Madeline Keane takes her kids to West Mayo for a self-catering holiday that's poetic in more ways than one...
When we got home, we had sand in the hair, the eyes and the ears and everywhere; Whenever a good nor'wester blows, Christopher is found with Sand-between-the-toes...
I've always loved the antics of AA Milne's young boy and towards the end of every summer, I've tried to execute the idea of a buckets and spades holiday with my children at the seaside, creating sunny (hopefully), sandy memories, which will last as autumn starts to creep in.
Mayo has long been a favourite destination, though it was usually to that glorious stretch from Newport to Achill, that I had gravitated. This year we changed tack as, with my youngest daughter going into her last year of secondary school, we needed to lay down some very special memories. So I contacted those charming folk at Trident, a company I've been dealing with for over quarter of a century, and who are brilliant at providing family friendly accommodation throughout the land.
My only specification was seaside, and they located us minutes from Old Head Beach, a sheltered cove fringed with trees, where fishing boats rocked gently in the lee of the pier (We swam there every day in glass clear, jelly-fish-free waters.) At the crossroads at Louisburgh, as it is charmingly called, is a thoughtfully appointed bungalow which very comfortably sleeps eight and has a spacious closed-in garden which allows for one pet. Owned by Willie and Miriam Moran, the property was built on the footprint of the former's birth place.
We arrived on a grizzly afternoon in late August to a warm welcome, a roaring turf fire, fresh flowers, and a starter kit of provisions. We dined that night in the nearby village at Surf and Turf on thin crispy pizza and rich pasta carbonara. It's a lovely little place with a super coffee shop (Louisburgh 74), a welcoming tourist information centre where they're happy for you to plonk down with your laptop and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and even its own museum dedicated to Granuaile.
The next day, we decided to acquaint ourselves with this side of the county and did a wonderful drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, travelling from Louisburgh to Leenane, through dramatically beautiful countryside, stopping at the shores of Doolagh Lake to enjoy a typical Irish picnic of soggy ham salad sandwiches and crisps, before snapping memories for the family album at picturesque Ashleigh Falls.
This was our only day of rest and the week sped past in a blur of action. With three very energetic girls (two teenagers and a ten year old) in our entourage, luckily there was no end of activities.
Old Head offered snorkelling, pier jumping and coasteering which combines what they describe as adventure swimming - basically cliff jumping and rock scrambling all knocked into one breathless session.
It's a busy coastline - there's also climbing and abseiling, kayaking and paddle-boarding, riding and fishing. And a couple of years ago six of us, aged 8 to 48 did two legs of the Great Western Greenway, over 43 kilometres comprising the longest off road walking and cycling trail in the country which follows the route of the Westport to Achill railway line which closed in 1937.
We covered two legs of it back then: from Newport to Mulranny (18 km) and a couple of days' recovery later, pedalled from Mulranny to Achill (13km) through gorgeous landscape. Exhilarating and exhausting, it was an unforgettable experience - happily there's a collection service provided too - you don't have to cycle all the way back! (www.greenway.ie)
The highlight of this week however was an afternoon spent surfing at Carrowniskey strand. On this wave-swept shoreline, a hirsute, wiry guy called Elvis runs surfing classes (for all levels of experience) and a surfboard hire service. For a very reasonable €20 you and/or your little ones can get 2 hours tuition and rent all the gear - board, bootees and wetsuit - required. They also run a summer surf camp through July and August (www.surfmayo.com).
The six of us spent a fantastic afternoon trashing about in the waves, being pulled, pummelled and pushed around by the mighty force of the ocean, trying (in my case fruitlessly) to get upright on the boards. No matter - it was simply epic fun and a hobby that I intend to embrace with passion.
The summer that was in it we were duty bound to visit Westport House - its charismatic saviour Lord Altamont died during the summer but you feel he'd be happy to see the old place bustling with families. My niece adored the zorbing and zip wire while the grown ups thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the house. My sister and I took a boat to Clare Island - mystical and beautiful - but, because of our appointment with a surf board, missed the food festival happening later that day starring the redoutable Tamsin Day-Lewis.
Not that we suffered on the culinary front. At the Tavern, a jolly inn at the foot of Croagh Patrick we'd no excuse, given we hadn't scaled the sainted peak, for the vast platters of monkfish scampi, beer battered cod and chips we consumed.
In Westport, we followed a preprandial in Matt Molloy's before returning to an old favourite, The Pantry and Corkscrew, where we feasted on haddock wrapped in the lightest tempura batter and apple and strawberry crumble with home made vanilla ice cream.
Our last evening, was spent, as has become tradition, en famille at JJ O'Malley's, a lively spot where we enjoyed burgers and trad music. It was a memorable end to a magical week, one shot through with deep nostalgia for me. I think this will, for the moment at least, be the last holiday with my children.
Already the dreaded Magaluf is rearing its ugly head but I'm filled with gratitude and joy to have twenty-six blissful last days of summers with my darling girls and endless 'sand-between-the-toes'.
Cottages4you in association with Trident Holiday Homes offer a selection of hand-picked, individual holiday cottages, homes and apartments stretching from Dingle to Donegal and Dublin to Galway, a selection of nearly 500 properties includes character cottages, family friendly farmhouses, rustic hideaways or large luxury retreats.
2015 is now open for reservations with booking deposit of only €30 for any bookings taken before 31 March 2015. Cottages available from €365 for a seven night stay. Visit www.cottages4you.ie or call 01 201 8490.