A Walker’s Welcome
Walking in Donegal is one of the county’s greatest leisure amenities offering a wide variety of walks with mile after mile of breathtaking scenery on rugged marked trails and looped walks along enchanting coastal paths or among the famous Hills of Donegal.
We invite you to use Óstán Loch Altan as a base from which to explore and to enjoy the endless walking opportunities which surround us here in the village of Gortahork. The hotel is nestled between the towering presence of the Errigal and Muckish mountains on one side and the sweep of the broad Atlantic on the other. This is truly a walker’s paradise.
To help you to choose walks that would suit your particular level of walking fitness and experience we have compiled an extensive list of walks. We are confident that among this selection there are several walks that you will enjoy whether or not you are a regular or an experienced walker. The information piece on each walk will tell you where to start, what kind of walk is involved, how long it should take, the level of difficulty and some notable features for you to watch out for along the way.
If you decide to use Óstán Loch Altan as a base for your walking holiday, we will pleased to help you to plan your walks, provide you with a packed lunch to keep you going along the way and provide drying facilities for your wet gear if necessary. If you are interested in a guided walking holiday we can also arrange for a local qualified and registered leader to guide your walking group should you decide to stay with us.
Our friendly staff takes great pride in providing a very high standard of service throughout the hotel and will be happy to add to the enjoyment of your walking holiday. We look forward to meeting with you either in the bar, in the restaurant or as you relax in the foyer where you can recover and refresh after the rambles of the day.
For further information regarding local walks feel free to touch base with Seamus Doohan at http://www.walkingdonegal.net
Walk 1 -Exploring Sean Bhaile
Beginning/End: Óstán Loch Altan
Walk: Road Walk
Total Distance: 8 km
Elevation gain: 93 metres
Time: 2 hours approx.
This walk offers excellent views of the surrounding northern coastline and the mountains of Muckish, Aghla Mór and Errigal, as we explore the rich hinterland of Gortahork. From Killult, you can see the sleeping giant of Tory Island on the horizon as well as lovely views of Gortahork itself. Meandering towards Sruthán, charming traditional and modern houses pass us by. These quiet lanes are teeming with the flora of Donegal while the quiet is broken only by the calls of the swallows, house martins, skylarks, sparrows and crows which thrive here. Follow a portion of Bealach na Gaeltachta away from Sruthán and experience the solitude of the peatlands which are synonymous with the north-west of Ireland. Marching over Cashel hill and down into Bealtaine, we are given impressive views of the northern coastline as far as Bloody Foreland.
Leaving by the front door of Óstán Loch Altan, turn left and walk along the main road towards Falcarragh. After 400 metres, a path will rise sharply on your right which will be signposted as ‘Cill Ulta’. After a mile St. Anne’s church will be visible on your left. Take a right immediately at the church, where the path will rise steeply towards Sruthán. This path will lead to a crossroads marked by a shrine, take a right at this crossroads and continue straight onwards through Sean Bhaile. At ‘Sean Bhaile’ or Oldtown a fork in the road will offer a left hand turn signposted as Bealach na Gaeltachta. This path will lead us past houses, both modern and long abandoned, towards bog land. Continue to follow this quiet road where, after a kilometre, the road will bend sharply to the right where a cross in the road will appear. Take a right here and follow the road back towards Sruthán. At the next junction, take a left followed by right, where a narrow lane will lead us up a moderate incline towards Cashel Hill. After ascending and descending Cashel Hill you will come to another junction in the road distinguishable by a house entrance whose arch is that of a massive whale bone. Take a right here and descend towards the N56. When you reach the N56, take a right hand turn once more and you will arrive once more back at the hotel.
Óstán Loch Altan – St Anne’s Church – 1.4 St Anne’s Church – Shrine – 1.6
Shrine – Cashel Hill – 3 Cashel Hill – Óstán Loch Altan – 2
Tory Island, Muckish and Errigal Mountains, Horn Head and Bloody Foreland.
