warning due to our exposure to the Atlantic weather systems. A modicum of common sense, good footwear and clothing and a little training or leadership could help avoid such fatalities.
Secondly, despite years of training and experience, both in the military and in 'civilian' mountaineering, my greatest ambition is to entice as many people as possible to undertake some form of walking. It was with this in mind that I firstly understood to write the local Walk Guide fifteen years ago and more lately to help establish some Loop Walks on the magnificent but privately owned landmass called Horn Head and ... to revise my personal skills and official qualifications by completing a Walking Group Leader course.
If anyone wishes to undertake some gentle strolling they need only purchase the inexpensive, Rambles and Ramblings of a Blow-In. Next on their agenda might be to undertake the first bit of what was the Mc Swynes Gun Loop Walk ... a 9.3km trek in magnificent scenery which has, sadly, been closed. If intending to undertake the more challenging but highly rewarding Muckish or Errigal mountains then I would recommend hiring one of the excellent local guides or taking some local advice on weather conditions, routes, etc.
I, myself, delight in bringing small groups on short outings to Tramore beach where my priority is that the experience should be Safe, Informative and Enjoyable. Be aware that a lot more time is spent introducing people to the history, mythology, botany and spirituality than it is to a head-down, onward rush to 'do' the walk.
For more than two years I had been badgering poor John Murray, of the Irish national radio station, RTE Radio1, to bring his JMS Walking programme to Dunfanaghy. He finally relented and the show was broadcast live from outside Arnolds Hotel, in incredibly sunny weather, on the morning of 26 July 2012.
Onward and upward
With local land-owners generous permission, two more Loops were to be laid on, on Horn Head, in 2013, to open up the northwestern side, where the magnificent sea-arch, called the Marble Arch, is located and the northern tip of the Horn itself but sadly our direct link to that was destroyed when one land owner at MySwynes Gun exercised his legitimate right to opt out of the scheme. Let's hope this issue can be resolved because some people still walk the coastal circuit as before, without permission or acknowledgement of the landowners generosity or vulnerability.
Crocashee dominates the whole local landscape and is a very important and powerful ancient site. It is accessible from the Coastguard road and the landowner there is generous in his tolerance of visitors but please bear in mind that this is private land and I suggest that even greater respect is due because the summit contains the ashes of several generations of his family. Crocashee means 'hill of the faery', and given it's size, shape and location, it's not inconceivable that it is still a significant esoteric site, which has recently been attested to by the renowned earth healer and current recipient of the UNESCO Artist for Peace Award, Marko Pogacnik.