The International Appalachian Trail in Ireland
Anyone setting out on the famous Appalachian Trail in the USA knows the long journey ahead. But did you know that the journey ends on the other side of the Atlantic? In Donegal and Northern Ireland, in fact
Ulster’s International Appalachian Trail
It’s 2,200 miles long; it is roughly 300 million years old, and it’s the only trail in the world to span an ocean. It’s safe to say that the Appalachian Trail isn’t your average walking route.
Separated by tectonic shifts millions of years ago the once-shared mountain ranges of North America and Europe are again linked for walkers and hikers by the International Appalachian Trail. From its origins in Georgia, the trail eventually reaches land again in the most spectacular way: Donegal’s Slieve League Cliffs.
Starting your journey
Slieve League boasts some of the highest cliffs in Europe with the Leagues path leading up to nearly 2,000 feet. That’s almost three times the height of Ireland’s other scenic cliffs in County Clare – The Cliffs of Moher. Close to the summit of Slieve League is the Eagle’s Nest, boasting the type of birds-eye views the name would suggest.
From the Slieve League cliffs, the trail continues through Donegal crossing the birthplace of an Irish saint: Columba. The trail brings hikers down from the cliffs to the sandy beaches of Silver Strand and Maghera.
That same path takes in a chunk of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region of Donegal. Here the locals are bi-lingual and can be relied on to teach visitors a few words in Irish, accent included too.
Both history and beauty await you, as the journey continues through Donegal’s Bluestack Mountains. Here you’ll discover the remains of an ancient 6th-century Christian settlement and as you head north you pass through the stunning English Valley home to the scenic Lough Eske.
After crossing Kelly’s bridge into Northern Ireland, you learn that it is much more than just the trail that links Ulster to the Appalachian Mountains, it is also centuries of emigration! At the Ulster American Folk Park in County Tyrone, you can relive the story of Ulster families search for new lives in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of America.
As the route continues you head north bringing you to Northern Ireland’s largest Mountain range, the Sperrin Mountains. Here majestic beauty and rugged wilderness collide to produce truly stunning results. So much so that National Geographic included it in the 101 top scenic drives in the world but make sure to keep your eyes open for more than just the Sperrins majestic scenery, because dotted along these rolling mountains lies traces of gold, hardly surprising considering it is home to a gold mine!
Causeway Coastal Route
At the end of the Sperrin Mountains, the route begins to drop down along Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route. Here you’ll pass Mussenden Temple, built on the cliff edge in 1785. The local’s ancestors must have quite literally loved living on the edge of life because a short detour from the route leads you to another cliff edge phenomenon in the form of Dunluce Castle. This medieval castle is perched on the edge of a crumbling cliff, above pounding waves. It’s easy to see why it provided the inspiration for Antrim author C.S. Lewis to create the castle of Cair Paravel in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Proceed along the Antrim coast and you reach the stunning geological wonder of the Giant’s Causeway. This World Heritage Site has caused many a debate over its creation; scientists claim that it’s a lava-generated, geological oddity. However, local legend tells that it was created by a giant and once reached all the way to Scotland.
After the Giant’s Causeway, you’ll reach another one of Northern Ireland’s finest attractions- the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This swaying little bridge that hovers almost 100 feet over a dramatic chasm may be perfectly safe but that doesn’t stop it from raising the hairs on the necks of those who dare cross it.
Source: Appalachian Ireland | Ireland.com, http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/walking-and-hiking/destinations/r