Trail: Glencolmcille Tower Loop, Co. Donegal
Terrain: Minor roads, boreens, mountain paths and tracks
Duration: 3 hours
Trailhead: St. Columba’s Church, Glencolmcille. Parking at the Church of Ireland just off the L5005.
Recommended Gear: Hiking boots, rain jacket, water, snacks
Situated on the Sliabh Liag Peninsula at the south-west point of Donegal, Glencolmcille really is a uniquely stunning part of the country. With a dramatic coastline and picturesque hills and peaks, this virtually untouched corner of Ireland has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.
So if you’re contemplating where to go and what to do for your next trip away, this year make it a point to try explore our own island a little deeper. Why not opt for an invigorating break of a trek through Ireland’s wildest regions.
To convince you, we’re taking a look at one of the most stunning walking experiences along the Wild Atlantic Way: the Glencolmcille Tower Loop in Co. Donegal.
Located along some of the most epic stretches of the Wild Atlantic Way, the Glencolmcille Tower Loop starts off in the Gaeltacht village of the same name, named after St. Colmcille.
Colmcille resided in the valleys of Glencolmcille, and you can still see the ruins of several churches today.
Given that the village started off as Neolithic settlement, it’s no surprise that the Tower Loop is peppered with historic monuments, including Megalithic tombs, St. Columbkille’s Well and a Napoleonic Watch Tower.
This hike is the highlight of any short break in the area and the summit truly offers some of the most breath-taking views in the country.
It’s the remoteness of the region that makes it so appealing as a relaxing short break destination, where you can really feel that rare sensation of being far removed from civilisation. The Glencolmcille Tower Loop is very accessible - if you’re coming from Ardara, take the R230 and you’ll arrive in the village of Cashel in the parish of Glencolmcille in just 30 minutes. For those coming from Teelin, take the R263 and you’ll be in the village in about 15 minutes. The trail begins at St Columba’s Church in Cashel and there's ample parking available in a nearby car park within sight of the church.
The trail itself
Starting at the trailhead at St. Columba’s Church, you’ll complete this 10km trail in less than three hours as you ramble across boreens, mountain tracks and minor roads.
From the church, you’ll walk 400m towards Ionad Siúil Hill Walker’s Centre, and you’ll then be following the blue arrows along the Murlin River for the first kilometre or so. Then, you’ll start your ascent. It’s not too taxing a walk at this point, but you may find yourself getting a little puffy as you begin to climb. The views of the Sliabh Liag Cliffs that will come into sight about twenty minutes into the walk are a perfect excuse to stop and catch your breath as you take in in the beauty of your surroundings.
The towering crags of rock and gargantuan cliffs are not the only sights to behold on this walk – as you follow the arrows uphill after passing Biofán Farm, you’ll find St. Columbkille’s Well. People leave trinkets and offerings here as legend has it St. Columbkille blessed the well after finding his missing prayer book impaled on the antlers of a deer he saw drinking from this hole in the ground.
While the Signal Towner is always in your sight, it is just slightly off the path as you approach and it’s crucial that you make the short detour out to the Signal Tower itself from here. This is where it gets a little steep – so take a deep breath and watch your footing as the ground gets a little soggy amid the heather beds.
The views from the Signal Tower are some of the most breath-taking in the country. Miles and miles of expansive ocean stretches out in front of you. This 19th-century lookout tower, which was erected to watch for an invasion by Napoleon, marks roughly the halfway mark of your loop.
This is the highest point of the trail at over 2,000 feet above sea level. If you turn southwards from the signal tower, you’ll be looking out towards the Sliabh Liag Cliffs and the impressive drop down to the ocean – a whopping three times the size of the Cliffs of Moher.
Here, enjoy a break before following continuing to follow the blue arrows and starting your descent through the Beefan and Garvross slopes. The storied history of this location really comes to life as you descend through turf and heather with just the sheep as company.
As you follow the track downhill, you’ll come to a Cross Pillar on your left. You won’t miss it – it’s a two-metre tall monument with carved designs on both sides, and dates from somewhere between 700-800AD.
You’ll take in sweeping views of the village below as you make your way back towards the church passing more reminders of a time gone by – cross pillars, tiny stone chapels, and various other monuments that hint at the rich spirituality of the mountain glen.
The smell of salty air, the sound of crashing waves and the sight of near-mythical wonders will have the rejuvenating effect you crave from a short break on the Wild Atlantic Way.
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Staying in Ionad Suil is a great choice for accommodation during your short break.
Located within walking distance of the village of Glencolmcille, Ionad Suil offers en-suite rooms with the option of self-catering or bed and breakfast.
