9am: Start at Killala
Get ready for a 30-mile drive that will take you thousands of years back in time. Starting in Killala, on the River Moy estuary, grab your morning cuppa in The Kiosk Café on Market Street, before exploring the fifth-century Round Tower, a 75ft limestone icon, which you might expect Rapunzel’s hair to tumble down from at any minute. Note the doorway set 11 feet above ground — access ladders would have been pulled inside to protect against marauders.
10am: Drive to Downpatrick Head
Set the satnav for Downpatrick Head, where a towering sea stack named Dún Briste stands around just 80 metres from the cliff edge. The Irish name means ‘broken fort’ — a storm is said to have snapped it from the mainland in 1393, with stories of stranded locals rescued using ships’ ropes.
11.30am: Stop at the Ballinglen Museum of Art
The museum in Ballycastle showcases works by artists-in-residence inspired by these wild Atlantic landscapes. Afterwards, grab lunch at Céide Ladle’s food shack nearby. Locally caught mackerel served with salad and homemade brown bread should slake any road-trippers’ hunger.
2pm: Head on to the Céide Fields
The visitor centre (open March to November) interprets the oldest-known stone-walled fields on Earth — a patchwork of Neolithic fields nearly 6,000 years old that mostly lie buried in blanket bog. Poet Seamus Heaney described the place as “a landscape fossilized”.
3.30pm: Take the local road from Belderrig to Portacloy
The end point Carrowteige is a short drive from your starting point in Killala, but the brevity is deceptive, with smaller roads, hidden beaches and jaw-dropping views tempting you into stops and detours along the way. One option is to take the local road from Belderrig to Portacloy — an almost ghostly, hilly agricultural landscape where you’ll pass through swathes of cut bog dotted with grottos and ruins. It’s the beauty and sadness of the west coast in summary form. Off-peak drivers could easily have Portacloy beach to themselves.
5pm: Enjoy a scenic walk along the coast
There are lots of walking options along the coast, but a short loop on Benwee Head, near the Irish-speaking (Gaeltacht) area of Carrowteige, offers real bang for your buck. Check out the heaving seas, sheer cliffs and the Stags of Broadhaven rocks offshore, before finishing up in Carrowteige or returning to Kilala.
To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine click here. (Available in select countries only).