"Donegal is a treasure trove of cycling routes for all levels of cyclists. The hills around Letterkenny have produced Irelands best pure climber and a top professional, Philip Deignan. With incredible scenery and smooth quiet roads, every cyclist will enjoy a visit to the area. For those undertaking a Malin to Mizen challenge, Letterkenny makes a perfect first, or last night stopover point.
The Silver Tassie Hotel was my base for a few days, and catered for my every need as a cyclist.
With a safe and secure bike storage room I could sleep easy at night knowing that my steed was going to be where I left it the following morning.
A bike washing area is good to have in wet weather and the track pump gets daily use.
The comfortable rooms in the hotel are all indvidually themed around the Wild Atlantic Way which adds character along with being a great reference point when planning a days cycling.
The hotels ‘Seascape spa’ provides a full range of massage and even seaweed baths to relieve tired legs after a long day on the bike.
Cyclists burn plenty of calories so food is always an important consideration. The carvery was very busy with both locals and sales reps during the day, which is always a good sign. The evening meals in the restaurant were excellent. Breakfast was plentiful with a large buffet, and all hot food being cooked to order. Packed lunches are available for those wishing to explore the area at a casual pace.
For leisure cyclists there are a number of electric bikes and hybrids available to rent onsite in the hotel from www.grassroutes.ie who also provide the bike hire in Glenveagh National park. The Donegal Cycle route is accessible directly opposite the hotel leading to a network of safe quiet roads.
LK Bikes in Letterkenny is the nearest bike shop and has a full range of spares and accessories. They also carry out all levels of repair which is good to know for anyone doing a Malin to Mizen.
I have covered a few of the most popular cycling routes in these posts;
- 118k Fanad Head route
- 18k and 27k leisure routes
- Glenveagh National Park cycle
The Silver Tassie Hotel and Spa was a great location to base a cycling break. It is perfect for leisure cyclists wishing to explore the area, serious cyclists looking for a scenic challenge, teams on a training camp or groups undertaking a Malin to Mizen challenge. Families will really enjoy a day exploring Glenveagh National park."
1. The Silver Tassie 18k and 27k Leisure routes
"When I mentioned going for a casual cycle in the afternoon, the receptionist in the Silver Tassie Hotel suggested that Ramelton was a very picturesque heritage town nearby, and that Conways pub was always worth a visit. So, off I set.
Just across from the hotel is a road that is a designated cycle route. Signs warn what few motorists there are, that cyclists will be on the road ahead and to drive accordingly. The odd car that I met certainly seemed to be taking heed of this advice.
Rolling alongside the shores of Lough Swilly , there is a peaceful sense of being away from it all.
The road meanders along, going from open countryside to small woodland. Then out to a higher point, where you get a better view of the mountains and lake that surround you. There is always plenty to look at all around.
The smooth surface helps you glide along into Ramelton. A town that was once a bustling nineteenth century habour and industrial centre that retains much of the old world feel. At times when the streets are quiet you almost get the sense of having travelled back in time.
I managed to find Conways easily enough and ventured in to see if it was as quaint inside as out.
The pub retains much of its old world charm as do some of it’s patrons. A man standing nearby, was a mine of information about the town itself. He told me that it had once been the largest town in Donegal. A thriving flax and linen industry was the main employer. The harbour was one of the busiest in Ireland with boats arriving from as far away as America. Times change but the architecture remains and this quaint little town is well worth exploring, especially on a bike.
Soon it was time to make my way back to the Silver Tassie Hotel once more, so I chose another road for variety. This was still as quiet and picturesque and eventually linked back up with the road that I had used earlier. On the way you can detour via the ruins of Killydonnell Abbey which is an old Franciscan Friary overlooking the water.
The spin over to Ramelton and back to the Silver Tassie hotel along these meandering quiet country roads is just over 18 kilometres. You can also extend this a little further by continuing on to the actual shoreline itself where a tidal roadway appears when the tide is out. If the tide is in you have to double back about two kilometres but even that is worthwhile to take in the fabulous homes with their lakeside views."
