What A Week: Wild Atlantic Way

The vision……
R has long fancied holidaying in a motorhome. The biker in him loves the call of the open road, and he likes camping weekends consisting of a lot of standing or sitting in fields doing not very much.  The plan was to rent one for a week, hit the west coast of Ireland with son and dog on board, and see how we got on.  You’ll love it, they said, you can just stop where you like, make a wee cuppa, enjoy the freedom and the relaxation, bond with nature. Yeah right.

R’s personality type means he likes things open, spontaneous, to be able to decide on the hoof.  By contrast, I like to research and plan. It was hard to find some common approach to the holiday, but we did agree it was sensible to book in somewhere for the first night, and wanted to do as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as we could.  So this gave me enough material to research.  I joined the Motorhome Craic facebook group, who were very friendly and helpful, and purchased the “Britstops” book, which gives deatils of some stopping places near local businesses (pubs, smokehouses, fruit farms etc).  My big worry was that we would driving around frantically at 6 or 7 at night unable to find somewhere to stay, so I drafted a rough itinerary with some suggestions.  Here’s how we got on.

Day 1: pick up van. Enniskillen

Handover, showing us where all the bits and bobs were and how to operate the various functions, including the all important chemical toilet.  We loaded up and set off for Enniskillen.  I sat in the back with Minnie, who was a bit restless at these new surroundings, and couldn’t find a comfortable spot. My first impression was of how rattly the van is!  There’s also no aircon, so it’s not the most comfortable of rides.  But we make it to Lochside Marina (£20, no extra for showers) with no issues, and do our first electric hook up (EHU).  I’d had hoped that the site would be close enough to the city centre to walk for fish and chips or something, but it was about a mile out.  We decided to get a Chinese delivered, which was rather tasty.  But I’m still struggling to see the attaction, plus being by the loch there’s quite a few biting insects around.

Day 2: Downpatrick Head

After a not-bad night’s sleep, I make tea!  And a one-eyed-jack (known in our house as Amy’s Eggs) for breakfast.  We headed for Sligo, where we would pick up the coastal route branded the “Wild Atlantic Way”.  This genius marketing ploy was devised by Leo Varadkhar when he was tourism minister, and since there were already a few coastal scenic atlantic drives in existence, it was just a matter of joining them up, adding a few wiggly signs, and sitting back to await the influx of tourists.

Except Sligo isn’t terribly helpful in pointing me in the right direction.  I scoured in vain for the wiggly sign, or even a sign for the airport, but all I can see is “Sligo Core” or “Sligo Ring”, which mean nothing to me.  We programme the sat nav for Strandhill, and shortly afterwards find a lovely pub restaurant called The Venue, with outdoor seating where we order lunch (chowder for me, roast lamb for R, fresh water for Minnie despite her barking at the kind waitress).  Parking in the car park is a bit awkward – we take up 2 spaces and hope that we don’t get blocked in.

We continue along the WAW, learning as we go how to differentiate between the main route (marked S or N) and the little fingers out to a viewpoint.  We stop at Lacken Strand, a vast expanse of golden sand with drones and air surfers overhead.  Minnie leaps to freedom and enjoys a few zoomies around the place.  It’s tricky drying off her paws, especially in such limited space.

Onward to Downpatrick Head, a spot which was recommended to us by a Swiss couple last night.  It’s a dramatic headland, and as we approach it in the afternoon sunshine we can see other headlands and islands dotted along he coastline to the west.  There are no stopping places to try to capture this in a photograph, but it would be impossible to do it justice even if there were.  The glorious panorama takes in big blue skies, azure seas, and green-grey granite slabs. I set off with Minnie towards the headland, but a sign says that dogs are not allowed, so I leave her back to the van with the boys and continue alone.  It is stunning – sheer cliffs, blowholes, and the 50m high Dun Briste sea stack.

 

Back in the car park, I order hot dogs and chips from Patsy’s van, and he delivers them to our door!

This is our first time trying “wild camping” ie no electric or water, and it feels strange to watch the car park gradually empty of day visitors and have the place to ourselves.  Well, almost, there is one other van in this car park, and another motorhome parked up in the next one down.  My hopes for a wild Atlantic sunset are dashed, though, as a surly sea mist rolls in and turns the sky 40 shades of grey.

We have problems with the chemical toilet, and decide that wild camping is not for us.  Patsy had recommended staying by the beer garden in Healys pub in Ballycastle, so that might have been a better option.

