Tags: waw audax, stage 6, rosses point, sligo, dungloe, donegall
Saturday, November 7, 2015 4:02:45 PMI had volunteered to cycle Stage 6 of the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), from Rosses Point, Co Sligo to Dungloe, Co Donegal. Pat Dease from Co Laois offered to join me and we arranged to meet at Dungloe on Saturday morning to leave a vehicle at the finish. After leaving Pat’s van in Dungloe we drove back, with the bikes (and Pat’s van keys) in my car back to Rosses Point. The road network across the middle of Donegal is not extensive and all in all it meant for a later than usual start, though the upside to this was we missed the early morning showers. We left Rosses Point in good weather and good spirits at around 11am.
Anyone familiar with the area north of Sligo will know it is dominated by the N15 and by the seemingly ever-present Ben Bulben. One is steeped in Irish legend, the other is a mountain that rears up like a ships prow…
The approx. 230km route is on mostly very good roads and can be broken down into three distinct sections: Rosses Point –Donegal Town; Donegal –Glencolumbkille; Glencolumbkille – Dungloe.
Rosses Point – Donegal Town, approx. 80km:
This WAW in this section mostly follows the N15 but does leave it for spells, including a short (out & back) diversion to Mullaghmore where the impressive castle and stunning coastline make this a worthwhile detour. The N15 has a wide and well maintained shoulder for most of the route from Sligo to Donegal Town so as far as main roads go, it is not a bad one.
At Bundoran the WAW leaves the N15 for longer stretches, such as that between Bundoran and Ballyshannon and then again after Ballyshannon where the route passes through Rossnowlagh, renowned amongst surfers and with a very nice pub/restaurant (Smugglers) on top of the cliffs overlooking the Strand. This section is dominated by the photogenic Ben Bulben and its neighbours to the east of the N15 and the coast is always visible to the west. On a good say, such as this was, you also get a good view of where you are heading, the bulk of Slieve League being clearly visible across Donegal Bay.
Ballyshannon and Bundoran are both large towns with a range of shops, cafes and other facilities should a stop be necessary along this section. The rest of the route has very few places to refuel, particularly if you are passing by late in the day so Donegal Town might be a worthwhile place to refuel and grab some sleep, with an array of hotels and B&Bs, and a bus shelter for the hardiest souls. We stopped for a coffee and sandwich and pushed on to the next section, which I was looking forward to.
Donegal –Glencolumbkille, approx. 80km
The WAW leaves Donegal Town on the N56, an unpleasant road with less shoulder than the N15 and seemingly more traffic heading to and from the large fishing port of Killybegs. There are short detours away from the N56 but not many and although there are great views back across Donegal Bay and even to the Mayo coast on a good day, it was good to reach Killybegs.
Killybegs provides the first chance to stock-up after Donegal Town and the harbour front is interesting with many large trawlers in and out. After Killybegs the R263 provides a much more enjoyable journey as we head into a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) region. At the village of Carrick we leave the road to follow the WAW on another out & back diversion, but one that is a must as you travel up to the cliffs of Slieve League. Thankfully the road doesn’t go all the way to the top (601m) but its high enough and gives a great view of the cliffs and Slieve League’s knife-edge ridge. There is a short section of 20% gradient but it is mostly manageable (“middle-ring”, I think they call it!).
We head then back to Carrick to pick up the road to Malin More, another out & back diversion to Malin Beg (we didn’t cycle this out and back leg due to our late start and the gathering darkness) and onto Glencolumbkille. Glencolumbkille is a pretty little village but does not have much in the way of retail outlets. We found a small village store where we were able to get the basics. There are not many ATMs in this part of the country either so have some cash with you.
Glencolumbkille – Dungloe, approx. 70km
The climb out of Glencolumbkille is a long one with gradients in the mid-teens but the view over the shoulder back to the coast and the lights of the village below more than make up for it. After a descent on a decent road surface, with the odd wandering sheep, the road rises again to Glengesh. I had been anticipating this climb ever since seeing a road sign for it when leaving Glencolumbkille; you know it has to be something if it has its own sign-post. This is a good climb, never unmanageable but would be a challenge after 5 or 6 days on the WAW. The occasional passing cars (mostly white Citroen vans) were spinning wheels and struggling for traction on the steeper sections. The descent, with some fantastic hairpins, would be great fun in daylight; it was still fun in the dark but the heart rate may have been a little higher!
The WAW then runs through the town of Ardara, where provisions are available and a few places seem to be open late in the day. The road here undulates on a good surface and passes along or close to the coast all the way up to Dungloe. Dungloe is another small town with a good high street for refuelling and as some of our Audax Ireland friends will already know, it is also home to the world famous Daniel O’Donnell visitor centre.
Overall Stage 6 of the WAW is on good road surfaces and as I suspect is the case with all of the WAW, includes stunning scenery. There road is mostly undulating but with a few notable and enjoyable climbs. The towns, particularly after Donegal Town, are well spaced out but if travelling this section late in the day you should ensure that you have enough food and water with you..and don’t rely on finding an ATM if you need one. Finally, we were blessed with a great day but on a wet and windy day this is an exposed route with no tree cover for shelter.