Places of Historic interest
The Lime Kiln, Sean Bhaile
Walk 2 – The Golden Sands of Magheroarty
Beginning/End: Magheroarty Pier
Walk: Drive/Beach Walk
Total Distance: 8 – 10 km
Elevation gain: 22 metres
Time: 2 – 2.5 hours
Magheroarty Beach is one of Ireland’s cleanest and most beautiful blue flag beaches, boasting 5km of white sands, towering sand dunes and clear blue waters. Furthermore, with few beach-goers it allows you to enjoy this idyllic area virtually undisturbed. As you walk, the islands of Inisbofin, Inisbeg and Tory Island are visible from the beach, flanked at either end of the horizon by Bloody Foreland and Horn Head. When you reach the end of the beach, you will have excellent views of the Seven Sisters and Ballyness Bay. The dunes themselves offer a surprising diversity of beautiful flora. Be sure to bring a picnic and swimming gear, weather permitting.
Magheroarty was voted as the third best windsurfing location in the world in 2007 and surfers from many parts of the world come to ride these great swells each year, particularly in the months of September and October.
As you leave the car park at the back of Óstán Loch Altan, turn right and drive along the main road. After about a kilometre, take the right hand turn signposted ‘R257’. Follow this scenic coastal road for approximately 5 kilometres and Magheroarty Pier and beach will come up on your right down a steep road. Parking is available in the car park by the pier.
From the pier a path leading towards the beach will be evident. The beach is crescent shaped, and the initial part of the walk will have you follow this crescent shape from one end to the other. This is approximately 4 Km in length. At the end of the crescent, the beach turns 90 degree to the right and you can walk along this section for another kilometre. If you cut across the dunes grass trails will be visible, often used by beach buggies. Follow these trails back through the dunes to the starting point at the pier.
Tory, Inisbeg and Inisbofin Islands, Muckish and Errigal Mountains, The Seven Sisters, Horn Head and Bloody Foreland.
Walk 3 – Falcarragh Beach
Beginning/End: Óstán Loch Altan
Walk: Drive/Beach Walk
Total Distance: 6 km
Elevation gain: 0 metres
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
It is the pristine waters, white sands and magnificent views which have made this one of the top beaches in the country. Despite this, the kilometres of sands here are unspoilt and peaceful making it an ideal location for those who wish to swim, walk or simply relax, read or picnic. This walk initially loops around the beach before breaking across the sand dunes to return to the car park by a quiet country road. For those who love the beach, the option remains to double back on the beach.
Leaving from the car park at the back of the hotel turn left and drive towards Falcarragh. In the middle of the town take the left turn at the crossroads and drive along that road for about 500 metres. At a bend follow this road to your left keeping the Cloughaneely GAA pitch on your right. Drive along this road for 1.5 Km until you come to a T junction and turn right. Drive along this narrow road for a further 1.5 Km and the beach car park will come up on your right
Tory and Inisbofin Islands, Muckish Mountains, Horn Head and Bloody Foreland.
7 Kilometres/4 miles
Walk 4 – Cashelnagore Station House
Beginning/End: Teach Ruairi
Walk: Mixed trail and road walk
Total Distance: 7.5 km
Elevation gain: 60 metres
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
The mild ascent from Teach Ruari will unveil the rolling, golden slopes of Fanaboy to the west. As you rise, the houses will thin and we will begin to enter the extended peatlands of upper Bealtaine. On the horizon, the old but refurbished railway station of Cashelnagore will appear. This was the station that served Gortahork when the train ran from Letterkenny to Burtonport The horizon to the south will be dominated by the visage of the Seven Sisters, most prominently Errigal, Muckish and the Aghla mountains. The road will then loop back to Teach Ruairi via rough paths crossing peatland and quiet country lanes, leading us back to the car parked at the starting point.
As you leave by the front entrance of Ostan Loch Altan, turn right and drive along the main road. After about 700 metres, take the left hand turn signposted ‘An Bhealtaine’. You will pass by the Parish Hall followed closely by the entrance to the historic Colaiste Uladh. Continue straight along this road, until you come to a fork in the road distinguishable by a shrine. Take the right-hand fork and continue on along this road until you reach a traditional rural pub, called Teach Ruairi. There is ample parking available here.
