Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

The Donegal secret beach where I go to get away from it all

Spiritual home: the beautiful beaches at Dunfanaghy
Tracey Emin's bed
Caroline Wozniacki

I've known it as the Secret Beach since I was wee - but its real name is Tramore and it's as close to heaven as you can get. Tramore stretches along a remote part of the Donegal coast, just a few miles outside the popular spot of Dunfanaghy, and is the perfect place to go for some peaceful thinking against the backdrop of spectacular scenery.

I've been going there every year since I was a child when we loved calling it the Secret Beach because it's almost always empty given that you have to hike across two kilometres of sand dunes to get there.

The only other way on to this strand is by boat giving it a special atmosphere of solitude and wilderness. No cars allowed, no easy way in. We've always liked to think we are the only people who know about this secluded beach which looks across at Tory Island and is battered year round by a lively Atlantic. We aren't, of course, but the name has stuck and I consider it my own private idyll.

It was on my annual pilgrimage out there recently that I had an epiphany about the importance of holidays – and the importance of Dunfanaghy to me in particular.

As a child, I hated the walk out to Tramore (although the pain was always worth it once there). The dunes are tricky, with sand slipping out from under your feet, parts are steep to climb, easy to get lost on and peppered with rabbit holes you could stumble into.

So last weekend I was trudging along, thinking about nothing other than not falling over which in itself is quite relaxing.

As we reached about halfway, my eye was caught by the sun breaking through the clouds and I looked up to see a panoramic, almost heavenly, view across the sand dunes to a lake to my left. The water was like glass, there were swans gliding slowly around and a lone fisherman in a small boat. It was breathtaking.

I realised I'd been marching for about 20 minutes but hadn't once looked up to enjoy the scenery. As I stopped to catch my breath and take in the view, I had my epiphany of how life can be exactly like walking out to Tramore. You can be so busy getting there and avoiding the potholes, pushing on with your head down, that you forget to look up once in a while and enjoy the reason you're doing it.

And that's why holidays are important. It doesn't really matter where you are, so long as you've time to stop and look around.

The Victorians had it just right when they pretty much invented the seaside holiday. They saw the value of simple pleasures like dipping your feet in a refreshing ocean, buckets and spades, building sandcastles, fish and chips and an ice cream.

They weren't heading in their droves to Donegal, or building piers there, but I think they would have got it.

While I love travelling abroad, I've come to the conclusion there is nowhere quite like Donegal to catch your breath. Even when it's raining, the air relaxes you in a way no other place does. I've never had a sleepless night in Dunfanaghy.

I always feel completely at peace there. It is my spiritual home and when normal life in Belfast gets a little frayed, I like to imagine standing on Tramore looking out at the waves. So you can have your hammock on a sun-drenched Caribbean island, give me getting soaked to the skin in Donegal any day.

The art prices that make me lose sleep

A fool is easily parted from his money. What kind of an idiot forks out £2.2m for an unmade bed? Yes, that's right, an unmade bed. I don't care if it's Tracey Emin's bed or a Turner Prize nominated piece of art. It's still just a very messy bed.

The auction house Christie's this week sold the controversial piece called My Bed – complete with fag ends, condoms and a vodka bottle – for a record sum. But they wouldn't reveal the identity of the new owner.

I'm not surprised, I'd be too mortified to show my face if I'd wasted that amount of money too.

Could Caroline still serve up revenge?

Caroline Wozniacki forgot to read the script. I was gutted when the Danish tennis star got beaten in the fourth round of Wimbledon after looking so promising to go far.

The romantic/vengeful women among us hoped she would whopp the competition to lift her first Grand Slam title – before getting whisked off by Spanish stud Feliciano Lopez to celebrate. Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy would be hit with the sudden realisation of how silly he'd been in calling off the wedding.

Alas, it wasn't to be – or at least not the Wimbledon part, if rumours of her blossoming flirtation with Feliciano are to be believed.

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