From waterproof blankets to banquets and barbecues, we’ve rounded up the best ingredients to make the most of long summer days at the beach
On a normal sunny spring or summer day in Sydney every available green space or sandy strip is dotted with groups of picnickers. Perhaps it’s the haunting mystery at Hanging Rock or just the fact that for over 300 days of the year the sun shines over the city. Not surprising then that when I lived in Australia many years ago I became quite the seasoned picnicker wi th all manner of cooler contraptions and fold-up accessories.
I have not had quite as many sunny picnic encounters in Ireland. I do recall one that had great potential until a seagull ruined our spread causing me to knock over a plastic tumbler of tea onto my creamy egg-salad sandwiches and, worse, the Tayto. But is there anything better than when the stars align on a beautiful Irish beach and you manage to whip off that Aran jumper for more than an hour and enjoy a sand (and tea-free) sandwich and some sunshine? In the words of Somerset Maugham: “There are few thing so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort.”
Choosing a good picnic blanket with lots of room to sit and spread out food is a key to comfort. There are plenty of affordable, waterproof options (Tiger, Penneys, H&M Home, Mountain Warehouse). For a more traditional wool, waterproof option try one of Heating and Plumbing’s easy-to-carry wool blankets with polyester backing which come in bright orange, yellow, blue, pink and grey (available from Wolf & Badger).
A small, compact, lightweight deck chair is a great beach accessory (Smallable) along with a beach tent or umbrella.
Business and Pleasure Co have a range of umbrellas and stylish tents that are a more sheltered take on the classic beach umbrella that gives you more protection.
You could sling everything into a carrier bag and go, but investing in a good quality picnic hamper, or backpack if you’re planning on a picnic hike, makes even a few sandwiches feel a bit more special. Most wicker baskets include the essentials: plates, acrylic glassware and cutlery, some often include blankets and cool bags.
There’s lots of choice with retailers The Kitchen Whisk, Avoca, TK Maxx, Oliver Bonas, Carraig Donn and Harvey Norman stocking a good selection of options. If you’re on the move try the Bronx backpack for four with insulated cooler bag, plates and cutlery included — available from Next.
They also have a wide range of picnic accessories from shatterproof glassware and drinks dispensers to folding grazing tables and picnic pouches.
Us Irish do love a barbecue especially a beach cook-up so if you’re planning on upping the ante from egg sandwiches consider a handy portable barbecue such as the mini Sahara from Joyce’s Hardware, Wexford, which works on propane, or a lightweight easy-to-carry charcoal one from TK Maxx. The retail giant manages to cover all bases with lots of acrylic picnicware, blankets and cool bag options.
If you can handle the pace, and the crowds, Decathlon is a favourite hub for all things outdoor, in particular its camping section which stocks plenty of handy picnic accessories and a great range of isothermal backpacks in various sizes.
When I think of Manet’s famous 19th-century painting Luncheon on the Grass, in which several people repose in the sunshine around a blanket dotted with wine and food amid the trees it feels like the height of earthly pleasure, lazing and grazing in the summer sunshine.
Picnicking today feels a little less pastoral with gritty cheese sambos and empty packets of crisps tumbling across the sand but with the right accessories it can be heavenly, even with a few sandy sandwiches… things just taste better outdoors.