Photograph of the week: Donegal Sea Stacks, Ireland


Living along the Donegal coast in the Republic of Ireland are just over 100 lonely rock towers called sea stacks. These isolated sea stacks are found in remote, lonely and dramatically beautiful settings in locations that nature has carved out using thousands of years of endless angry seas, wind and rain. Created by the pounding heart of the Atlantic Ocean as it crashes relentlessly into the sea cliffs along the west coast of Donegal these rock towers stand testament to a time long forgotten. As guardians of our oceans these rock towers live between the moving and the static as they are slowly eroded away by the endless churning of the restless Atlantic Ocean.

County Donegal in the north west tip of the Republic of Ireland is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise with over 1000km of coastline comprising uninhabited islands, inaccessible storm beaches, tunnels, arches, sea caves and off course towering sea stacks. It is along this quite unforgiving coast on the eastern Atlantic seaboard you can see the true natural beauty of our planet’s coastlines. It is quite regular to have all four seasons of weather in one day in western Donegal as the north Atlantic trade winds bring an endless cycle of changing weather patterns to our shores. It is this combination of wind, weather and sea that produces the wild wind scoured landscape found in our part of Ireland. A combination of endless blanket bog, rugged post glaciated uplands and a very fractured and fragile coastline has conspired to produce this magical ever changing sea scape.

This picture was taken on Cruit Island in The Rosses area of western Donegal. Cruit Island, pronounced “Critch” and is the anglicised form of Oileán na Cruite in the native Irish language. The word Cruit derives from the Gaelic meaning a small harp as the island is shaped very much like a harp. I like to think of the crack lines on the heavily featured granite sea cliffs on the island as the harp strings when seen from the distance. The island is connected to mainland Donegal by a small road bridge and has a single-track public road running its entire length. Being comprised of entirely of granite, Cruit has 15 golden sandy beaches and 24 sea cliffs dotted along its jagged coastline. There are over 300 recorded rock climbs on the island’s sea cliffs and stacks with most of these in the easier grades. As such, Cruit is very popular with rock climbers from all over Ireland and it is quite common to find people playing on the golden granite as the sun sets at near midnight on mid summers evenings.

Sea stack climbing is a sub-genre of rock climbing which involves kayaking out to these towers of rock and landing on their bases. This is usually easier said than done as the seas along the west coast of Ireland require a high degree of nautical knowledge and seafaring guile to circumnavigate the tidal currents and ocean borne swells frequently found here. Once you are at the base of your chosen sea stack you then climb to its summit. It is standing on these nautical summits that will live a long time in your happy memories. It is quite surreal to be standing on the summit of a rock tower surrounded by Atlantic Ocean and some of them are many kilometres from the nearest signs of human life. Some of the larger stacks living at the bases of 1000 foot sea cliffs can take you up to 12 to 16 hours to climb and return, back to the real world.

The average day out sea stack climbing will take you into a unique nautical environment which is home to the seals, dolphins, basking sharks, the odd killer whale and a huge host of different ground nesting of sea birds.

You will visit locations and summits that have been visited fewer times than the moon and experience a seascape unspoilt by the relentless onward march of the human race in our modern times.

In this picture Iain Miller is alone and free solo climbing without ropes or other climbing equipment on this small sea stack off Cruit island. He says it is an endless pleasure and a true blessing to be able to live, work and play on this surreal coastline surrounded by the outrageous natural beauty of Western Donegal.

The picture was taken by a Nikon DL 3100 and automated timer set up remotely mounted on a tripod on a tidal skerry sitting about 50 meters away.

Thank you to Iain Miller from Unique Ascent for permission to share the photograph.

If you have a really special photograph you would like to share with A Luxury Travel Blog‘s readers, please contact us.


Comments (5)

  1. Stephen says:

    My worst nightmare. I really haven’t got a head for heights. It may be picture of the week – and I’m sure that the views are fantastic – but it makes me go weak at the knees.

  2. Ian McDonnell says:

    I used to play near those rocks in Donegal as a child. Closely supervised of course. Absolutely stunning photo.

  3. Will says:

    But where was the photographer who took this photo? Were they hanging on half way up another stack?

    • Paul Johnson says:

      The person who you see climbing (Iain Miller) – and the photographer who took the photo – are one and the same. Note the last sentence in the post:

      The picture was taken by a Nikon DL 3100 and automated timer set up remotely mounted on a tripod on a tidal skerry sitting about 50 meters away.

  4. Cassi Leigh says:

    Guardians of our oceans, that’s a sweet way to look at them. The Donegal Coast is beautiful, absolutely worth a visit if you can. An interesting fact about where Cruit derived from and how it related to the harp shape of the island. You learn something new every day! I don’t tend to think of Cruit as being overly big, so it’s impressive to consider there being 15 beaches and 24 sea cliffs, to to mention more than 300 rock climbs. That’s a fantastic photo. I especially love different mix of cloud types, with those cloud lines below being a bit like the start of a Bob Ross painting!

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