Hitchhiking to Donegal and Northern Ireland


It was lightly raining as I walked down the road away from the farm, turning towards cars as they passed showing them my thumb in hopes of getting the first ride of the day. The day before I'd been picked up by the owner of the farm, then coincidentally later picked up by his wife along with some of their German volunteers. I'd spent the day tripping around with them before being invited to stay the night in the Irish countryside.

Now, plodding along, I was aiming for Donegal, specifically to Dunkineely where I'd found a Couchsurfing host who let people stay above the small pub he ran. There were no Flannery pubs in this direction, that mission would continue later, but all was on track in my clockwise lap around the beauty of Ireland.

It took six rides altogether, and bits of walking, the last ride I got into Dunkineely was from a guy who knew my host and took me directly to his pub. In fact all I said was "Dunkineely" and he somehow already knew I was meeting with Damien.

He met me at the door then took me a block away to his dad's pub and up above it he showed me where I could stay. The space was like a nice apartment-turned-hostel, and in fact it once was a hostel. Damien and his dad heard about Couchsurfing and decided they'd try it for a year instead, but now more than a year had gone by and he was hooked, hosting proved far more interesting then running a hostel.

I went to the market for something to cook and later had some pints at his pub, the first night there was pretty easy going.

The next day he drove me around telling about the area, eventually dropping me off a Slieve League, these beautiful cliffs and one of the more stunning sights I saw in Ireland. I went on my own hiking along the cliffs, up and up and eventually winding back down to a dirt road. I hitched a short ride to a little town, while sticking my thumb out there a local girl came walking up and joined me. We caught one short ride together and then another ride from a woman who recognized her that took us right to Dunkineely.

The rest of that day and the next were pretty relaxed, just hanging in the apartment or down in the pub sipping Guinness, chatting with Damien and some Italians and Germans that were also staying with him.

My next direction was Northern Ireland, but by the time I left I'd already decided I'd be back. Damien was having an annual Couchsurfing party where people from all over would pile into his place for a few days for good times, I couldn't turn that down.

In the meantime, though, it was back to the road. I hitched four rides to Letterkenny where I paused just to lap around the city streets and sniff out a brewery, then walked out of town and hitched another couple rides to the center of Derry.

I spent the rest of the day and the next morning there, finding a hidden spot in the giant park to camp for the night. I kicked around and discovered Wetherspoons, which turned out to be a useful restauraunt/bar chain in the UK known for it's endless coffee and cheap prices, it would become my default wifi chill spot for the next month or so of travels.

I hitched a couple rides to a little town, then one more ride that got me close to the Giant's Causeway. I walked to that, which was a series of pretty beautiful cliffs that I walked along for a good while as my shadow got longer and the sky dimmed down.

Once I hit the road again I managed to hitch a ride from some people that dropped me off in a tiny village and suggested that I camp in the playground. As they drove away the thought of waking up to confused children got me off that idea, I kept walking down the road hoping to find a better spot, then another couple gave me a ride heading to Ballycastle. They gave me a camping suggestion that I went for, which was to camp amongst the sand dunes by the water. I was much happier to have this more hidden spot to lay for the night.

Morning came and I was back to the road, aiming for a suburb town near Belfast where I had a Couchsurfing host. I got a few easy rides along the coast, all was pretty scenic. Waiting on the next ride a car pulled up ahead of me, the woman honked and waved and I went running down to her, hopping in the passenger seat and thanking her.

She looked surprised and suddenly I looked over and saw her mother walking down the steps looking equally surprised.

"Oh, sorry!", I laughed hopping out just as quickly. Neither the honk or the wave had been for me, I was just a lunatic hopping into her car.

"Where are you heading?", she asked as I hopped out. Next thing I knew I was in the backseat getting a ride anyway, sometimes things just work out that way.

I hitched just one more ride to get to my host's place, I spent the night kicking it at his place, then the next day hitched a ride into Belfast to explore for a while, then hitched back for another laid back night.

I walked out of town without a definitive destination, I hitched a short ride from a van to the main road and started moving. More or less I was meandering back to Donegal, but had an extra day so was just feeling free to see what happens. Another guy picked me up and gave me a short ride, he also gave me some strawberries that I munched on amidst the beautiful day.

A photographer heading to Derry took me along back there, I paused in Wetherspoons for a bit where I hatched a plan to head to Letterkenny where I'd now found a Couchsurfing host. I hitched just a couple rides to get there and got to his apartment where he was hosting a few other people as well, it was an easy night of sharing stories and having a few drinks in his kitchen just relaxing.

In the morning I was back to the road, now heading for Dunkineely again, but there was a quick mountain I wanted to climb up first. It took a few rides to get there, then I made the muddy walk to the top of this Errigal Mountain for kicks and good views, I even had a beer in my pack to sip once I reached the top.

I made my way down and back to the road, thumb out and feeling free. I had just less than a week left in Ireland before I'd be skipping over to Scotland. There was still plenty of beers to be had, friends to be made and one last kicking Flannery pub in Athlone to visit. I was ready.

June 4, 2015 to June 12, 2015

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