2. The Silver Tassie Glenveagh experience
"Glenveagh National Park is the second largest of the six National Parks in Ireland. It took me less than thirty minutes to drive from The Silver Tassie Hotel after a good hearty breakfast to reach the car park and begin my experience of all that the park has to offer.
First stop was the impressive visitors centre where I picked up a map of the park and planned my day. The highlight of the park is Glenveagh Castle and gardens overlooking Lough Veagh itself.
Wheeling down to a viewing area where those taking the visitors bus to the castle 4k away wait, I was soon on a dedicated walking and cycle track that wound its way along the shore over to the Castle. The gravel surface is perfect for hybrids or mountain bikes and even some kids seemed to be really enjoying their spin along with their parents.
Arriving at the Castle by bicycle you enter through the incredible gardens, where you have to dismount. The exotic plants and trees from all over the World surround you in a visual cacophony of rarely seen colours shapes and sizes. It actually reminded me of an area of Balboa Park in San Diego which has a very different climate to Ireland.
I just about manage to keep my grass cut and am by no means a gardener but this place really draws you in. The peace and quiet, the smells, the exotic nature of all of the plants gives the impression of a place where no expense, or effort was spared when creating these gardens over a hundred years ago.
Next you come to the Castle itself. A magnificent insight into what it must have been like to live in the splendour of the time is portrayed by how well the entire building has been maintained and preserved. Although some areas have obviously been upgraded by previous inhabitants it only adds to the feeling of real people living here in such a magnificent setting.
Out back is a large walled vegetable garden still in full use today which overlooks a magnificent conservatory.
There are a few trail walks surrounding the castle including one up to a viewing area high above. It is very steep in places. The view from the top however, is worth the effort.
Hours would pass easily, exploring the castle and its immediate surroundings, including an outdoor swimming pool above a boat house that would be worthy of any episode of lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Many leisure cyclists would then return back to the visitor centre at this stage but to continue on, along a slightly more uneven trail brings you over to the waterfall, just at the end of the lake itself. You get to see a few old dwellings and it’s a nice way to gain a sense of just how large the lake itself is.
Further on past the waterfall the trail continues on rising up for the next three kilometres. After heavy rainfall this surface does get a little rough in places and is best suited to a mountain bike.
The view from the top is spectacular as you look back down along the valley and across the full length of the lake down below.
This brings you out onto a road where you can turn left towards Glebe house and gallery. From this point there is 15k of on road cycling to return you back to the main entrance to the Glenveagh car park and visitor centre.
Having climbed up this far I wanted to enjoy the descent and see all within the park itself, so retraced my route back down to the waterfall and on to the Castle once more.
The descent was enjoyable on the mountain bike bearing in mind that the area is very popular with hill walkers who always have the right of way.
Soon I was back down at the Castle once more, and stopped into the tea rooms for a coffee. There is also a great selection of fresh food to replenish your energy stores.
Next it was back onto the bike and whilst heading in the direction of the visitors centre, I followed a signpost directing me right, up towards Lough Inshagh. A gradual climb brought me up overlooking the lake and the surrounding mountains before once again retracing my route back down towards the visitor centre.
There I noticed the sign for The Derrylahan Nature trail, so had to try that too. A 2k loop through beautiful woodland that is mostly flat, with just one short steep section.
Now I was once more back at the car park, having spent a very enjoyable day exploring all that this fantastic national park has to offer.
Bike hire is available onsite from www.grassroutes.ie or The Silver Tassie hotel can arrange this as part of a discounted package for you beforehand."
3. The Silver Tassie 118k Fanad Cycling Route
"The Silver Tassie Hotel in Letterkenny County Donegal is the first Hotel in Ireland to create Wild Atlantic Way themed rooms. The owner, Rose Blaney is a keen photographer and artist whose works can be seen throughout the hotel.