Each room is complete with linen and towels, and guests can also enjoy the communal lounge area, which has leather couches and a stone fireplace.
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Staying at The Rusty Mackerel in Teelin during your short break is always a good idea because it really has it all.
Fáilte Ireland awarded this place five stars for its incredible standard of comfort and quality, so you’re in for a pleasant stay here. Famed for the traditional music and friendly atmosphere that can be found downstairs in the bar, you won’t have to stray far for a great night's entertainment.
It's also an excellent dinner spot to try during your short break, but more on that later...
For some great deals on your stay, check out The Nesbitt Arms in Ardara. Having recently undergone major refurbishments, this boutique hotel has all the modern conveniences and little luxuries you need for a relaxing break away.
It's also a real hub of activity whenever Ardara has one of its many festivals throughout the year, so if you stayed here you'd be right at the heart of all the craic.
Glencolmcille: Home to around 1,500 people, this town nestled in the rugged landscape of Southwest Donegal guarantees one thing: a sense of peace and relaxation. The area features beautiful hills and lakes, as well as stone walls and quiet country roads, so it really is one of the truly unspoilt corners of Ireland. It is also known as one of the oldest spots in Ireland due to its ancient dwelling sites, Megalithic tombs and the stones inscribed with crosses which show signs of early Christian settlements.
Teelin: With a population of about 300 people, this Gaeltacht village may be small but it's definitely worth a visit. Having started as a thriving port, it was actually one of the first settlements in Ireland to appear on maps. Nowadays it's better known for fishing, scuba diving and traditional music. If you're here for a flying visit, be sure to check out the beautiful monument to the Teelin Monks and admire the view of the Sliabh Liag Cliffs from the pier.
Ardara: Home to about 700 people, there's a powerful sense of community in this village. It's certainly not a sleepy kind of place, in fact, there's always something to look forward to around here, with a calendar that's chockablock with events to enjoy, such as the Ardara Bluegrass Festival, The Big Summer Charity Barbecue and Wild Atlantic Week. When you make your short trip to the Glencolmcille Tower Loop, be sure to check if any fun events are happening in Ardara at the same time.
If you’re the type to stare open-mouthed at natural sights, you need to see the Sliabh Liag Cliffs, one of 15 Signature Discovery Points on the Wild Atlantic Way. With a sheer drop of 2,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean, these spectacular walls of stone are three times as high as the Cliffs of Moher.
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While you're here we highly recommend that you pay a visit to Silver Strand Beach at Malinbeg. This secluded stretch of sand is found within distinctive horseshoe-shaped cliffs, so it’s no wonder that this is counted as one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland.
History buffs will adore the Folk Village at Glencolmcille. Here you’ll find replicas of dwellings found within rural Ireland in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, giving you a glimpse into a simpler time.
Do your bit to support local craftspeople by checking out Donegal Designer Makers in Ardara. It’s a lovely spot for picking up unique gifts that have been imagined, designed and handmade in Donegal.
After you’ve feasted your eyes on the sights of the surrounding area, now it’s time to feed your actual belly at the Tearooms at Glencolmcille Folk Village.
This adorable spot serves up a variety of freshly baked goods, which are made on-site every day, with a selection that includes fruit and brown scones, Guinness cake, apple tart, chocolate cake, homemade soup and brown bread, sandwiches, cold drinks, teas and coffee.
If you time your visit to the Tearooms really well, you might even catch a traditional music Irish session while you're here.
Another great eatery nearby is The Rusty Mackerel in Teelin.
If you've just spent a day doing a 10km walk while battling the elements on the Wild Atlantic Way – come dinner time, you're gonna be absolutely ravenous. The grub in this place is bound to hit the spot, as they serve up generous portions of oven-baked fillet of salmon, surf 'n' turf, and traditional fish & chips.
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If you fancy heading for a pint in Glencolmcille, then check out Roarty’s Bar, which has the kind of warm and welcoming atmosphere that Irish pubs are known for. There is also the occasional live trad band in Roarty’s.
For an old school kind of Irish pub, visit Nancy’s Bar in Ardara. Having opened more than 200 years ago, this family-owned spot has a homey vibe that appeals to locals and tourists alike. With its open fire, whiskey jugs hanging from the ceiling and friendly bar staff, everything about Nancy’s Bar is charming.
For spectacular sights, invigorating sensations and unforgettable experiences, make your next short break a walking break on the Wild Atlantic Way. Before you go, make sure you check out our 10 Genuinely Useful Tips For Going Hiking In Ireland to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable walk.
It’s always important to be respectful of the wildlife and surrounding environment, so make sure to leave the trail as you found it. Visit leavenotraceireland.org for more information.