Day 3: Achill Island

Back on the coastal road, the views are stunning, but there are very few places to pull in.  What was that lie in the vision – you can just stop where you fancy? No, not really, you have to choose a spot that you can get in and out of safely without inconveniencing other road users.  But we find a great big car park opposite a fab Spar in Barr na Tra.  A fellow motorhomer with a lovely Boxer dog pulls in too, and we compare notes on how best to dispose of rubbish. The Irish government is promoting a recyling policy, and charging for landfill rubbish.  This does mean that there are very few bins around that we can use.  We try to keep recyclables separate and find the appropriate bottle banks etc, but I find that I’m using black bags, wet wipes and kitchen towel at a greater rate that I would at home, and can’t find many food watse disposal points.  But hey, it’s bound to be more environmentally friendly than flying somewhere.  Fuel topped up, and homemade scones purchased for later, we decide to skip Belmullet, and do the square loop at Blacksod Bay.  Suitable stopping point found opposite a pub, we turn on the gas to make soup and sandwiches.

After admiring the peaks of Achill over lunch, it’s lovely to make our way onto the island, and follow the signs to the newly opened Achill Seal Caves site (28 euro). The facilities are excellent, with loos and showers (1 euro for 3 minutes, plenty of space to leave towel and clothes), and a campervan servicing bay.  As I’m guiding the van into this, the rear brake light cover strikes a not-very-obvious grey wall and smashes. Ouch!  Oh well, it’s a bit of a rite of passage, and could have been much worse – no bodywork damage.  R gets the roll of clear tape and sets about doing the jigsaw of the smashed pieces.  The rest of us explore the beach.

It is golden sandy with rolling waves, but the sand is a little soft and rocky, and there are quite a few jelly fish washed up, so I’m not tempted to go for a dip.  The Strand Hotel nearby advertises “home cooked food all day!” but this turns out to be only at weekends,  So back to the van for rather tasty steak and veg that we brought with us.  Afterwards, we admire kites being flown on the beach, including an impressive whale, advertising a local pizza place.

Day 4: Keogh’s, Ballyconneely

The morning dawns cloudy but pleasant. so I take Minnie for a run.  However, the loose sheep give us problems: they see her and bolt, she sees them dashing off and wants to give chase. But it’s good to get the endorphins shuggling round my brain, and running on the beach in such surroundings is very therapeutic.

We pack up and head for Westport, one of the places I’d been looking forward to pottering around in.  But it’s a very popular spot, and driving through the town is more than a bit hair raising, with lots of cars double parked, and delivery vans reducing the available lanes.  So that vision of spending some time wandering among the colourful pubs and shops quickly vanishes.  We can’t see anywhere to park, so continue out along the southern shores of Clew Bay, and stop near Croagh Patrick, for a cheese-and-crisp based lunch. From there, it’s my favouite road in the whole world, the Doo Lough pass.  Again, not enough places to stop and photograph, but we enjoy the scenery around Killary Harbour and Leenaun.  Just past Kylemore Abbey, there is a narrow bit of road, and we see another motorhome approach us.  “Breathe in!” I say, but the 2 wing mirrors clip, at a combined speed of about 80 mph, and the mirrors pop out and smash.  We pull over, and the German couple do turn around and come back to us.  I get out the accident form and start completing it, my rusty German being tested severely (Indicator light? Mirror housing? And what date is it anyway?)  A Garda car stops and makes sure there are no injuries, and if we are happy enough just to exchange insurance details then he will leave us to it.  But it’s not just the mirror that is shattered – I’m feeling very stressed out after this, tensed up as if I was in a dentist’s chair, and my heart is in my mouth around each tight bend in the road.

Tonight we are staying at Keogh’s, one of the aires in my Britstops book, which is a large gravelly car park beside a pub-restaurant-shop-filling station. (You had me at pub-restaurant).  Manoevering is made a bit more difficult without a wing mirror, but we get set up, and head across the road to enjoy a super dinner in the outdoor seating area.  The menu is very impressive, and I am spoiled for choice, settling eventually for the seafood platter, including oysters, crab claws and steamed mussels.  It is absolutely delicious.

