“ Please suggest your favourite attractions, which you’d like to review of course! Anything goes: e.g. a sight, a museum, a theme park, a castle, or any other places of interest to you. „
At the age of six I was obviously more interested in my ice-cream cone than I was in the back end of a dapple horse. It was a mistake, but at that age you don't listen to grown-ups. A swish of its long tail should have alerted me but when that failed, a hoof embedded in my thigh did the job. For two weeks I nursed a very bruised leg, for 30+ years I harboured a total dislike for anything equine and, to be honest, I really haven't been all that keen on ice-cream since it happened either. Having had such an experience at an early age it's not surprising that when pony trekking was suggested, while sipping a quiet beer, I immediately asked for something stronger! Now, I'm not one for balking at anything adventurist - abseiling, whitewater rafting, paragliding, scuba diving - you name it, I'll have a go. But riding a horse! It was summer and myself and a group of friends decided we would head for Donegal for a relaxing time away from work, husbands, kids; walking the dogs, strolling along the immense, unspoilt, beaches; photographing the amazing sunset and of course joining the locals at the end of the day for a sing-song and a bevy. Everything was going to plan until someone suggested we should re-enact The Magnificent Seven and I was left with only one response - "Yeh. Sure. Great. But I think we'll have problems booking, so next time we're here...". I was outvoted. Next day we headed for the stables. The horses had been recommended and trained for actions and for voice - if this was meant to provide comfort it wasn't working. I suggested that it may rain and that I should drive behind with appropriate clothing, failing that I could always stay behind and wash the dishes, wash the dogs, wash the brick work. No deal, I was going. The stables weren't quite what I expected. They were more relaxed and welcoming - not Lady Tara at Home Farm (Emmerdale watchers will
understand) - but equally as clean and cared for. The stable hands gave me a hat, checked my footwear and reassured me that many people feel a little trepidation when they face such a magnificent beast. Having had my pep talk, I strolled out with the confidence of John Wayne only to come face to face with the belly of my transport - Robert. I gazed skyward in order to make eye contact and immediately fell in love. Robert turned out to be the most gracious of animals, cleverly chosen by Geraldine, the owner of the stables. She had sensed my fear and teamed me with a horse that would read and understand my emotions and never take advantage of my lack of confidence to show off. Tes, he did make me trot and even canter for all of about five seconds before I pulled the mane from his skin but all in all it was an easy re-introduction to horses. We rode for a few minutes along the side roads before entering dep into the lanes and pathways that jigsaw through the West Coast of Donegal. For an hour or more we sailed along admiring the sky, the sea, the foliage and our own aptitude as competent trekkers! Some of us talked through the problems that had been on our mind for a long time while others preferred to stay silent and indulge in the quietness of reflection - each of us allowing the moment to take over. It was an adventure that only Enid Blyton could have created in her good old days of the Secret Seven and I felt so priveledged to be there. Towards the end of the trek, I rode like a pro: one hand on the reins, the other on my hip and my eyes scanning the landscape. I had never imagined that I could do it, let alone enjoy it. A brief encounter with a discerning horse, a very understanding guide and magnificent countryside had cured all ills. A few months later, I returned - by then the memory of painful taut muscles, saddle weary bum and the fact that I had difficulty getting off the horse at the end of the trek, h
ad all but vanished. This time I organised the event myself and didn't care that it was a miserable rainy, cold October day. Having to wear a Spaghetti-Western style poncho along with a Polo monkey hatwasn't a problem, neither waas facing the elements; what really mattered was the exhileration and sense of achievement associated with being part of nature. Donegal is a truly amazing place, full of exciting and contradicting experiences. There, you can be whoever you want to be and be totally accepted by the locals. The barrenness of its landscape holds its own beauty and no matter what time of the year, the air clears the head and focusses the mind. I'm heading back there in the spring to complete a two day trek across the mountains, so if you see someone riding high on the back of a large beast, wearing well padded cycling shorts and a huge grin - do give me a wave. _____________________________________________ Further information on pony trekking in Donegal, including addresses of stables, can be viewed at the following web site; http://www.domainireland.com/dlact_trekking.html General information for Donegal can be viewed at; http://www.goireland.com/donegal/ _____________________________________________
