Traveling- The Emerald City to The Emerald Isle| Donegal, Ireland & Lough Eske Castle Hotel

Sleepy from the lack of tourist crowds and filled with mostly locals, we knew we had to make it back to Donegal after being stunned by the devastatingly impressive Slieve League Cliffs on our last trip. There may not be a huge amount to do in Donegal, however, what it lacks in "attraction" it makes up for in natural beauty. A more rugged, and almost Highland-esque terrain, the area around Donegal is filled with lakes, rolling hills, hushed seaport towns and a plethora of fishing. It's no wonder National Geographic deemed it the Coolest Place on the Planet in 2017

The highlight of our visit to Donegal this time had to be our stay at Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa. If I could go back today, I'd do it in a heartbeat. The castle is lusciously cozy, teaming with the smell of fire crackling in the large stone hearths. Beautiful warm oil paintings of the countryside and former prominent people adorned the walls, thick with rich wood paneling. Our room wasn't quite ready when we arrived, so we were treated to drinks in the lounge.  Without knowing, we were also upgraded to a garden suite, located in the old stables, converted into stylish country rooms including a soaking tub and rain shower. 

Lough Eske is a little ways out of town, but we found we liked the seclusion. It gave us an opportunity to have a few days of quiet and a slower pace, since most of our trip was spent bouncing from place to place. The castle hotel is surrounded by by a forest and features a lake with a boardwalk trail. There is also a spa, a couple of restaurants and a lounge. The food was wonderful and the drink selection vast. 

We had high hopes for another day out at Slieve League, and had been looking forward to it for months. The weather and my car sickness. They had other plans. The only day we could go to Slieve League the rain was at level: TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR. The kind of downpour that's hard to drive in and little can be seen. I also unfortunately suffer from aggressive motion sickness, which is not a traveler's best friend. We tried making a go of it, but decided that even if we made it there, we didn't really have the proper rain gear to enjoy any of the Slieve League. Last time we visited Slieve League, it was also rainy and the fog was so thick you weren't able to see much of the cliffs. Deciding it'd be the same or worse, we made the decision to preserve our first experience, which was fantastic, and to head into Donegal Town. 

Donegal Town is pretty quiet and made even more so, as it was the day after Halloween and people were sleeping off their hangovers. We tried to see Donegal Castle, but ironically, it had closed for the season the day before. The castle gave me intense Dracula vibes as a constant scatter of birds flapped overhead. Our day took a worse turn when I was stung by a bee in a pub at lunch. I honestly cannot ever recall being stung by a bee, so I think I spooked everyone when I told them, only to be shut down by a bored bartender, stating that "I'd be on the floor already" if I were allergic. The bee apparently came out of a stack of wood, stung me and crawled away into a window, only to be eaten by a giant spider (that my husband neglected to tell me until we left since my spider fear is much larger than my bee fear). After also accidently getting ripped off at a wool shop (charged us €80 instead of €8) we decided it'd be best to just cut our losses for the day and head back to the hotel. 

Getting out for a walk was the perfect activity to lift our spirits. Russet and gold leaves filled the trees and scattered below our feet as we walked. We did get a little turned around after a few detours and stuck in some mud, but it was all in good fun! Since we'd already been around so many tourists and spent a crazy amount of time in our car, we rather enjoyed the calm country walk where people were few and far between.

Cell Phone Shots: 

I think one of the most important things to remember with travel is that although you have all of these things that you want to do, life doesn't always run on schedule or cooperate. We may have had a bust of a day in Donegal, but we laughed it off with each other and tried to recuperate for our next day. Overall, we still love Donegal and the fantastic Lough Eske Castle Hotel (see: chocolate covered strawberries below). 

Places of Note-

Accommodation:
Lough Eske Castle Hotel & Spa
Website- https://www.lougheskecastlehotel.com/ 

Favorite Dining in Donegal Town: 
The Olde Castle Bar
Website- http://www.oldecastlebar.com/
(The best fish & chips we had in Ireland in my opinion. Minus the whole bee sting incident.) 

