22. Melmore head

The Atlantic Drive is a loop of narrow road that starts near the seaside village of Downings and circles the Rosguill peninsula. To tourists it is a lovely scenic coastal drive, to motor rally fans it is one of the best tarmac rally stages in Europe, and to walkers it is home to the Melmore Head coastal route. What makes Melmore so enjoyable is that it provides maximum reward for not too much effort. There is really only one substantial climb and when it comes to scenery, boy does it deliver! There are spectacular views of Mulroy bay, Fanad and even Malin to the east, while to the west you can see Horn Head and Tory Island as well as Muckish and Earagail in the distance.

There are different ways of walking the head, but the route outlined here is the one we normally use as it gets a bit of road walk done at the start. To get to the trailhead, as you approach Downings from Carrigart, turn left onto the Atlantic Drive about 0.6 km short of the village and climb steadily past the golf holes and through an area of holiday homes. Continue on the twisty road for 2 km until you see the Singing Pub on your left. Now be alert for a right turn that has signs for ‘An Meail Mór’ and ‘Trá na Rossan’. Take this turn onto a narrow road that winds downhill then past the left turn for Trá na Rossan beach (One of the most beautiful in the country, though not safe for swimming.) and across a piece of open ground to park on a patch of grass at the next junction.

The first part of the route is on tarmac as you head off northwards past holiday cottages and then the larger of two caravan parks. Note that this road can be busy in summer so be alert! as you approach the second caravan park there is a gap in a fence that allows you to walk across a lovely little beach and through a gate at the other end before walking on through more mobile homes until you see a wide grassy track to the right.

Follow this track to where you will find a gate with a stile. Cross the stile carefully and head to the right where you will pick up a small path. You can now follow this path round the head in an anti clockwise direction. There is one small climb after which you will see an old ruin near the cliffs on your right. Keep to the left of it and follow the path on round to return to the gate and style you crossed earlier. You should see a small beach to the right.

Here you have an option to shorten your day by simply retracing your steps southward back to the caravan parks. However, to quote Chris Tarrant, ‘But you don’t want to do that!’. Instead turn right after the gate and pick up a path that climbs steadily above the small beach until you come to the first of a number of sheep fences you will encounter. Look for a low point and cross carefully. It is essential to respect these fences and leave them, and the low stone walls below them, undamaged. You now walk westward, keeping to the higher ground if possible, through a slight dip and on toward a flat open piece of ground ahead. Descend near some sheep enclosures and through gaps in the walls and slightly south west to cross the this flat open ground.

Your target now is another stone wall that you will see clearly ahead. Climb slightly upward to this wall and follow it toward the sea until you find a style. Once across this style you have arrived at Boygheeter Beach, also know as The Murder Hole. Major photo op here as you are looking at one of the most remote and pristine beaches in Ireland. Be warned, it is not safe to swim here due to dangerous undercurrents.

Just above the beach we now pick up another narrow path that leads along a steep face where some care is needed until you reach an obvious slope. Look back at the Murder Hole before striking out on the climb! you will soon come to a sheep fence and after crossing it its time to turn west and climb the small mountain that is capped by a cairn and offers spectacular views of the north Donegal coast. At this point you should also see your car to the south and all that is left is to descend carefully toward it. You may need to skirt some small cliffs and cross more fences before you come down to a rough road that leads you back to the trailhead.

  • Trailhead: 500m past turn for Trá na Rossan strand.
  • Facilities: There is a small shop at Boyce’s caravan park in summer season.
  • Distance: Approx 9 km.
  • Time: 3 hours.
  • Ascent: Little on first section. Considerable climb to the summit after Boygheeter beach.