Summer Visitors

I managed to sneak over to one of our main Donegal headlands just as lock down was coming to an end.  I was pleasantly surprised to see so many summer visitors who have flocked to our shores and have taken up residence along the cliffs for the summer. Thousands of sea birds.

It’s hard to remember seeing such big numbers of nesting birds along the cliffs so it just might be a bumper year for them. The main type of sea birds nesting at this site are Northan Fulmar, common Guillemonts, Shag’s, Cormorants,  hundreds of Razorbills and the odd stray Puffin.

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Luckily I did manage to get some snaps with the long lens from the sea kayak but not along the main cliffs as they were to exposed to the wind and it was impossible to keep position or stay upright holding the camera for long. The GoPro footage below gives a better idea of the number of birds flying about the place. I hope to get back out there  again a few more times before the summer is out to see and experience this amazing spectral again.

James.

Cryptic Grey Seal Sites West Donegal

By putting together my knowledge of grey seal pupping sites with Conor’s degree in Zoology from NUI Galway, we were able to get our research notes published in this years edition of The Irish Naturalist Journal  https://irishnaturalistsjournal.org/ 

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Entrance to a well sheltered grey seal breeding site

Little is known about the grey seal cryptic breeding sites dotted along the Donegal coastline and accompanying offshore Islands, and Conor and I thought it was about time that we changed that. Cryptic grey seal habitats are obscure sites (sea caves in this case) that are very difficult to access and observe, and as a consequence, are often missed altogether during seal population surveys. It has been reported that up to 45% of all seal pups birth are from cave sites,( Stringell et al.) so our research could provide valuable unsampled data.  

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Seal pup development at a cryptic site

We have so far identified several cryptic grey seal sites along the Donegal coastline, and we’re looking forward to investigating and researching all these sites in the future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to produce some more useful data soon! 

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Navigating through a dark sea cave

 

Donegal’s Rocky Whitewater Slides

High in the foothills of the Bluestack mountains you will find one of Donegal’s best loved kayaking secrets, a succession of several rock slides known affectionately as the Slabs. Getting the right water levels to run this section of river is notoriously tricky at the best of times and the Slabs are classed mostly as continues grade 3 white water and up to grade 4 on high water, so a good level of knowledge and ability is required to run this river. Here in this footage we are running the Slabs and the lower part of the river on medium water levels ( grade 3 ) Music is by Speckled Red. Enjoy the ride!

James.

Sunny Winter Surf

Winter can be the best part of the year for kayak surfing on the Atlantic coast of Donegal, below is some footage from a November kayak surf at a completely deserted Dooey beach. Not only is the sun shining but the water temperature is pretty good and some nice waves coming into the beach.

 

Gola Island Donegal

kayak on the rocky/sandy beach Gola Island Donegal

Sea kayak landing on Gola Island

Gola Island (Gabhla) is a mid-size island 2km from the mainland of Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) in N.West Donegal. Uninhabited since the 1960’s its peak population of approx. 169 people lived on the island in 1911-1926. Gola’s lost way of life and heritage remains in the form of stone cottages with original examples of Gabhla longhouses (the island’s vernacular cottage architecture). Although some buildings are derelict they are rich in history and people are starting to return to the island and renovate houses as holiday homes with the aid of recently installed mains electricity. During the summer months the population can swell up to 35 people or more and visitors can relax with refreshments from the cabin shop and admire the views.

Chart map of Gola Island Donegal

Gola Island map/chart

 

With its tranquil beauty Gola is starting to attract many visitors from walkers, cliff climbers, artists, photographers, birdwatchers and those interested in ecology. A short paddle over by kayak or boat ride on the the regular ferry ‘The Cricket’ which leaves from Magheragallan (Machaire Gathlan), Gweedore will take you to the island from Easter and throughout the summer months. Gola, one of the more accessible islands boosts many natural features  including pebble/sandy beaches offshore islands, sea stacks and caves.

 

 

Gola Island Donegal sea arch Scoilt Ui Dhugain

The sea arch of Scoilt Ui Dhugain

Highlights include a big sea arch ‘Scoilt Ui Dhugain’ at the North side of the island along with a memorial to islanders lost at sea. At the southern end near ‘Port na Crin’ there is a  harbour and the old school, this area attracts many different varieties of seabirds.  On the western side of the island there are fine examples of sea cliffs, sea stacks and caves. The popular ‘Twin Cave’ Buttress is about 20 metres (66ft) high of granite rock facing the Atlantic. The highest point on Gola is Knockacullen at 690 metres. Another highlight facing due west onto the Atlantic is the beautiful sandy beach – Traigh Mhachaire na nGall.  Gola has spectacular views of other nearby islands and of the mainland including ‘Errigal Mountain’ in the distance. The best time to visit the island is when there’s some movement on the sea as this makes the the island seem more alive and is well worth exploring.    

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Approaching the Island by sea kayak

Gola Kayaking.

There are many approach routes to Gola Island from any suitable get in location  (slipway or beach) between Bunbeg harbour and Bun an Inbhir harbour. A one way trip from any of those two points gives a great opportunity to take in all the islands in the Gweedore group in one memorable trip. A more simple trip can be had from leaving Magheragallan and then a straight forward paddle across to the harbour on the east facing side of Gola Island. This eliminates any tidal planning and tides at this point are fairly weak.  Magheragallan is subject to swell and the rocky beach and the slipway at Maghergallan can encounter some dumping surf, and  obviously beware of strong offshore winds when planning a return trip from Gola island.

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Traigh Mhachaire na nGall bay on the western side of Gola Island.

If you are a proficient and well equipped paddler doing the round of the island you would need fairly settled conditions as the south, west and north sides of the island are swell magnets and the back of Gola is subject to lots of movement so careful planning of the prevailing conditions is a must.

Paddling highlights include.

The paddle around Gola is quite contrasting from pristine sandy beaches to rocky  shallows on the eastern side, then cliffs, caves, sea stacks as you go around the Island and great views back to the mainland and the other Donegal Islands.

There is a shelf of rocks between the offshore Torglass  Island and Gola on the south side of Traigh Mhachaire na nGall bay ( Magheranagnll on os map and chart ) which gives a splendid inside passage into this beautiful bay with its west facing sandy beach which is a possible landing place on the western side of the island. On the northern side of the bay  there is a sea tunnel well worth exploring if conditions allow which has a tight corner so day light is not visible through to the opposite side. 

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Kayakers paddling through the sea arch of Scoilt Ui Dhugain on Gola Island.

On the northern side of the island tucked into a small cove and not easily found from seaward  is the impressive Scoilt Ui Dhugain sea arch and it’s possible to paddle through it if the swell will allow. The arch can dry out around low water.  

 

Enjoy your visit whichever way you travel to Gola Island. We will be reviewing our next Donegal Island soon and hope you will come along with us.

James and Angela.