Attraction: 
Slieve League Cliffs
Website- https://www.ireland.com/en-gb/articles/waw-slieve-league-cliffs/
(We didn't make it this trip, but they truly are a can't miss destination)

**This post contains links to the places we stayed and visited, however, we were not paid or compensated to share these links. The opinions and experiences shared this post were mine & my husbands alone.**

...Stay tuned for more blogs about our trip from the Emerald City to the Emerald Isle- Road trips around Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland!


Brittingham Photography is located in Orting, Washington and specializes in natural High School Senior portraits. We also offer Britt Beauty Sessions (individual women's shoots), Lifestyle Newborn, Couples Sessions and Intimate Family Photos. Thank you for stopping by to read my little blog!

-Andrea Brittingham

Owner, Photographer
Orting, Washington Photographer

TRAVELING- THE EMERALD CITY TO THE EMERALD ISLE| DAY TRIPPING OUTSIDE OF BELFAST- PART 2 OF 2, The Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle & Bushmills Distillery

Tag along for our second day of day tripping outside of Belfast in Northern Ireland. We've come from Seattle to road trip around Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and today we're stopping at The Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle & Bushmills Distillery!  

Our last morning in Belfast, we rose before the sun to quickly grab a bite to eat in the hotel breakfast room. The night before we had been kept up well into the night by a wedding that was almost literally raising the roof and after kindly talking to the manager about it, were granted free breakfast as a peace offering. As true Pacific Northwesterners who run on almost nothing but coffee for breakfast, the hotel staff weren't having it. They jokingly teased us about wanting nothing more than yogurt and Rice Krispies and conversation flowed into politics. We chatted over the matter of state of our respective countries and those running it. I tend to be someone who "closet" follows politics. I don't chat about it with others much, because I honestly just don't enjoy blood-pressure raising hot topics. I do, however, enjoy talking about it with people from other countries- although I do have to note that you have to feel people out. The Irish staff and a waiter from Liverpool were open and jesting, but very level headed and were equally interested in what we had to say. I have to laugh because the reason we started talking more honestly was because the waiter from Liverpool was making conversation with his buddies and talking about a movie he had seen over the weekend while putting in an order and said "You know, a typical American flick where no one can do no wrong". We laughed and he turned around, remembering we were American and laughed with us. This dominoed into really interesting open and honest conversation and I absolutely cherish that. 

The Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland

With our bags loaded and barely fitting into our car, we were checked out of our hotel in Belfast and en route to Donegal with three stops along the way. The first place to stop was The Dark Hedges. We have actually already been to The Dark Hedges on our 2015 trip, however, I wanted some better photos than our last trip and it was only a 9 minute detour. If you ever head back to a country that you've already visited and want to see something again- then please do so! We had so many ask us why we were going somewhere we'd already been and honestly- if you love something, why not get to revisit and feel that amazing flutter you felt the first time? 

The Dark Hedges are made famous by The Game Of Thrones and is featured as the Kings Road in the television series. Beyond GOT fandom, the trees are just simply beautiful! The fall colors glow in the morning sun and a stroll through them is calming as leaves rustle overhead and sheep baa from the adjoining field. The Dark Hedges were initially planted as "wow" factor for visitors to experience as they drove the entrance of Gracehill House, owned and planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century. Due to popularity, The Dark Hedges are now only available to experience by foot, but are still free! This is a definite must, quick sight to see.  

Dunluce Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

We arrived to Dunluce Castle right at opening, even after a short stop along the roadside to photograph an old stone home. Within seconds on walking down the cement path to purchase our tickets and enter the castle groups, I heard a swift WHOOSH! and found myself practically doing the splits with one knee planted firmly to the ground- already swelling and bleeding. I had been so careful to pick and pack shoes that were comfortable for all of the walking we were doing, but never made a point to check the traction. Turns out, my brand new Naturalizer riding boots... well, they had none. Since I was wearing leggings, my knee kept bleeding, sticking to my leggings, unsticking and re-bleeding all day long. I write this over six months later and still have a scar on my knee. I'll never be able to forget you, Dunluce! 

