In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here).
We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for a book on the artist to write this post but it only had a couple of sentences about his visit to Ireland so the delay was unwarranted.
Sturral, Donegal by Rockwell Kent
Rockwell Kent enjoyed Donegal and had originally intended to stay longer. He stored his larger paintings in Annie McGinley’s family home in Port (see my previous post about Port) but he actually spent most of his time in the neighbouring valley of Glenlough. He rented a old barn (byre) from hearing-impaired farmer Dan Ward. He lived in it with his second wife, Frances, and used it as his studio. The paintings of the views from Glenlough, especially of the bay and the giant sea stacks, are quite remarkable.
Welsh poet Dylan Thomas later stayed in Glenlough in the summer of 1935. His stay didn’t go too well, he found the soliditude difficult to bear and he described himself as “lonely as Christ”. He left without paying his bills (although his editor later paid them).
Following in Rockwell Kent (and Dylan Thomas’s) footsteps is easier said than done. For a man who loved to visit and paint inacessible and elemental places in Newfoundland, Alaska, Terra Del Fuego and Greenland, maybe this should not be a surprise; even a century later.
Glenlough is an anomaly in this modern world. It is a lost valley. It’s located on the lip of a gale-swept edge of north-west Ireland. It’s an inacessible part of a very remote county. No one has lived there for more than 30 years. There is no road in and no road out. There isn’t even a footpath. The local farmers ride the curves of the rough landscape on their quad bikes.
There is a song “The Road to Glenlough” by fiddler, James Byrne, from near by Glencolumbkille, Donegal. The title must be some sort of joke as there is definately no road to Glenlough. I know, I have looked very hard for it. You can find Glenlough Bay on a map. Here. Where that red tag is.
Map of the North of Ireland – the red tag marks Glenlough Bay, Donegal
Google confidently suggests that route to Glenough Bay is quite straight forward. The straight white dotted line should immediately suggest wild over-confidence on the part of AI. Compare it to the dotted blue line, which is the single track road to An Port. This road/track does not exist.
We decided to (sort of) follow the coastline from Port and climb up the very steep hill to Glenlough. The map only gives you a hint at how truly rough and rugged the terrain is. Its all elevated upland bog with and massive bolders dropped by glaciers thousands of years ago. The first part of our “walk” invovled a scramble up a steep path strewn with rocks (see photo below). I had my walking poles with me and I clambered up this section like a weird four legged beast. I have a lot of pins and screws in my left leg from a bad break I had two years agao, and this section terrified me. I would not have done it without the additional help from the poles.
We first passed the remains of the village of Port.
The climb up hill seemed to go on for ever. Up and up. First we followed sheep tracks upwards. The sheep aren’t very interested into getting to Glenlough and so we were on constant lookout for ways upwards in the right sort of direction. The sheep track kept vering off to the left and right. I had never walked somewhere where there was no human path before. I found it quite exhausting looking for a way up. The ground was springey underfoot. It’s bogland. It was mostly dry. It was one of those cimbs where you keep expecting to reach the brow of the hill but there’s just more boggy incline, going up and up!
Eventually, there were spots where we could pause and take our bearings. The view was something else.
I haven’t mentioned that it was very windy too. We stayed away from the cliff edge. He sat in the shelter of a dip in the landscape to eat our sandwiches and look at the view towards An Port.
Dont go too near the edge!
Finally, after a lot of walking when we were thinking of turning back, it appears. Our view of Glenlough Bay. We stand and gawp at it in wonder. It is vast and the colours are vivid. The colour of grass on the stacks is an intense green, the colour of the sea is a cold blue. The sea water is very clear and you can see the massive boulders on the raised beach from up here. It is hard to covey how stunning it is in a photo or a painting. We watched the shadows cast by the clouds pass over the landscape. It was mesmerising. The last time I starred at a landscape in such wonder when was when we visited the incredible Grand Canyon.
I wish we could have got closer but we were already very tired and decided to come back another time to go down to valley of Glenlough itself. I am not sure I am able bodied enough to make it down to the beach (see the video by Unique Ascent below) but we could come back with a drone camera and take photos. I just want to see the buildings where Rockwell Kent and Dylan Thomas stayed all those years ago.
Unique Ascent’s video makes the visit to the shore of Glenlough Bay look so easy!
The Rock Climber’s Guide by Unique Ascent
For more on Rockwell Kent
Click to access The-Missing-Irish-Kent-paintings.pdf
For Dylan Thomas’ visit to Glenlough