Naomi Richardson and her family took their first ever caravan holiday this summer. Here's how they got on in West Cork
Twin or single axle? Four or six berth? Tow it all the way to West Cork or have someone else do it for you?
If you’ve never given caravans much thought, these things are important apparently. Doubly so when you plan to spend your staycation in one.
Would our first caravan trip turn out to be forever filed under "things that seemed like a good idea at the time", or would it open up a whole new world of staycationing? This rookie was about to find out.
We pick up our four-berth caravan on the morning of our trip from provider Adrian Hanratty, who is based near Slane, Co Meath (tel: 086 036 6953 – his website carvanhire.ie goes live in September; €500 for a week and another €500 security deposit).
We’ve a long journey ahead so are keen to get on the road. Baggage allowance is seemingly limitless - but packing should really include a bucket, mop and basin. And leave your designer heels at home.
The caravan has been given a clean down - there’s fresh linen on the beds and necessities like kettles and toasters have been carefully stowed away. A large plastic barrel stands in the middle of the floor. This is for filling when we reach the caravan site so we can have our own water supply. There’s a water heater, an air heater, a CD player and a TV.
I look at the shower and loo area and hope the teens in our family will remember to share. Noting the outside compartment for gas, my eyes skip over another plastic container. I decide to figure that out later.
Securely locked and hitched to the car, we make for the open road, brimming with enthusiasm. It’s a dry, sunny day and we are venturing the furthest from our home that we have been in months.
Driving is a little trickier than anticipated. There’s a drag - and driving necessitates flicking between gears frequently. Refuelling means stopping only at the larger plazas which will have enough space to accommodate the width of the caravan. No point in taking chances, the designated driver decides.
The motorways are easy, but after we’ve skirted around Cork and head along the N71, things get a little trickier. Hills are slow going, there are several towns to negotiate and sharp bends require some manoeuvring.
Finally, the satnav announces that we are at our location and the campsite is on our right. Except that it isn’t.
I take out my phone to call, but there’s no signal. Welcome to West Cork!
For a brief moment, we panic. Have we missed it? Is it really up that narrow-looking laneway? What if it’s not? Is it even possible to do a three-point turn while towing a caravan?
Fortunately we are saved by a passer-by, who tells us Hungry Hill Lodge and Campsite is just a kilometre down the road in Adrigole (hungryhilllodgeandcampsite.com; €132 for four nights, including electricity).
Here, we are directed to our designated spot by owner Owen Johnston - who, after a warm but handshake-free greeting, quickly helps set us up with electricity as we unhitch the caravan.
Our power cable is too short, so he supplies one of his own. He also familiarises us with the park, showing us where to fill our water tank, and where washing, shower and toilet facilities are. There are two areas, cleaning is constant, social distancing won’t be a problem and the laundry room is accessed by key (bring coins to operate).
Covid-19 posters are dotted throughout the park and, after supplying a contact tracing form for filling out and giving us a leaflet citing park regulations, we scurry to finish setting up before bedding down for the night.
My son is given the chore of lowering the stabilisers on the caravan to keep us steady. My daughter is tasked with the water... that’s what the extra tank is for. It makes sense, as we have to flush the loo and drain the sink/shower somehow.
We all pile in, assemble neat little beds and, tired after our long drive, fall asleep quickly.
The next day, after a typically late start, we decide to head to Dursey Island. The skies are blue and it is only a short drive from the park. When we get there, we are advised that there will be a long wait. Masks will be necessary, too, and only four people at a time (six if from the same family) can take the cable car.
We are happy to take it in turns to queue after buying our tickets (there’s no phone signal there either, so payment is cash only, for more details see durseyisland.ie) and walk around the headland at the start of the Beara Breifne Way.
When we come back, dinner is served by Murphy’s Fish and Chip van in the car park. We choose from monkfish, hake and gluten-free options and munch it watching the steady but slow crossing of the cable car. Dessert is supplied by its sister ice cream van. By the time we finish, it’s almost our turn to take the cable car. If you’ve forgotten your mask, they are available from the takeaway for €2 each.
Once on Dursey there are plenty of trails to follow and a full 4G signal. The teens joyfully reunite with their social media accounts - snapping sheep, sailboats, proud sea stacks and sparkling blue waters that seem to stretch forever across the Atlantic.