Day 5: Galway

Overnight, some travelling fair trucks have parked up near us, getting ready for this weekend’s Ballyconneely Show.  But we manage to pick our way out of the park.  No loos in the shop, which opens at 8, only in the pub, which opens at 10.  So we head off for Galway, having researched where the Ford parts dealer is, in the hope that a replacement mirror can be procured. Driving around the iconic stony green Connemara landscape, I imagine a sort of Craft-coffee-shop-with-loos, and lo and behold!  At Glinsk such a miracle appears!  It is lovely, with a very extensive gift shop where we spend some time, and beautiful gardens with a stunning view of the mountains.  I treat myself to a Connemara marble worry stone – just rub it and your worries will disappear!

Soon we are driving along Galway Bay, and stop at Spiddal to make ham-and-crisp sandwiches.  I have a little mosey around the Craft Village, with intriguing basketweaving, glass painting, silver jewellery etc shops.  Well worth a visit!

The sat-nav leads us through the narrow streets in Galway centre, where again double parking and delivery vans make the journey more difficult than it should be.  The parts place is on Headford Road, a large industrial and retail zone with a big Dunnes Stores, Halfords, and  a Pet World. Bad news is they don’t have that mirror in stock, but they can get one for tomorrow.  We head for Salthill camp and caravan park, to find them closed for lunch.  But we can wait.  It’s 40+ euros for the night!  There’s a per adult and per dog charge (what facilities is she going to be using?), 1 euro for shower, 50 cents for hot water to do dishes, 5 for laundry, another 5 for drying, and lots of dictatorial dos and donts on signs around the site.  Depending on which sign you read, check out could be 10.30, 11 or 11.30, so it’s obviously been a contentious issue. I can’t find the promised beach, but I do find Joyce’s supermarket, which is an absolute haven of edible goodies and local produce.  I buy some fancy artisanal yoghurt for breakfast, and some mushrooms which I add to a pack of microwave rice cooked in a saucepan, with crispy bacon for dinner.

I stroll along the coastal path in the evening light, before we join some fellow campers in the recreation room to watch the England-Croatia match.

Day 6: Lough Ennell

Minnie wakes early, and I take her along the coastal path as the sun is rising.  Some photographers are setting up tripods in the outdoor pool and diving area, but I’m not sure what they are expecting. I shower using a plastic bag method: put clean clothes in bag and hang on hook.  Take off dirty clothes and leave in a corner.  Shower, dry, put on clean dry clothes, and place dirty ones in bag.  I do some sun salutation yoga strecthes, and enjoy my hand-knitted hippy yoghurt in the sunshine.   All the hard stands have a grey water drain, so it’s simple enough to get everything ready to go.  Back to the motorparts place, I go for a bit of a walk, and enjoy a cup of tea and a croissant in Dunnes cafe.  I think that’s another thing I find hard on this sort of trip – finding some me-space.   The mirror arrives, R fits it easily enough, and we are soon underway.  We’ve chosen somewhere to stay tonight somewhere that’s on the way home, so it’s goodbye to the Wild Atlantic Way.  And goodbye to the City of Tribes which I didn’t really get to experience – I shall have to return some other time.

We set off on the N6, M6.  There are no service stations, but eventually we find a pull over place, and I rustle up soup and sandwiches and a mug-shot with added cheese for lunch.  Lough Ennell is well signposted, and is a large well spaced site with plenty of wide available spots with EHU and water.  28 euro.  There is a small shop on site (no wine….), but we get some bacon and eggs for dinner.  Being by the Lough, there are quite a few flies around, but a charming family of swans with a group of fluffy cygnets are playing by the water’s edge.  We settle in to watch Lilo and Stich on DVD, an old family favourite, and have an early night.

Day 7: Home

A good night’s sleep, a shower (1 euro), plenty of tea and bacon butties for breakfast, and I’m almost human again. An uneventful journey home (the van is much less rattly on smooth main roads), and we’re home mid afternoon, in time to give the van a good final clean before handing back.

Final verdict?  Motorhoming is not something I’ll be rushing to do again.  It’s a big beast which limits where you can park, and I like to be able to make tea, go pee, and have a shower, without it being a major faff.  But the scenery was marvellous, and I’ll definitely revisit the WAW some day.  Maybe in a sports car……

List of things we should have brought:

  • The list!  Which I thought I’d left on the kitchen table, but which turned up about 3 days in.
  • Scissors
  • Ziplock bags
  • cleaning wipes
  • J cloths
  • Hand towel
  • travel dog crate whcih can be used outside
  • Tether point for long lead
  • handwash
  • Crocs for everyone (I was the ony one who’d packed some, and had to share.  I should have charged by the 3 minutes, same as the campsite showers!)

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