Like myself, Dunluce Castle has not always seen the best of days. The castle today is now in ruins, but is still maintained enough for visitors to come by and bust their knees on it's premises. The medieval castle has it's first mention in 1513, by the McQuillan family. It's history is colorful, including a tale of the kitchen falling into the sea during a storm and the lady moving out the next day (which is sadly and disappointingly a falsity). The views and the structure itself do not disappoint. The sweeping and sheer drops of the cliffs surrounding and supporting the castle are stunning, the grounds so large to explore and the walls formidable. I was a little sad that I couldn't go in the Mermaid Cave below the castle, but judging by my accident prone state, it was likely a blessing! Dunluce Castle was one of Brad's favorite things we saw, and I definitely have to agree with him on it's beauty and breathtaking scenery!

Cell Phone Shots!

Bushmills Distillery, Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Clearly needing a drink after my bloodied knee gifted by Dunluce, we drove back into Bushmills to hit up it's namesake. Before touring, we purchased a light lunch at the small cafe inside. I had the most DELICIOUS sausage roll (it was likely some cheap Irish version that I'm raving about, but we don't have these things at home and I still drool over it some days) and Brad had a panini that left a little to be desired. We also split some Bushmills Whiskey cheesecake... because... cheesecake... and whiskey... 

I have to be quite honest. We did not enjoy the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery Tour. Like... at all. We both found it much too long and boring as hell. With all of the travelling and little down time, I also found myself struggling with a little anxiety, which was amplified by being trapped on the tour. The guide was one of those... I'm telling funny jokes, but I'm not actually a funny person kind of person, and it just made it really awkward and uncomfortable. The saving grace? There was whiskey at the end of the tour. We sampled four different blends, of which I did really enjoy the one with more vanilla notes. Which one that was... couldn't tell ya! 

When on trips, it's common to find things that you enjoy and things you don't. It's all a learning process and you'll also find that others will rave about things you didn't enjoy- maybe they had a better guide? Or, maybe a factory tour just isn't for us? Either way, it was still interesting and definitely an item checked off of the bucket list! Snacks in hand, we (soberly) drove off into the afternoon sun on our two hour drive to Donegal where we stayed in the COOLEST castle hotel! Stay tuned for more of our Irish venture- and you won't want to miss this amazing accomodation! 

Tourist Info:

Hotel in Belfast: 
The Malone Lodge: http://www.malonelodgehotelbelfast.com/en-gb

Fav Breakfast Spot in Belfast:
Town Square Belfast Cafe: http://townsquarebelfast.com/townsquarecafe/

Visiting The Dark Hedges:
https://discovernorthernireland.com/The-Dark-Hedges-Stranocum-Ballymoney-P27502/

Visiting Dunluce Castle: 
https://discovernorthernireland.com/Dunluce-Castle-Medieval-Irish-Castle-on-the-Antrim-Coast-Bushmills-P2819/

Visiting Bushmills Distillery:
https://www.bushmills.com/distillery/

**This post contains links to the places we stayed and visited, however, we were not paid or compensated to share these links. The opinions and experiences shared this post were mine & my husbands alone.**

...Stay tuned for more blogs about our trip from the Emerald City to the Emerald Isle- Road trips around Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland!

Brittingham Photography is located in Orting, Washington and specializes in natural High School Senior portraits. We also offer Britt Beauty Sessions (individual women's shoots), Lifestyle Newborn, Couples Sessions and Intimate Family Photos. Thank you for stopping by to read my little blog!

-Andrea Brittingham

Owner, Photographer
Orting, Washington Photographer