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My Slow Adventure in Ireland’s Under-the-Radar Northwest

A banker-turned-travel-writer’s firsthand account of slowing down to soak up the gorgeous scenery, farm-to-table cuisine, and other pleasures of Derry/Strabane and Leitrim.

My Slow Adventure in Ireland’s Under-the-Radar Northwest

Horseback riding in Derry

“This is postcard Ireland,” I’m told. It’s true. I’ve been in Ireland four days and seen patchwork fields and bucolic countryside while exploring the walled city of Derry, its easily accessible surrounding natural landscape, and Leitrim, a charming small county. And by immersing myself in wild places and natural spaces and engaging with the environment at a slower pace—aka having a “slow adventure”—I’ve also discovered Ireland beyond the surface level.

Slow adventure is travel that forgoes the quick-fix of escapes that are high-adrenaline experiences of a destination in favor of immersive journeys that allow you to experience the place deliberately as you engage with the people who live there and the outdoors. It means seeking out remote and wild locations, treating environments and their inhabitants with respect, learning about cultures and ecology, interacting with natural rhythms, and getting a sense of`one’s place in it.

For me, traveling this way in Ireland was filled with the perspective-shifting joy that first made me leave my job as a hedge fund analyst and make travel my profession. From savoring delicious dishes made with local ingredients to learning about fascinating culture, keep reading to learn how to travel in a different way in this special corner of the world.

Saying hello to Derry

My trip began in Northern Ireland’s Derry. With its own airport and proximity to Dublin, the city is a northwestern hub and the meeting point of two coastal driving routes (the Wild Atlantic Way and Causeway Coastal route), with ample wide-open spaces nearby. I stayed at the Bishop’s Gate Hotel and enjoyed adventures both inside and outside Derry’s historic walls.

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Wood turning with a master craftsman

At the City of Derry Equestrian Centre, two generations of the Lusby family took me horseback riding on their traditional farm, nestled in 30 acres of beautiful countryside, while telling stories of their ancestors who walked the same paths our horses clip-clopped along. The narrated ride gave me a feel for this place and an appreciation for the landscape. And what a landscape it is! We saw the serene Lough Foyle (an estuary of the River Foyle) and expansive views of Donegal and the North Coast.

Not far away, the charming lodging option of Finn Valley Cottages is in cycling distance of woodworker Tom Campbell’s workshop. The master craftsman, who’s been perfecting his skills for more than 40 years, offers workshops on the centuries-old art of wood turning using locally sourced wood, including bog oaks (which I also found myself standing among later on my trip). He invited me to try carving and, after he shared some of his extensive knowledge, I lost myself in the meditative rhythms of the traditional craft.

Derry’s Famous Cheese and Beer Tour took me to Northbound Brewery and Dart Mountain Cheese. Owners and makers of these family-run establishments demonstrated how they use local ingredients to create products that reflect Ireland’s landscape. There’s nothing quite like tasting fresh goat and cow cheeses among the rolling green of the Sperrin Mountains—inspiration that informs the cheesemakers’ products too. Things came full circle as I sipped a Northbound beer over local seafood chowder at Browns in Town.

I also engaged with the wild on the Folk Ways and Ritual Landscapes Tour. Martin Bradley, a paleo ecologist who interprets Ireland’s ancient land through storytelling, took me to an 8,000-year-old bog and a pagan well where I learned of secrets that are the origins of many of Ireland`s cultural traditions. “It’s about appreciation and understanding,” he said as we stood in the open air and felt the breeze on our faces.

Stand-up paddle boarding with Far and Wild had me on the Foyle River which flows through the city of Derry. I spotted gray seals and herons among the wildlife I observed from a distance as fresh warm raindrops splashed my face. The challenge pushed me outside of my comfort zone for what was ultimately a rewarding way to get a fresh point of view.

Next stop Leitrim

My journey continued in Leitrim, a county in the Republic of Ireland’s northwest known for its local cuisine and natural attractions. Accessible from Dublin airport, it’s a great place to dive into the outdoors.

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Brian Morrison

After checking into The Landmark Hotel, I cycled along the Shannon Blueway, which connects the county’s lakes, canals, and rivers through a network of trails, with Electric Bike Trails. Cycling through the mist and alongside wildflowers was an ideal way to experience the water Leitrim is known for—it’s the only county in Ireland that has ocean, canals, lakes, and rivers.

From there it was a short hop to stand-up paddle boarding with Leitrim Surf Company through the silent Amazon-like greenery of Drumshanbo. (My guide called the waterway the “Drumshamazon” because of its lush foliage.) I breathed in the peaceful atmosphere as I gazed at the reflection of the trees on the glassy water. More waterborne activities came in the form of a canoe trip with Lough Allen Adventure to O’Connor’s Island. There, I walked under tall trees, took in the serene surroundings, and learned the art of surviving in the wilderness through the bushcraft experience.

The culinary scene impressed, too. I enjoyed coffee at Jinny’s Bakery and Tearooms, and Kimchi sandwiches and local greens at the Fulacht Fiadh Cafe by the ruins of the Manorhamilton Castle. And I went on a delightful tour and tasting at The Shed Distillery, home of Gunpowder Gin, as well as an inspiring trip to the gardens and orchards of The Organic Centre, dedicated to preserving heritage plants and biodiversity. Followed by dinner at The Red Bank Restaurant, where I sipped cocktails made from the gin I’d tasted earlier in the day, I reveled in flavors sourced right from the area.

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Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat

Brian Morrison

I rounded out my journey at the Ard Nahoo Eco Retreat, where I did a meditation and hot tub soak. It was great to slow down and listen to the peace of the environment, allowing me to reconnect with myself and nature, and revel in an authentic experience of lovely Leitrim.

By the time I left, I’d seen a lot of postcard-worthy Ireland. More than that, slowing down let me fully immerse for a true sense of place and richer experience. From nature and food to culture, history, and stories, I came away feeling like I carried the place home within me. For anyone seeking a destination to experience nature at its most sublime, where you can connect with rich culture and welcoming locals, I highly recommend checking out Slow Adventure Ireland to start dreaming about your own journey here.

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