To go on a road show and to be free to stop wherever you want, being surrounded by beautiful nature! That’s the idea of Campervan adventuring! Earlier in my life this way of traveling was not really attractive to me. I prefered chick hotels and Airbnb’s and to be honest I put city trips before nature. Over the last years I became a nature addict (welcome to your 40ties ! ;)). Latest since my New Zealand road trip I became a huge fan of traveling through awesome landscape scenery. Stopping at random places for a view, a wine tasting, a farmers market, a bungee jump (didn’t dare, just watched). What a feeling!
I decided to bring the road trip to the next level, exchanging a personal car by a Campervan. I thought, before I conquer Canada (on my bucket list) I should start small – with a lovely country in Europe.
Discovering the Wild Atlantic Way – pure coincidence
What became the WAW was supposed to be an icelandic expedition trip with my friend, the landscape photographer. Missing on my have-seen-list, this destination became even more attractive since I met some guys who offer guided mountain adventures in Iceland.
Our flights and the campervan were already booked and I was looking forward to what was going to be a first campervan experience for both of us. I spent a little fortune on warm outdoor clothes, gear and trekking shoes and then WOW Air announced bankruptcy and ceased operation two weeks before our trip!!!! ARGH!
We really wanted THAT trip. Caravan, the road, the nature, a bit of cold, outdoor, rough scenery…
Our connecting transfers to / from Frankfurt were booked. Where to go, similar to Iceland and not expensive (since it was last minute) !? Ireland ! Destiny exchanged Rjekavik by Dublin and so we started our adventure from there.
We had 9 days and decided on northern Ireland. Picked our Campervan (we rented from Bunk Campers) near the airport of Dublin and crossed over the highway to the west coast. Galway was our starting point. Filled the tank, bought food supplies from Tesco and hit the road.
Our idea: Drive from Dublin to Galway, then we go north along the coast: County Mayo – County Sligo – County Donegal. Reach the northest point of Ireland and drive back down to Dublin.
Our mission: driving, trekking and capturing lovely shots of cliffs, mountains, hills, bog, sheep, sea etc. Enjoying beautiful sunsets, drinking whiskey (me) and Guiness (my friend), stopping wherever we feel like and going to sleep and waking up with breathtaking views!
Our motto: Be Free! Therefore we decided on a more expensive van option with a toilet and a shower, to be independent from Campsites.
So we did. Violà our road trip day by day:
Dublin – Galway.
First day was really just getting used to the car, buy supplies and get a good sleep before hitting the road into adventure next morning. Our first night was at Dunguaire Castle just a bit south of Galway.
After a small walk we took the N59 north to Derryclare Lough, where we had our first photo shooting session at the lake. Continued to Clifden – a lovely small village with a cute square and colourful houses. Drove then up to Clifden Castle Demesne for a walk and took one of the Sky Road loops to Omey Island. During low tide you can walk/drive there. I walked forth and back but we didn’t dare driving through the beach with the Campervan. Enjoyed the sunset there and drove for our second night to the Clifden ecoBeach Camping & Caravanning Park. Our only stay at a Campsite, to charge the van and our laptops ! : )
After my meditative morning beach walk and my first coffee of the day (sitting on cliffs – priceless!) we had our breakfast and drove to Letterfrack for the Connemara National Park. We spent half a day in the park walking up the Diamond Hill. A lovely walk of around 4 hrs if you take the big loop and have multiple picture-taking-stops. As it was the Easter week the trails were a bit crowded but still very enjoyable. The walk reminded me of the Tongariro Crossing I once did in New Zealand. Breathtaking views in 360 degrees! After the walk we drove out to Kylemore Abbey. For sunset we chose Killary Harbour (was a beautiful one on this day). Then still on the N59, passing Westport and Newport we reached Achill Island and stayed overnight at Catherdral Rocks.
I woke up on my birthday morning with a lovely view of the beach, the Rocks, and a small waterfall! To my amazement there was even a little stone labyrinth. Its description announced ‘as you trace the path back out, you emerge with new found clarity and connection to your true self’. Great place for my first morning meditative ritual ! Not sure if I ‘emerged with clarity’ but I liked that little spiritual detail on my special day. Around breakfast we got a visitor – a local shepard with his flock. He had a chat with my friend and I took the chance to befriend the sheep! : )
After a seafood platter in Belmullet (not a very attractive town), we went to Glenlara (lovely view point), and to Ceann Lorrais/ Erris Head for a long walk on a trail along the cliffs. We had a successful photoshoot (Gil with a pro-camera equipment, me with a selfie-stick) and headed to see first the Blacksod Lighthouse and then the Ballyglass Lighthouse, where we stayed for the night.
Drove out to An Bhinn Bhui (Carrowteige – Kilgalligan / Stonefield) for another long, deserted cliff walk with breathtaking views…Until a big cloud came and not only covered the breathtaking views but also the trail, leaving me breathless (*you will find this little story below in the article). After that mini-adventure, there was a second one waiting for us – the car battery decided to break on us and we got stranded, literary in in the middle of nowhere! What to do?! Breath…OHHHMMMM, call for assistance, drink whiskey, wait, get help…and 4 hours later you are on the road again. We ended that Easter Saturday in Sligo – a super cute, little town with a nice range of restaurants, pubs and a bit of a nightlife. Treated ourselves with super yummy fish and chips & kangaroo skewers, washed down with a few Guinness (@Swagman Bar). That night we stayed at Glencar Lough (lake).
After the Glencar Waterfall we drove back to Sligo for Easter brunch with Eggs Royale and Mimosa (@Knox). Full and happy we took the N15 north, with stops at Streedagh Beach and Mullaghmore Head (view point). Visited Donegal town and drove west through Killybegs to Teelin. Went for a sunset walk to Bunglass Point/ Slieve League (viewing point) and finished the day over a couple of Guinness at a local live-music pub (@The Rusty Mackerel). Spent the night in the area.
Via Carrick to Malin Beg (nice bay with sandy beach), on R263 up north via Glencolumbkille (cute folk village) to Assaranca Waterfall (small, not worth it but the way there, via mountains and bogs, was beautiful). Up north on the N56 and R250 to Glenveagh National Park & Castle. Arrived in time for a sunset walk (around 2 hours, return) and actually had a nice one that day (you never know in Ireland). Headed west via Kinscasslagh to Cruit Island for a night at the beach.
After a lovely morning-beach-walk-first-coffee-meditation, we visited friends of friends (**at this point I would like to share this little, beautiful story, which you will find at the end of the article). With new impressions (and more tips for drink and food places) we hit the road up north: N56 via Falacarragh to Dunfanaghy. Visited this cute town (you should have a coffee @ Markt House: Lovely vintage shop & café with ambience) and took the R245. Stopped at Doe Castle View (view point), and drove to Downings. We wanted to have some oysters at the Harbour Bar (seafood and beer with view) but the restaurant was closed, so we just had a beer at the pub and enjoyed the harbour view. For our seafood we then went to The Singing Pub (emblematic pub & restaurant). After lunch we headed up to Fanad Head Lighthouse for a little walk and photo shoot and drove back down via Letterkenny and up north again until we reached out final (nordest) point or Ireland: Malin Head. We went for a cliff walk at Ballyhillin & Hells Hole (so called ‘Devils Head’). Our last night was in the Malin area.
At 5 am we started making our way down to Dublin, partly via North Ireland (UK). Enjoyed a nice sunrise at Quigley’s Point and had our last stop for lunch and packing the backpacks at Muckno Lake in Castleblayney before hurrying down to Dublin to drop off the Campervan at 11h (we were an hour late and had to pay extra).
The Campervan Life
The little space, the constant driving, passing through mountains, unknown roads, animal on the road… It all can be a bit stressful too, but still very enjoyable once you get used to it and of course, if you plan it well.
Strategic planning of the little space is very important! In a van everything needs to have its own place and always be locked away or attached when driving !
When planning your route and the time frame you need to factor in the ‘needs’ of the Campervan. After all it’s not a ‘normal’ car. It’s not only filling the tank, it’s also filling the water regularly (and learning how not to waste water!), emptying the toilet and adding the chemical, discharging waste water, charging the leisure battery (charging non USB-devices requires the van being plugged into the power socket).
You need to get used to cooking in a small space, not forgetting to heat up water, to shower super quickly with minimum of water waste. Heating up the van itself before going to sleep is recommendable and don’t forget to switch off the gas while driving or sleeping!
Having enough gas and always checking the control panels is crucial !!!!
What I liked about the road life was the socializing and interacting with locals and other campervan travelers! It’s super easy to meet people. Everyone is curious about you, your van, your trip, your story! They want to exchange anecdotes, give you useful tips and invite you for a glass of wine (so that you can admire their van)! Loved it!
What I found absolutely priceless, was being able to park at practically any beautiful spot and waking up to awesome views! This freedom and independence of parking your home where you feel like was stepping yet on another level of my already crazy working-remote & traveling lifestyle!
