Monday, 30 January 2023
Originally from the Orkney Islands of Scotland, Iain first moved to the Annagry area of Donegal (named as one of TripAdvisor’s Best Places to Visit 2023), where his love for the county was sparked, in 1993. After returning to Scotland for nearly a decade, in 2004 he upped stakes once more for Donegal. He’s been enjoying the life of a true adventurer – leaving no stone unturned exploring the region’s impressive sea cliffs, sea stacks, mountain ranges and uninhabited islands – ever since.
Today, when he’s not summitting Ireland’s highest sea stack at An Tor Mór, leading rock climbing expeditions with his adventure guide business Unique Ascent, or kayaking around Tory Island, you might find him brushing up his cúpla focail at Oideas Gael in Glencolmcille or simply enjoying a sea swim at one of the many pristine beaches that dot Donegal’s 100km coastline.
Iain, what’s the best thing about being a Donegal local?
For me, one of the best aspects of living in Donegal is the fact we are surrounded by very accessible and beautiful natural places. What this accessibility can allow us to do with a little bit of weather watching and planning is to have “a once in a lifetime experience” on a near-daily basis.
Watch sunrises and sunsets from the summit of Errigal, visit the Cave of Light, swim in the ocean or simply take a walk on a deserted, mile-long Blue Flag beach.
There is always something to be said about living in a place other people visit on holiday.
What’s something you can find in Donegal that you can’t find anywhere else?
For life affirming experiences in a wild natural setting, Donegal has several lifetimes of places to visit – from the summits of the Derryveagh Mountains at sunrise to a glowing red, orange and purple sky during a Sliabh Liag spring sunset.
There are two places out of many that for me standout as unique not only to Donegal but on a global scale that cannot be compared to anything else on earth. The first is land-based and the second is water-based.
Cnoc na Mara is an iconic 100-metre high shark’s fin sea stack living in the southern shadow of Ireland’s highest sea stack at Tormore Island. It is safe to say that this stack represents all that is great about adventure climbing. Its impressive, soaring, 150m-long landward arête provides one of the most rewarding and adventurous rock climbs in Ireland. It is easily an equal to the mighty Old Man of Hoy off the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland.
Scornach Iompainn (The Throat of Umfin) is one of the more unusual features of Umphin Island and perhaps even of any of Ireland's islands. This 300m-long tunnel travels right through the centre of the island. The tunnel starts at one of the many huge sea caves on the seaward side of the island and ends at the smaller sea cave beside the sheltered raised shingle beach on the landward side of the island. The tunnel is the perfect size for a kayak and has a 40m-long section of complete darkness at about mid-passage.
Favourite place in Donegal?
It would be nearly impossible to pick a favourite as I am continually discovering new places to visit and play. Three places in Donegal that provide a world class outdoor experience and are my favourite places to visit:
The storm beach An Clochan Mór at Glenlough is Ireland’s largest raised shingle storm beach and lives in one of the most remote places in Ireland.
The summit of An Tor Mór, Ireland’s highest sea stack has a view looking back at the real world. (https://www.uniqueascent.ie/tormore-island)
Tor an Éidigh on Árainn Mhór is perhaps the easiest of the three places to visit and can be easily accessed by ferry and car. This area provides you with a near endless clifftop walk in one of Ireland’s wildest places.
Favourite local businesses?
Liam O’Cuinneagáin and his team at Oideas Gael run a huge number of courses and activities to teach and raise the profile of the Irish language.
Selkie Sailings provide water-based experiences and nautical education in kayaks and yachts around the western islands off Gweedore.
Foghlaimím an teanga chun na daoine agus an talamh a thuiscint.
Advice for someone curious about moving to Donegal?
My advice to anyone thinking about moving to rural Donegal would be to visit the county in both summer and mid-winter. The weather variations between these two seasons are polar opposite, with summer being warmer than winter but both seasons having a fair amount of rain. In the main, Donegal is a rural county with a reasonably sparse population in many of its townlands and villages. If you combine these two aspects of daily Donegal life, then it’s going to rain and whatever you are going to do will involve being outdoors.
Living in a remote rural area will potentially require you to do a lot of driving and travelling to wherever you need to go.
Find Iain/Unique Ascent HERE or on social media @UniqueAscent on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
Check out our other relocation heroes like Donegal GAA Ladies' Football Captain Niamh McLaughlin HERE.
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