My room was called ‘Atlantic waves’ and inside along with original photographs and paintings was an overview guide to the coastline that inspired these works of art. One in particular of the Fanad Head Lighthouse really caught my eye, so I decided to use this as a guide when planning my cycling route the following day
Leaving the hotel I crossed straight over to the cycling route that is signposted across the road. This is a beautiful quiet road that has very little traffic and gives regular views across Lough Swilly to the Inishowen peninsula on the other side of the lake.
Through the idyllic village of Ramelton I crossed the bridge and turned right and hugged the coastline for the next 40k. It is always interesting to look across water towards land at the far side. Usually I take photos on the bike at every opportunity when views like this present themselves, but on this occasion with water in view over 90% of time I could just relax and take it all in.
The rolling road surface was very good, but this is probably down to the low volume of traffic. On this coastal route, where I expected a constant stream of cars and busses I travelled for over twenty minutes at one stage without encountering a single vehicle.
As the views expanded I rounded a corner and there below me was the long golden deserted beach of Portsalon. That I had to get a picture of.
Continuing on up the coast looking across the bay at Irelands most northerly point off in the distance I thought back twelve months ago, to a five am start when I last saw the sky over Malin head. Many cyclists now have Malin to Mizen on their to do lists and it is one challenge well worth the effort.
Then with the blue sky stretching out to touch the Atlantic ocean up ahead I came to a junction and turned right towards Fanad Lighthouse. This was to be the highlight of a fabulous days cycling.
Within 2 kilometres I was at looking up at the ‘Worlds second most beautiful lighthouse’, as the guide books refer to it, when I noticed a school of Dolphins jumping out of the water just down below.
Then, as I wandered around amongst French, German and American visitors from Arizona, I met a local man from Dowlings nearby. We began chatting and he gave me some great insights into the area. He pointed back to the right and informed me that 56 Canadian souls are buried there, after a ship with a cargo of 114 tonnes of gold bound for Canada was sunk just off the coast during the Second World War. He also pointed North and described it as a shipping graveyard with many warships and even a German U-Boat resting on the sea bed.
Now, well into his eighties, my impromptu tour guide, pointed way off over towards another beach. There, as a young child he and his father had come upon a group of German soldiers who had come ashore from a U-Boat to exercise and get some fresh air on the beach, having spent months beneath the sea. He remembered the now derelict lookout towers, scattered along the coast, all within sight of each other at a time when all were occupied 24/7. He could also recall a young Army officer who, on the initiation night of a group of inexperienced sixteen and seventeen year old soldiers handed out 303 rifles with life ammunition to each new recruit. Many crows were fired at that night on the way home, but few were hit. He remarked that invading armies at the time would have had little to fear.
Now, it was time to hop back on the bike and continue along the Northern Atlantic coastline. I strayed off the main route and travelled as close to the coast as possible. The narrow winding roads with sweeping corners and a prevailing onshore tailwind were fun to cycle along, and again had little or no traffic, unless the Donegal Rally is on when these roads would be very busy being put to full use in that capacity.
Lunchtime was now approaching and so too was the village of Carrigart. Fist I had to cross one of Irelands largest and newest bridges, the Harry Blaney, Mulroy bridge.
Now I headed back inland towards a village called Glen, along deserted mountain valley roads. Then came the climb to Lough Salt where I got a taste of what made Philip Deignan is such a good climber. Even the surface of the roads mirrored the smooth tarmac of the Alps.
A long descent followed before another meandering back road route, leading back to the Silver Tassie hotel once more.
Much of the route is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2500k coastal route from Malin Head to Kinsale. The experience of the 118k route around Fanad head and beyond, with the longest continuous coastal road that I have encountered, along such quiet roads with such a smooth surface is fantastic days cycling that any cyclist should have on their to do list."
You can book the Silver Tassie Hotel Online Here or by calling 1850 200 560 (Lines open 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday)