I used to view motorway drives as an A-to-B issue, something to simply get done. As slow and local travel guides my outings more and more, however, I'm trying to vary my stops.
Instead of grabbing sad sambos at 'online' service stations, I've been searching maps and social media for pit-stops within a few miles of the main road.
It's paying off.
Last week, on the M7 between Dublin and Limerick, I skipped the Applegreen near Birdhill, carrying on for two or three minutes towards the village instead.
There, I pulled into the 300-year-old Old Barracks, which has been rebooted as a coffee roastery and café. I was soon getting friendly, unpatronising coffee advice, buying a locally roasted bag to take home and having my KeepCup filled with a creamy cappuccino.
I should mention that this is an adult-only stop, due to the live roasting on site, but I left perked up and in good humour, ready for more mileage on the M7.
Hereâs a great pit-stop; a coffee roastery and cafÃ© next to Matt the Thresherâs at Birdhill, Co Tipperary. @Old_Barracks has great coffee, great coffee advice, and a smell that would seduce you off the M7. NB: Adults-only due to live roasting & machinery. âï¸ pic.twitter.com/nJK2QxECzK— PÃ³l Ã Conghaile (@poloconghaile) January 5, 2020
It's not the only option on this motorway. Matt The Thresher's is next door for a traditional feed, and another stop I sometimes make on journeys to Cork or Limerick is the Store Yard, an Aladdin's Cave of an antique shop with a homely café less than 10 minutes off the motorway outside Portlaoise. 'Purveyors of the unusual' is the tagline here... and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Yes, 'online' services like Applegreen, Junction 14 Mayfield and the Barack Obama Plaza are amazing compared to the grotty service stations of times gone by, but they offer little character, generic grub, and you rarely see local passion and ingredients on the menus. Venturing just a few minutes offline, by contrast, can turn up treasure.
Travelling between Dublin and Belfast on the M1? North of Dundalk, Strandfield is a farmhouse café, shop and garden centre just off the Carlingford roundabout. It's hard to look past the wood-fired pizza, but they do magical things with eggs, too.
Further north, outside Banbridge, the FE McWilliam Gallery (above) is less than two minutes off the A1, with excellent eats in Quail's at the Gallery.
The M6? If you've got kids, plan an hour or two at Dún Na Sí heritage park near Moate (April-September; €8/4pp); its Pantry Café, giant sculptures and folk museum are 5km offline.
The M11? A Sunday lunch stop along this route was my opportunity to experience the Wexford wonder that is The Duck, a casual restaurant doing great Irish food on the grounds of Marlfield House. It's just four minutes from the motorway.
Sometimes, you need to get from A to B quickly. But sometimes, slowing down for a detour opens up whole new worlds.
That's what real road trips are about.