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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

JAUNTS AROUND DONEGAL ~ DONEGAL BAY WATERBUS

On Monday we took the opportunity to take a trip on the Donegal Bay Waterbus, something we had long intended to do but had just never before got around to.  And am I glad we did ~ it is excellent!
The Donegal Bay Waterbus

What is the Waterbus?  Basically it is an 80' long, flat bottomed, "sea safari" vessel which takes passengers from the pier in Donegal Town out into Donegal Bay on a trip lasting approximately an hour and a half.  Boarding is a doddle ~ no climbing down pier steps or any of that scary stuff, instead there is a (carpeted if you don't mind!) gangway from the pier straight onto the bottom deck of the Waterbus.
Carpeted gangway makes for easy boarding and disembarking

We paid for our trip at the Donegal Bay Waterbus office which is located at the head of the pier on your right as you come down to the pier from the Diamond (the centre of Donegal Town). There is ample parking all along the pier but it can be busy at times and so take a while to find a space.  Once a space is found you must pay for a parking ticket at one of the ticket display units around the car park (€2.70 for the day, .30 cents per hour).

Leaving Donegal Town aboard the Donegal Bay Waterbus
The Waterbus can only go out at high tide so punctuality is vital. You must be at the Waterbus 15 minutes prior to departure time WITH your tickets ~ you cannot pay on board. Therefore you should leave at least half an hour prior to the 15 minute boarding time to allow for parking, paying for parking and purchasing your Waterbus tickets.

The open upper deck of the Donegal Bay Waterbus
There are two decks on the Waterbus, the lower one is covered in and has rows of seats, a bar, a seating area around the bar and wait for it ... a little dance floor too!  The upper deck consists of rows of open air seating.  There are ladies and gents lavatories located on the lower deck.

The lower deck on the Donegal Bay Waterbus


The Bar aboard the Waterbus
The bar on the boat is full stocked with the usual choice of spirits, beers (bottled and canned), soft drinks, tea and coffee.  The prices are on par with pub prices and maybe even a few cents less for certain things.  I noticed that the mixers for spirits were 10 cents less than we had paid in a pub the previous night.  I was pleased to see there was no rip off prices, which can be the case anywhere where there is a 'captive' audience.

We chose to sit on the upper deck so that we could maximise our photo opportunities and knowing that we would be taking many photos were happy to find two little secluded seating areas away from the main one.  These are located at the back of the main seating area and to the right and left at the top of the back stairs.

View from the "best" seats on the Donegal Bay Waterbus
Once everyone was aboard, we set sail.  The trip starts off with the usual safety talk, brought to us via the loud speakers dotted around the Waterbus and it covers such things as the location of life boats, safety jackets and so on.  After this is over and the Waterbus is heading out into the bay there is a running commentary over the loud speakers of what to look for on the trip, interjected here and there with the odd joke.  We were told to look to the right to see this, the left to see the other and so on for the whole trip out.  This was excellent as there were probably many things we might otherwise have missed.

Donegal Franciscan Abbey

The first thing you see on the trip out is the ruins of the Donegal Franciscan Friar, which on dry land you can walk up to just past the pier to the left.  The Waterbus however offers a superb view of it from the water.  To read more about the history of the Abbey and view photographs of it click HERE

Emigrant victims' memorial on the shores of Donegal Bay
Along the shore we were shown the point from which local emigrants to America would have boarded ships to leave Ireland during famine times.  I noticed a memorial near this point and after the trip asked one of the crew what it was and he told me it was a monument placed there by the people of Donegal Town to commemorate those who had died aboard the famine ships (coffin ships) which left these shores over 150 years ago.  I got directions to it and we did try to get there but the road ends and it is all walking from that point, not something I would have necessarily minded but it was the warning the man gave about cattle there who might not be so pleasant that put me off venturing further!  However, I did manage to photograph it from the boat so that will have to suffice.

The old coastguard station, Donegal Town
Before the emigrant departure point we were shown the now nearly derelict building which was once the coast guards station and later a hostel.  It is now planned to turn it into a luxury hotel with it's own marina.  What a fabulous location that will be.

Seals and their pups in Donegal Bay
The highlight, after the stunning scenery, for me was passing by, twice ~ once going out and once coming back, a colony of seals with their pups.  It was wonderful to see them in their natural habitat and at such close quarters.  Some of them almost seemed to be posing for the bank of cameras pointing at them from all the passengers! 

St. Ernan's Island and boathouse, Donegal Bay

The trip passes by the seven islands in Donegal Bay, the Green Isles as they are called.  Most are uninhabited but at least one of them is accessible by a causeway road from the mainland, that being St. Ernan's, on which there is an hotel.

Bell's Island, Donegal Bay

The views for the whole trip are spectacular and especially on a perfect sunny day like Monday was and, like us, many of the passengers spent their time taking photographs all along the way. 


View to Barnesmore Gap from the Waterbus
 On the return trip music was playing on the loud speakers and I assumed they were playing a cd until my husband went down to the lower deck to return our glass (we'd shared a Lucozade as carrying two glasses up the narrow stairs might have proven rather difficult!). He arrived back up to tell me that there was actually a man playing an organ and singing. Of course I had to see this and as we were nearly back in Donegal Town, we made our way down to the bar. It was surreal to see people, aboard a "sea safari" singing along with and even dancing to the music!

Our entertainer on the Donegal Bay Waterbus
I'd wholly recommend a trip on the Waterbus whether just to take the fresh sea air, enjoy the fabulous views or for people like us who love taking photographs.  The atmosphere on the boat is great and the staff are friendly, welcoming and helpful.  All I could hear from the passengers disembarking was "brilliant" and "fabulous" and other positive comments.  Walking back along the pier to Donegal Town I spoke with some of the other passengers and every one of them agreed it was a great trip.

THE NITTY GRITTY
NOTE: The Waterbus is dependent on tide times so it is absolutely vital you ring the Waterbus office to check the times the Waterbus will be going out.  Booking a few days in advance is probably best but even on the day you can check with the booking office for availability.

You can't pay on board so you must purchase tickets from the ticket office located at the start of the pier just down the street on the right from the centre of town.

You must have paid and parked FIFTEEN minutes prior to departure time.

PRICES (2010)
Adults ~ €15
Children (4-17 years of age) ~ €5
Student fare (must have student ID card) ~ €10
Group discounts available ~ telephone to arrange these discounts, where applicable, in advance.

To contact Donegal Bay Waterbus:

email: info@donegalbaywaterbus.com
Tel: +353 74 97 24010

To go to their website, click HERE

To view more photographs click HERE

To view a slide show of our trip click HERE

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