On the food side: Our meals were a mixture of cooking in the van (FUN) and eating out. For breakfast we usually had cereals. For lunch/dinner: pasta, couscous or soups (good for cold evenings, after being exposed to cliff wind and humidity). It’s good to always have enough nibbles (nuts, chips, cheese, dry fruit) for ‘in between’ and a good glass of Whiskey or Guinness at the end of the day!
Bring bags, clips, scotch tape, rubber bands etc. to store/ attach things.
Control if everything is stored away and if the drawers/ cupboards/ fridge etc. are locked before driving!
Control if gas is off before driving !
Charge your leisure battery at Campsites!
If not at Campsites, you can fill water at petrol stations (someone told us about graveyards but we didn’t have to do that).
Even with green chemical, toilets should be emptied in a septic tank. If you use eco-friendly soaps, you can empty grey water (shower/ washing) in nature.
Bring a multitool !
Make sure you check your rental van before driving off. Ours had a few tools missing. Including all kitchen equipment! Luckily enough we then got a whole brand new set! (I liked the fact that the cups and mugs had a rubber at the bottom to not to slip away when you park on a small slope).
Make sure to park on an even ground. Avoid slopes (especially inconvenient if the water on the bathroom floor can’t drain off).
Keep your (smelly) trekking boots at the back of the car (stored away).
Talk to strangers (you can learn from them) !
Don’t chase sunsets when in Ireland – often there is no sun ! HAHA
My two personal stories during this week I would like to share
‘Lost in the bog, in the fog’
*As I mentioned above, this nice walk eventually got overclouded – literally speaking! As I decided to separate from my friend, who took long exposure shots and to go down to the car to start preparing lunch, the breathtaking views all over sudden disappeared to muffle me (and my visibility) in big clouds. I consider myself blessed with a very good sense of direction but I realised, this applies rather to cities with points of reference then to huge wide spaces (with not even a horizon, at this point). At first I enjoyed the ‘adventure’, I knew the general direction, even met a couple of people. I’m afraid I might actually have scared them, walking out of a cloud, off-path. Good that my outfit was a (human looking) pink down jacket and not a black, long robe, put on to enhance the mystic mood of my instagram pictures! LOL. At one point however I got scared myself. The moment my phone decided to lose reception (besides of an already very low battery) and the (rare) trail poles disappeared in the fog I started to freak out! The only poles in my view were those indicating ‘danger, cliff edge’. OMG, I realised I got lost in the bog, in the fog and learned about myself that I’m not only claustrophobic but apparently also have a hint of the contrary – fear of open, wide spaces. I decided to sit down and wait at the only point of reference I found – a small bridge. I eventually got phone reception and also the cloud passed, opening the sight of the van in far distance, but I have to admit, those were veeeeeery long 10 min!!!!
‘Call from the other side’
**Not knowing what, something attracted me to this Island. I insisted to stay there for the night (my friend suggested a change of plans). Had a peaceful sleep and after I sent a secret wish towards the universe to see a sunrise, I easily woke up (I’m NOT a morning person!) with no alarm JUST for a beautiful sunrise outside of my window, over the sea! Without walking up my friend I went outside for my little walk and realised we slept next to a little, cute cemetery. Normally that would scare the hell out of me but not this time! I felt a strange but peaceful attraction to go there. Before I went to sleep I texted an Irish friend of mine, who had suggested to include Cruit Island into our itinerary. In the meantime I got her message back, it said: ‘If you have time, go to see a friend who runs a BnB. She is the mum of our friend who passed away 2 years ago, you may remember her mum from our wedding?!’. OMG! Goosebumps. The graveyard at my doorstep! My friends didn’t know if their friend was even buried there or somewhere else but I needed to go! I walked in and walked straight up to her resting place! I didn’t know this lady nor her death circumstances but standing there I felt like I knew her. Like she was a soul mate. Her grave looked like an image my own life – full of traveling gadgets: A lighthouse, a Buddha statue, a map of Thailand, a VW bus…It’s crazy but I felt like she called me to come and visit. I don’t see the meaning in it yet but I’m sure there was one. It was a beautiful moment. We left a shell for her and took a picture for my friends, who were very touched. Then we went to visit her mum. I think she was happy. She shared some stories and we learnt that the shipwreck at the bay under her house, which Gil loved (photo motive) belonged to her husband, who was a fisherman and who is also buried together with her daughter at that cute little beach cementery…
To sum up
Ireland seems to me like a Mini-New Zealand (the nature). On the other side it reminded me a lot of my time in France and the trips I took with my French ex along the French Atlantic Coast (the small pittoresque villages, the seafood…). I loved it here and for sure I’ll return for the south part of the Wild Atlantic Way (well I’m also looking forward to actually go to Iceland ;)) !