Walk southward along the road away from Gortahork. You will soon arrive at a fork in the road, keep to the left (signposted ‘ Ceardlann na gCnoc’. This is a Visual Art and Media Workshop) After 2 kilometres, you will arrive at a crossroads where the ruins of the old station house can be seen. Four pillars mark the railway crossing and the outline of a station platform is visible beside the refurbished station house. Immediately after you pass the railway station, take a rough road on your left. The direction of this road is north-east, which will result in you gently looping back around the railway station. This section is part of Bealach na Gaeltachta and you should continue along this path for approximately two kilometres (during which time the path will change to a tarmacadam surface) before taking a left-hand turn. Attention is required at this point since two left-hand turns appear within 20 metres of each other: the first left-hand turn is in a south-westerly direction and the second is in a westerly direction. Take the second.
Continue along this path for half a kilometre before coming to a T-junction, take the right hand turn. Take the next left hand turn and continue along this road until you reach a junction/forked road distinguishable by a shrine. Take the left hand turn completing the loop back to where you began at Teach Ruairi.
Muckish, Errigal and Aghla Mountains, The Seven Sisters and the refurbished Cashelnagore Railway Station House
Walk 5 – Along the Railway Tracks
Beginning/End: Teach Ruairi
Walk: Mixed trail and road walk
Total Distance: 12.75 km
Elevation gain: 106 metres
Time: 2.5 – 3 hours
As you leave Teach Ruairi behind you, you will make your way to the abandoned railway station of Cashelnagore. This remote station is nestled among the peatlands of upper Bealtaine, and as we wind through the townland of Cashelnagore, splendid views of Muckish, the Aghla horseshoe and Errigal itself. Walking from Cashelnagore, you will descend to the clearly visible remains of the railway line. The contrast between the bog and the blasted rock, where the path of the tracks was hewn out gives an indelible impression of the time, effort and determination which underpinned the construction of this railway line. The returning leg brings us through the ‘golden slopes’ of Fanaboy along aged hedgerows and traditional farmhouses. Crossing a picturesque bridge over the Glenea River will bring us back once more to Teach Ruairi.
As you leave by the front entrance of Óstán Loch Altan, turn right and drive along the main road. After about 700 metres, take the left hand turn signposted ‘An Bhealtaine’. You will pass by the Parish Hall followed closely by the entrance to the historic Colaiste Uladh. Continue straight along this road, until you come to a fork in the road distinguishable by a shrine. Take the right-hand fork and continue on along this road until you reach Teach Ruairi, a traditional rural pub with a long history. There is ample parking available here.
Continue southward along the road away from Gortahork. After 2 kilometres, you will arrive at a crossroads where the old station house can be seen. Four pillars mark the railway crossing and the outline of a station platform is visible. Continue straight through the four pillars along the road, ignoring minor roads to the left and right close to the station. This road continues towards the townland of Mín a’ Leá, distinguishable by a significant bridge which was a land bridge crossing over the railway line. The railway track here is heavily overgrown and impassable but keep an eye on the route which is takes because a path will soon lead down to it from the road. Approximately 400 metres after you cross the bridge, a breach in the wall will reveal evidence of a trail which will lead you through two circular pillars down to a walkable section of the railway track.
Although sleepers and track have long since been removed, follow the obvious track which the train once followed. Sections of this path may be water-logged, particularly after rain but where appropriate move to higher ground to avoid water. Continue along this path until you reach private property marked out by stakes driven in the ground. Avoid crossing this property and make towards the road (300 metres from where staked perimeter begins.) This section can be boggy. When you reach the road turn right. and continue straight along this road until you reach a T-junction after approximately 4 kilometres. Turn right and crossing an old bridge you will arrive at a T-junction marked by a traditional two-class rural schoolhouse of Cashelnagore. Take a left and continue straight until you return to Teach Ruairi’s.
Errigal, Aghla and the Seven Sisters Mountains, Cashelnagore Railway Station.
Walk 6 – Railway Walk from Creeslough to Falcarragh
If a walk through some of Ireland’s finest scenery, with little chance of meeting anyone or seeing any signs of modern development, is something which appeals, then this is the walk for you!
