John's Ireland Campervan Adventure
Posted on 10/04/2013 by John Morley
It seems like every year or so we head over to Ireland for another family wedding. Normally this would involve sneakily leaving work early on a Friday and then flying to Dublin with a late night return flight back on the Sunday. This would be followed by a horrendous Monday at work.
This time we took the week off work and spent 7 days after the wedding exploring the west coast of Ireland in our Spaceship campervan.
The journey from London to the Welsh port of Hollyhead takes about 5 hours. Driving along the North Wales coast is a trip in itself with some great dramatic scenery and Snowdonia National Park.
Ferry crossings between the UK and the Republic of Ireland are very straightforward and there aren’t really any formalities to go through. We used Irish Ferries to cross from Hollyhead to Dublin. Stena Line Ferries also operate the same route as well as a Hollyhead to Dun Laoghaire route which brings you just south of Dublin City.
The wedding was held in the beautiful town of Trim just north of Dublin. The town has the largest Norman castle in Western Europe. We stayed in the same hotel as all the guests for one night whilst our Spaceship – “Mulder” – sat in the car park.
The next day we set off on a long drive day to the west coast of Ireland. Someone once said to me “Going to Dublin and saying you’ve seen Ireland is like going to Canberra and saying you’ve seen Australia”. Our journey across the middle if Ireland was motorway all the way and it took less than 3 hours to reach the county of Galway. The county is home to the Connemara National Park, a rugged landscape dotted with lakes and the Twelve Bens Mountains.
Our first stop was the picturesque town of Clifden. This is one of Spaceships’ Space Stations where DVDs could be swapped so we went into the Outdoor Shop (www.connomara.com) and had a chat with Leo, the owner. He gave us loads of great advice on what to see and recommended a campsite which wasn’t in any of our guide books.
When we arrived at the campsite (http://www.actonsbeachsidecamping.com) we were really pleased that we’d followed Leo’s advice. The site itself was next to a beach and there were no houses around. We parked up, sat on the beach and watched the sun set over the sea.
From Clifden we spent the day driving around the Connemara National Park. A well signed “Connemara Loop” driving route takes in much of the best scenery. The route is accessible to tourist busses so parts can be busy, but we took a few detours on some of the smaller roads which are only navigable in something the size of a Spaceship Camper.
That night we camped at a site on the edge of Galway City which was right on the coast. This was by far our worst night of weather and the wind really got up. We went to sleep nice and cosy in our Spaceship. When we got up in the morning some of the tents had blown away and people had resorted to sleeping in their cars!
Fortunately the storm had cleared by the time we drove out of Galway and south towards County Clare. Our first stop was The Burren, a unique landscape which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the moon.
The next stop was the Cliffs of Moher which is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations. The cliffs rise an impressive 214m above sea level and are home to a wealth of birdlife including puffins. From the cliff edge you can see out to the Aran Islands which are shown in the opening title scenes in the comedy Father Ted.
At the foot of the cliffs is the town of Doolin which is famous for being the centre of Irish folk music. We spent the evening in O’Connor’s Pub which hosts céilís 7 nights a week. A céilí really means “social gathering”, but is often used to refer to live music. The musicians aren’t part of a band, but just turn up if they want to play.
We spend the night at the incredible Nagles Campsite (http://www.doolincamping.com/) which sits on a spit of land overlooking the cliffs. If there is ever a campsite that feels like the end of the world then this is it!
From Doolin we drove to the seaside town of Lahinch where there are some great walks and good surfing conditions. A couple of operations on the beach offer surf lessons.
A drive along the coast took us to the estuary of the River Shannon. A ferry took us to Tarbert on the south side of the Shannon in County Kerry. During the crossing we were lucky enough to see a mother and a baby dolphin swimming alongside the ferry.
Kerry is famous for its breathtaking scenery so we were really looking forward to our time here. After a night spent in Tralee we drove down the Dingle Peninsula. We chose the scenic route which goes across the Connor Pass, Ireland’s highest road. The road is only accessible by car so anything larger than a small campervan would struggle. Tourist busses are prohibited which means a lot of people miss out on some of Ireland’s best scenery. It’s hard to imagine how they managed to build this road. Some sections are chiselled out of the cliff and other parts have sheer drops right next to the road. The view from the top is definitely worth the drive.
The Connor Pass winds its way down into the town of Dingle which is surely a contender for most amazing location of an Irish town. It’s surrounded by mountains and water and there are great views whichever way you look. The drive around the very tip of the peninsula is called Slea Head. Like many of the best Irish drives, this road is off limits to busses and coaches. It’s hard to get around the drive when there are so many scenic places to stop. 30 miles took us about three hours!
From the Dingle Peninsula we headed for Killarney which is surrounded by mountains and parkland. We spent the night here and then walked the Dunlow Gap which is a great day walk. A bus takes you to the start of the walk and then you walk through the gap (about 7 miles) and get a boat back through the lakes.
From Killarney we drove out onto the Iveragh Peninsula, better known in the tourist books as the Ring of Kerry. We spent the night at the Wave Crest campsite (http://www.wavecrestcamping.com) which has the most amazing location. All the pitches are nestled amongst the boulders and right on the sea. It is hard to imagine that you’re actually on a campsite when the pitches are this private.
From here we had a long drive day back to the port of Rosslaire where another Irish Ferries route takes you into Pembroke in South Wales. Interestingly, you can also get a ferry from Rosslaire direct to France which would be very handy if you were planning to travel to Ireland and continental Europe. The last 30 minutes in the boat are cruising along the Cleddau estuary which has some of the best costal scenery in Wales. Pembrokeshire is certainly worth spending a couple of nights in. It has fantastic coastal walks and some interesting history. From Pembroke it’s a 4-5 hour trip back to London.
The beauty of Western Ireland is that there isn’t one specific tourist trail. The best way to see it is with your own transport so you can explore and find your own special places. We would have happily spent a week in any of the places we visited – so we’re already planning our next trip back!
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