Day two dawns warm but dull. Breakfast is outside again. With more time spent on the site, we realise we are missing something. A gazebo or awning or even a tent would have gone a long way towards increasing the space available to us. With four of us in the one spot, things are starting to feel a little squeezed.
We look around in admiration at the seasoned campers and caravaners who have successfully gauged the amount of equipment required. I hear the sound of a hairdryer coming from a tent. My daughter chastises me with a look... I’ve forgotten ours.
Another chair would have been useful too. With staggered breakfast times the day before, we didn’t really notice we only had three - and there’s some good-natured muttering as we take it in turns to sit on the step into the caravan.
Today’s adventure is a mere kilometre away. Niall and Gail MacAllister run Wild Atlantic Wildlife (wildatlanticwildlife.ie), a sailing and kayaking centre. We rent four kayaks for three hours (€75) and sanitised wetsuits and opt to spend the morning searching for seals while paddling around in the local bay.
There’s a small island in the middle where terns nest and we circle the island quietly for a spot of bird watching. We’re joined by another visitor which pops its head up at a distance, surveying us for a few minutes before disappearing underneath the waves again. We’ve just spotted our first seal.
After two hours, the wind picks up and things turn slightly choppier. With tiring shoulders, we decide reluctantly to wave goodbye to the seals, sanitise our suits and look for lunch on dry land.
First, it’s back to base for a hot shower. No one wants to take it in turns in the caravan, so we use the on-site facilities. I hadn’t counted on us all needing to shower at once. And I get the side-eye again for having forgotten the hairdryer.
All dry, we settle on Murphy’s Restaurant in Castletownbere for food. (Ring ahead to book a table, tel: 027 70244.) There are sanitisers at the door and masked staff take great pains to point out the one-way route through the restaurant. Newly erected dividers separate diners and provide us with the two-metre distance we’ll need.
Fish is the obvious choice here, fresh and tasty. Gluten-free food is accommodated too, but we’ve run out of time for dessert due to timing restrictions. Just as well - those wetsuits were pretty snug.
Day three. It’s breakfast outside again. The weather gods are smiling on us despite a deluge hammering on the roof of the caravan in the early hours of the night. Ear plugs would have been useful. I’ll remember them next time, I tell myself.
We decide to hit the beach. We might as well take in some more of the West Cork scenery while we’re at it, so we leave Adrigole and make our way to Barleycove, beside Mizen Head.
There’s plenty of room for social distancing as we arrive on a weekday - but traffic jams are common here at the weekend, so if you’re not into queuing a good alternative is Ballyrisode at nearby Toormore, closer to Goleen. It’s quieter and a bit more sheltered. At Barleycove the water is chilly, so dips are short. Bring a wetsuit and a body board for some extra fun.
All that sea air has made us hungry… and sometimes pizza is the only cure. We head to the Brick Oven in Bantry (thebrickovenbantry.com). You can order a takeaway, but we opt to sit in. Staff have donned plastic visors and there’s copious sanitising of tables and chairs between customers. We’re a little late, which eats into our 90 minutes, but service is so swift there’s time for dessert. Our youngest teenager declares it the best gluten-free pizza she’s ever eaten.
There’s just enough light left for a trip to Gougane Barra. It’s back through Ballylickey and on to the Pass of Keimaneigh - once the site of a battle against English forces in 1822 - before arriving at the famous St Finbarr’s Oratory, jutting out on to Gougane Barra lake. I’ve visited numerous times and it has never changed. The lake waters are completely calm, reflecting the church perfectly. A single boat bobs gently on the surface. After the busy pace of the last few days, it’s the perfect place to breathe in calm and exhale any residual stress.
On day four, we watch in admiration as other families pack up tents expertly while we hurriedly fling in chairs and hastily washed dishes, banging down compartments and securing bags and the TV. Which wasn’t watched once.
Tanks are emptied, the rubbish is disposed of, and there’s a tricky moment while we try to re-hitch the caravan. I direct, while my husband manoeuvres the car and caravan. We have survived - and are still speaking to one another.
My question on the road home is this. Would we do it again? There’s a resounding, yes, only next time we are gonna need a bigger caravan.
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