As a child, I read and was fascinated by the classic children’s novel The Secret Garden. Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and published in 1911, it is a story of a 10-year-old girl, who when orphaned, goes on to live with her uncle in England. There, she discovers a secret, walled garden. To this day, I can close my eyes and picture that garden – full of roses, beset with lovely fragrances, birds and the English robin!
As children and adults, we are often lured by ‘secrets’ – this promise of getting to know something that was hitherto unknown, or hidden. Of course, in the travel and hospitality industry, this word is often abused – ‘secret hideaways’, ‘secret getaways’ and the like. I have an inherent distrust of such deals or phrases, and sometimes they can also speak of privilege and exclusivity – as if some people are privileged enough to be able to gain access to these deals compared to others.
Why were we then, on the trail of Donegal’s secret waterfall?
First things first. It is called secret because it is not a location that perhaps all visitors to Donegal would add to their to-do-list. And the reasons are pretty simple. It has to do with how the waterfall is placed in terms of its geographical location.
The waterfall is located in a cave that sits across a rocky terrain and the sea. It is only accessible when the tide is low.
Getting to the waterfall means you have to first find it. It is in village Largy but it is not marked by any signage. You have to also find enough space or a safe spot to park your car and then make your way down to a steep descent. You amber and clamber across a farm, and rocks to reach there, and you need to time yourself very well. If it’s high tide, there’s no way you can get to the waterfall. And if you have spent too much time at the waterfall and the tide turns, you will be stranded. So, it is this set of peculiar conditions that makes it ‘secret’ and also the fact that it is a relatively new discovery – the first mentions of the waterfall seem to appear online in 2017 or around that time. However when I say that, I am not sure if the locals in Donegal knew about this waterfall much before that and had kept it under wraps (for good reasons).
So, while accessibility is an issue – think children, prams, and more on those lines, it is by no means an exclusive thing. The waterfall is free to access and enjoy for everyone.
But how did we land up there?
All thanks to the Irish weather.
We were vacationing in Sligo, and on the day we had planned a forest walk at the base of its table-topped mountain Benbulben, it rained.
And the weather app showed that the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. It wasn’t a light drizzle too – it was pouring steadily.
The husband checked the weather for Donegal, and the app came up with a sunny spell. We had won the lottery!
He said he had also read about this ‘secret waterfall’ and that while journey to the waterfall and back would be about 180 km, he didn’t mind it.
So, we sat in our car and went off….
And what did we find?
To begin with, we missed the waterfall twice. We drove past it because there was no signage and the google maps were actually a bit off in terms of pinpointing its exact location. But when we finally found it, it was worth all the trouble. We also found a safe spot to park our car.
And while we were taking the steep route that went downhill, slicing its way through a farm, we met a lovely couple from Northern Ireland.
They were visiting this part of the country and had attempted the secret waterfall the day before. But the tide was high, and they couldn’t do it.
“It’s good day today – sunny and the tide is low, let’s do it together,” they said.
And we did.
They were very friendly and chatty and whilst walking, we conversed about several things, and they also pointed out the little pools of seawater nestled between the rocks – “look there are fishes here! But be careful, the climb is now steep and rocky.”
It wasn’t very difficult to get past the rocky terrain, but I must admit that at one point, I went down on all fours to get past a particular piece of rock!
And after a bit of such climbing, we were near the mouth of the cave. You could see the waterfall, the beautiful, pebbled stretch leading up to it. The green moss lining the entrance of the cave and beyond also seemed to glisten; the drops of moisture in its midst akin to little diamonds. The water itself was like a curtain, a sheet of music that was gentle and pleasing to the ears…
It seemed enchanted. Like a gateway to another world. Or like an oasis of some sort. There was an opening in the roof of the cave, and a mellow, soft beam of light seeped in through that, giving the waterfall a beautiful shower of golden sunlight…
We spent about half an hour there and were mindful of the timings of the tide.
After that, we made our way back and walked up to this almost bridge-like rocky terrain that went into the sea and explored the flowers, rock formations, and the views around us.
Was it worth the 180 km drive? I would say yes. Like little Mary Lennox who discovers the secret, walled garden in her uncle’s estate, I found a place of beauty and magic to carry with me for the rest of my life.
The location was pristine, and I hope it stays that way. There weren’t very many people. And the ones we met were friendly and chatty. I spotted my first jellyfish whilst at the beach there. And like many places of natural beauty, this was free for everyone. You did not have to pay to visit it. I hope that as a growing community of travellers and wanderers find the time to visit this waterfall, it stays just as unspoiled as it is now.
That we do not leave it with imprints of our time there – wrappers or empty bottles or anything else. Rather, we let its relative remoteness, beauty, and magic leave an imprint on us.