I have heard tales of “God’s Country” and it’s utopia of green fields; breathtaking scenery and mythical mysteries but I’ve never believed in fairy tales…err…well…na, I won’t go that far! However, having visited Donegal I can understand why Ireland has such a reputation for it’s outstanding beauty, hospitality and of course, story telling. I’m about to take you on a trip I recently made to Donegal and I fear it’s only a fraction of what Donegal and Ireland has to offer – my apologies to all those effected by my ignorance. However, this is what I got up to (steady!) for 2 days. Enjoy! DOAGH FAMINE VILLAGE (Doagh Island, Inishowen) I don’t normally enjoy exhibits or museums, but if I do enjoy one it’s normally because it’s visually interesting or I learn something quirky. For example, did you know that the phrase “to snuff it” (as in dying, non-existing, gone forever kinda-thing) originates from the Irish Catholic tradition at wakes, whereby a plate of snuff was (and still is in some places!) laid on top of the deceased’s stomach, and those paying their respects would take a pinch whilst celebrating the life of the relative or friend. Good eh? That’s one of the quirky things I did learn (I hope that comes up in a pub quiz someday!). This isn’t exactly a museum however but a replica village, where each building (or hovel) illustrates the homes of Donegal inhabitants over the last few centuries. Our tour guide related stories to us of the Irish potato famine and the lives of both Protestant and Catholic inhabitants: both communities having to face the same hardships that were brought about by natural disasters. There is a small cluster of buildings as you enter the village though, that are original. One, we were told was once occupied by our guide’s family up until 1983. It was a one roo
med house: bedroom, kitchen, living room all in one – I didn’t see any toilet facilities though – I didn’t like to ask! The Doagh Village venture is privately run and gives an insight into Ireland’s past and relates quite fittingly to the present (famine in third world countries, poverty and religious divisions). The commentary by our guide was very precise and entertaining with many anecdotes and stories of superstitions. It was only £3 and included a tea/coffee and biscuits, or a slice of Irish wheaten bread! MALLIN HEAD (Inishowen) Forget John O’Groats and Land’s End, Mallin Head is a sensational point on the Donegal coastline. It is famously the most northern point of Ireland (including Northern Ireland). The unusual thing is that it hasn’t been overrun with the usual tourist trappings. As you drive up there are various points where you can park and admire the coastline scenery: with the green hills on one side and the jagged rocks submerged in the fresh sea on the other, it really is a spectacular site. One thing I did notice was the smell, which was fresh and salty. “That’s how it’s supposed to smell”, I hear you say. Well, unlike British resorts I didn’t smell any pollution. There isn’t a great deal at the top of Mallin Head, except the spectacular views and the history – so if it’s tacky tourist shops you want, forget it! There’s an old lookout tower and a couple of small bunkers. Yes, these were imperative to Ireland’s defence during wars in order to spy the enemy. Interestingly enough there’s also an arrangement of white rocks as the hill descends to the cliff. The arrangement spells ‘EIRE’, again during World War Two, this was used to notify the German’s that they weren’t about to bomb Scotland or England, but lovely Ireland. Very considerate, don’t you think? Others have follow
ed this trend and other groups of rocks spell the names of more recent visitors to Mallin Head. From my two days in Donegal I was amazed by how unspoilt it all seemed. The scenery and culture of Ireland reminds me a little of Cornwall, but unfortunately as with other British resorts, even there has submitted to the garish commercialism and tacky-Blackpool-style arcades and souvenir shops. Towns such as Cardonagh remain small and friendly and popular visitor areas don’t seem to attract crowds of people. Our guide at Doagh Village said however that Ireland had changed since its membership to the EU in the 1980’s. Money has been ploughed into Ireland, and travelling through Donegal I noticed housing developments being built in some areas. Modernisation and progress are one thing, but ruining a rare, unspoilt place such as Donegal is another. We shall see.