The natural beauty, dramatic waves, cliffs and mountains on Ireland’s Atlantic coast are unique. The northwest stretch is amazing and often allows the visitor to stand alone on beautiful beaches while the Atlantic crashes against the shores.
Visitors based in Britain have met with challenges in recent years due to Covid, additional expenses post-Brexit and the drop in the value of the pound. But with this year's flight schedules to and from Knock airport, breaks can be found at prices comparable to stays in Britisj destinations such as Cornwall or Pembrokeshire.
Friends encouraged me to visit Co. Sligo, so I packed my bags and headed out to Strandhill, a location that has served tourists for over 100-years.
There is a lot more to Strandhill than good beaches and nice walks. Some of the finest surfing in Europe attracts people of all ages and Strandhill’s beautiful golf course is surrounded by Knocknarea Mountain, Culleenamore Strand Beach and Strandhill Beach. Another course, The County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point is just a 20-minute drive away.
Around 111 years ago, baths were built to attract visitors; today the Voya seaweed baths takes relaxing to a different dimension. Horse riding is popular and if you’re more adventurous there’s always a mountain to climb in this part of Sligo.
Below the main Strandhill beach lies Culleenamore beach. Unlike Strandhill, the waves here do not attract surfers, but the calmer waters have provided oysters at the south end of the beach for centuries and groups of seals, maybe a score or more, are often spotted.
We headed off on a five-mile circular walk past Sligo airport towards Coney Island, along the way stopping at the ruins of Kilaspugbrone church set on a hill above the bay. The original building dates to the 5th century and is a great viewing point for Ben Bulben and Knocknarea mountain. The small sandy beach below looks on to Coney Island. We walked without a soul in sight and my companion pointed out a secluded area with calm waters - their families ‘swimming spot’ and a grassed area where they barbeque as the hours while away.
Coney Island is connected to the mainland by a sandy causeway accessible on foot or by car when the tide is out. A simple text message informs you of current tide patterns. A thatched home, Dolly’s Cottage, was on our route back, unchanged since 1800.
Another traditional holiday destination, Rosses Point, can be seen from the other side of Coney Island. The 20-minute car ride is well worthwhile, smaller than Strandhill its beach but ideal for swimming.
Locals insist you visit ‘The Glen’. This cleft on the south face of Knocknarea runs for around three quarters of a mile. Botanists also head for this area of natural beauty. Good footwear is required and getting up Knocknarea is a tough task, though rewarding with some magnificent views.
Carrawnmore Tombs are just 10 miles out of Strandhill. Ireland's largest Megalithic cemetery has remains of over 35 passage tombs constructed almost 6,000 years.
Travel to Strandhill?
I flew in from Birmingham with Ryanair and paid £16.99 for outbound and return flights, similar rates are also available from Liverpool, Manchester, Luton and Stanstead. Aer Lingus were offering fares from Heathrow at £66.43.
Car hire and taxis with up to eight seats are available from Knock airport and buses run into Sligo City, which has a service to Strandhill.
Where to stay?
Strandhill offers a range of places from hostels for surfers to top quality suites. I stopped at Strandhill Lodge and Suites, one of the nicest stays I have had for a while. All rooms have views of the sea or Knocknarea mountain, luxuriously appointed without being pretentious. The staff are keen to learn of your plans and want to help.
If all beds are taken in Strandhill, Sligo City is an option, it’s just 12 minutes' drive from Strandhill and nine from Rosses Point. The city is awash with culture and history.
Coffee shops, cafes and Strandhill’s restaurants provide fresh produce and old-fashioned service at prices comparable to UK restaurants. Venue Bar & Restaurant is a traditional Irish pub with a large restaurant area
Honestly Farm Kitchen offers local, organic, wholesome and sustainable food grown by themselves and like-minded producers
Stoked serves tapas style dishes with fusions such as lamb shoulder, bao sundried tomato tapenade, pickles, minted halloumi and salsa Verde or Chorizo, black pudding, apple, honey with soy give your tastebuds new sensations.