Guest Blog by Joy Harron
Relatively new to sailing, I excitedly began my journey in the MalinWaters region of Western Scotland. I wanted to expand my horizons and experience sailing on the North Coast of Ireland, which offers world class sailing waters for all abilities and so close by. Ireland was my first choice port of call for my adventure in the shared maritime region of MalinWaters.
Having researched marina facilities and moorings on the North Coast of Ireland, I was very impressed to learn that in recent years significant investment as part of the EU INTERREG funded Sail West project has delivered a high quality network of sailing destinations all along the coast, perfect for weekend and longer cruises.
Along the north coast of Ireland, there are seven marinas between the cities of Belfast and Londonderry/Derry, with no more than 20Nm between any two, so the whole coast can be explored in a series of day sails. We are quite new to sailing, so this was very appealing and we were ecstatic to have the opportunity to visit.
Departing Scotland we arrived in Belfast Lough, which is home to two of the largest marinas in Northern Ireland, Bangor and Carrickfergus with approximately 800 berths between them. We chose Bangor Marina due to its close proximity to Belfast City. We wanted to explore the Titanic Exhibition and SS Nomadic, as Belfast City has a rich maritime history that we were keen to discover.
A short distance northwards along the Antrim (Causeway) coast is Glenarm, a smaller marina close to the ferry port of Larne and only a day’s sail from the southernmost Inner Hebridean islands of Gigha, Islay and Jura. This was the next stop off point on our journey. We could not miss the famous Giants Causeway and even braved Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge! On our way back to port we stopped off for a tour of Bushmills Distillery and a wee dram of whiskey!
We stopped off at Rathlin Island and Ballycastle Marina, both picturesque villages that charmed us on our very first visit. Further west we called in on Portrush Harbour with its 40m pontoon, we were safe and secure for the night. Portrush is traditionally a seaside town, but with plenty to see and do all year. Some of Northern Ireland’s most beautiful beaches are here and the town is famous for its excellent surfing. For us a relaxing evening at the Harbour Restaurant followed by some live traditional music was the perfect end to our day.
We had heard so many wonderful things about Derry-Londonderry on the banks of the River Foyle that we simply had to visit on route to Donegal. Foyle Marina, recently upgraded was the perfect stopping point for us and all the facilities and services we needed were available there. A Visit Derry bus tour of the city really brought home the history of the city and was a very thought provoking view of the past, present and future of this cultural Mecca in Northern Ireland. After browsing the many wonderful craft shops and coffee in Austin’s famous department store, we returned to our boat.
Departing Lough Foyle we crossed from Northern Ireland into Ireland.
There are no border restrictions or customs, as both countries are part of the European Common Travel Area. Having crossed the border to Ireland, the deserted white sandy beaches, jaw-dropping landscapes, excellent seafood and quiet cosy pubs of Donegal awaited us. The major marina in County Donegal is in Lough Swilly at Fahan, which means 'sheltered place' in Irish. The marina is about 12Nm up Lough Swilly from the open sea and a further 2Nm up the sheltered Fahan Creek. 200 fully serviced pontoon berths have been installed with plans to raise to 400 berths. Pontoon mooring facilities are also available throughout the summer at Rathmullan.
Whilst visiting Fahan we explored County Donegal and the wider North West region, by sea and land. ‘Sliabh League’, the highest sea cliffs in Europe offered stunning views of the surrounding coastline and the crashing Atlantic waves below on the Wild Atlantic Way. This brought us to the end of our unforgettable journey. We decided then and there to return and next time travel even further west of Lough Swilly where anchorages at Tory Island, Burtonport, Killybegs, Mullaghamore and Sligo would provide the safe havens we found so welcoming on our tour of the North Coast of Ireland.