A section of the old Creeslough to Burtonport Railway line has been cleared and made suitable for walkers. This 6 km route to the Falcarragh station passes along Lough Agher and cuts through rocky outcrops showing some of the engineering feats involved in the construction of the original railway. From cuttings to embankments and stone bridges, to spectacular views of unspoiled terrain, the trail is simply beautiful.
Leaving from the car park at the back of the hotel turn left towards Falcarragh and continue straight to Dunfanaghy. Drive through Dunfanaghy towards Creeslough. About 7 kilometres on the other side of Dunfanaghy and just about 400 metres after the entrance to Ards Forest Park you will see Doe Cemetery on your left. Opposite the entrance to the cemetery there is a narrow road which leads up the hill towards Muckish. Continue along this road for a further 4 kilometres approximately, passing the large sand and gravel pit on your right, until you reach the point where there is a cattle grid in the road. Cross over the grid and continue slowly along this narrow road for a further kilometre until you reach the trailhead of the 8 kilometre railway walk to the former station house. You will see the walkers signs on the left. This is where the Railway walk to Falcarragh Station begins. Hopefully, you will be able to arrange for a friend or a family member to drive the car back to Falcarragh to arrange a pickup for you, if necessary, or you may wish to walk back to Óstán Loch Altan.
Walk 7 Dunlewey to Gortahork
Beginning: McGrady’s Pub, Dunlewey
End: Óstán Loch Altan, Gortahork
Distance: 8.5 miles/13.5 kilometres
Elevation gain: 72 metres
Time: 3.5 – 4 hours
This pleasant half day walk starts out in Dunlewey, under the eaves of Errigal, and passes through Cashelnagore and Bealtaine before descending into Gortahork, and to Óstán Loch Altan. Much of this route follows ‘Slí na Gaeltachta’ along quiet, winding country roads and offers a taste of the splendours which Donegal’s landscape can offer. Starting at the foot of Errigal, this path quickly rises and opens out into typical Donegal countryside. As we twist and weave through quiet bog and past dark lake, and over the occasional bridge, we continue to make our way towards Cashelnagore. To the west of our path, walkers may catch the occasional glimpse of an unnaturally flat and purposeful path where train tracks once lay between Falcarragh and Gweedore. So, they will not be surprised to come across the abandoned railway station of Cashelnagore. Moving on from Cashelnagore, the countryside opens up to reveal scenic rolling hills dotted with cottages. This valley is called Fanaboy, a name which derives from the Irish ‘Fána Buí’ meaning golden slope, emphasising the renown of this valley. Soon, the coast will come into view and on the horizon the outline of the ‘sleeping giant’ which marks out Tory Island. The further we move into Bealtaine, the greater the frequency we start to encounter houses. On this final leg expect to come across inquisitive dogs, as well as the odd donkey, on our way down towards Gortahork.
Leaving the hotel by car, follow the N56 towards Gweedore. Approximately 10 kilometres along the road, take a left-hand turn onto the R251 which will be signposted for Dunlewey. On the left-hand side you will arrive at a pub called Mc Geady’s. This is the starting point of the walk. To the left of Mc Geady’s Pub you will see a lane which has a signpost for ‘Slí na Gaeltachta’. This walk follows a section of the much larger ‘Slí na Gaeltachta’ route. During the first half of this walk we can follow the signposts for ‘Slí na Gaeltachta’, which will be indicated by a brown pole with a yellow way marker showing the direction you should take. Continue to follow the markers until you reach the railway station of Cashelnagore. The station house has recently been refurbished and has been rented out as holiday accommodation. Approaching the station house, the way marker will indicate a right-hand turn, but walkers should ignore this and follow the road to the left walking past the railway station. This road will lead us into Bealtaine and past Teach Ruairi descending back into Gortahork where we will meet up with N56 once more. Take a righthand and Óstán Loch Altan is 200 metres up the road on your left.
Errigal, Aghla, Tory Island, The railway station of Cashelnagore, House with whalebone