TRAVEL SCRAPBOOK: Camping in Ireland

Celtic wanderings – my first (and so far only) trip to the Republic of Ireland. Written on 19  August 2007.

And so I return from a rather excellent weekend in the rather fantastic company of Gary, Sally, Bexy and Nathan.

It may seem a mad idea but an epic umpteen hours trip to Ireland (via Ferry and Rail and Taxi) for 2 nights (aka one day) in a rather damp piece of countryside in County Wexford somewhere a little south of Rosslare was precisely what myself and my band of compatriots did for the weekend.

A slightly sleepy sally descended upon the wilds of Cardiff from Stratford Upon Avon on Thursday evening – where I may possibly have still been frantically packing (and discovering my complete and utter lack of preparedness for camping – it has been a while – well a year at any rate) there was chatter and gossip and collapsing to sleep before and early morning fry-up breakfast (courtesy of Papa Lutwyche) yet more last minute packing (I’d forgotten a towel and swimming costume) collecting of Euros (from the bank – correct financial currency is terribly useful when traveling) and heading for Cardiff central station to meet a Nathan (heading in from Newport) a Gary (all the way that morning from somewhere near Stroud) and a Bexy (headed up from Devonwards). Fortuitously our first train was one of those rarities, a direct train all the way to Fishguard – bags were dumped, sandwiches munched flasks of coffee consumed and excited babbling (of the sort usually in keeping with friends who haven’t seen each other in a while, and are all a bit looney to being with, going on a really quite daft adventure).

When we arrived in Fishguard e had about an hours wait before being allowed onto the Ferry where we kidnapped a corner in the bar area whilst I wandered upstairs for occasional trips to nab chocolate, a small bottle of rather vinegary wine and copious quantities of tea and coffee from the first class lounge.

The first class lounge! I know- that is not where a budget traveler like yourself usually frequents -how came this unexpected luxury? Well my friends I must take you back – too all of 4 days – when I initial tried to book my sail-rail passage… *please insert sci-fi/ xfiles style music here* I went- as a dutiful adventurer- to the sail rail website – examined the fares and was informed passage from Cardiff to Rosslare was £44 return (during peak season) I then called the number given and tried to book said ticket – which turned out to be £48. Not a massive difference no – but the website clearly stated that “these were full and final fares” and being of a stubborn variety I asked to speak to someone who could sort it out… After a few false starts I got through to Stena Line (the ferry partner in this deal) and a very nice gentleman called Sean – who had a call to his marketing department – who then contacted the agent Sail Rail (who sell tickets for them and arriva and First great western) who spotted it was a mistake on the page – fixed information accordingly and then, as a hank you – gave me the ferry portion of my trip for free – with for the trip out as the return trip has no spaces available) a free first “Stena plus” seat. This was infact rather nifty – and pretty impressive work – speedy and efficient at fixing mistakes and an incredibly nice thank you (amounting to a saving of monies – the train fare alone return Cardiff – Fishguard advance fare costing £22.40 ) and so – I the budgetier – got fee coffee and wine and cakes and was pleased with the world – I however did not sit upstairs as I preferred to be with my mates and wander about the deck.

The ferry was just over 3 hours long, and as is the custom we went upstairs on deck – and danced about like a bunch of crazy people inhaling the sea air and having our hair turned into 80’s style back combed barnetts. admittedly after spinning around and running up and down I did have a good 15 minutes of looking rather green inside and clutching a hot chocolate whilst being incredibly disconcerted at the way everything kept moving (especially whenever Bexy mentioned the word sway.

We were also accosted by a 6 foot tall cuddly monkey called Curious George – I believe this is apparently normal, today he saw us again and gave me a hug – this was slightly frightening – but his keeper had given me a pink balloon sword – so I guess that as the price to pay for a moments immaturity.

We arrived in Rosslare at 6pm and took a taxi 20 minutes out of the small town to the campsite at St Margaret’s.

All this travel to sleep in a tent in what (contrary to the desperate hopes of optimism, and the falsehoods of various weather forecasters) turned out to be largely torrential rain and gales drink something of an Irish variety (not Guinness as I can’t abide it) in an Irish pub and play on a beach with friends you say? indeed yes! and it was most definitely worth it (even the getting utterly soaked) for it was an adventure.

St Margaret’s is a pretty impressive campsite – it’s within spitting distance o a beach (with ancient wrecked manor house – guarded by an undead bull[1]). The owners of the site are a fantastically friendly family (with really cool Irish accents – the sort that seem to make most of my female friends melt). We set up amp (myself and Sally showing our scout/guiding prowess by putting up out tent way before Nathan and Gary got up theirs – and they had to kidnap supervision from Bexy – you can tell they were never scouts). We managed this shortly before dampening number one – and at this point dug out disposable BBQs and sat (in the rain) on Gary’s inflatable mattress (well Nathan, Bexy and Gary did) whilst Sally took control over the fire (occasionally with aid from Jayne and Methelated spirits) sausages and Burgers, as I tried to boil water in a Meths can and Gary sliced and ketchuped buns (all vaguely under Nathan’s umbrella – which really only protected the food but it was worth a try). after making tea and finishing of our munchies we discovered the kettle and stove in the campers kitchen – which may have made us look a little muppet like persevering in the rain – but never mind. by this point it was late and time for – well alcamahol – so we wandered to the reception in the hope of direction to a pub – the lovely young lady did better than his – she told us which pub would be busy and importantly (given the absolute downpour at this point) give us a courtesy car back to the campsite – she then tried to give them a bell – couldn’t get through and thus gave us a lift in the back of the van to the butler’s Bar.

In the back of a van. This is frankly awesome! crazy- but fantastic – bumping along a country lane in the back of van on our way to an Irish pub. that’s an adventure all in its own right. – it put a Cheshire cat smile on my face for the entire evening – indeed the corners of my mouth are turning distinctly upwards thinking about it.

The bar was traditional country pub fare in appearance, filled with lots of short balding men with strong Irish accents, a few campers and a couple of children being ‘very well behaved’[2]

I drank half’s of Bulmer’s cider (which is, for a mass produced Cider – pretty damned fantastic) whilst we hummed along to cheesy music (the 50 best selling singles of the last 20 years – myself and sally concerned everyone else by knowing all the words to Spice Girl’s Wannabe – n our defence we were 12 and it’s not like they’re taxing lyrics) and tapped to some traditional Irish strumming (later in the evening) whilst Bexy spilled Cider (rather expertly – I m forever thankful that it was someone else for once not me)Nathan sipped whiskey (not really a big Irish whisky fan myself I prefer Scotch) and sally glugged Guinness in blackcurrant (which as a taste confirmed is mildly less repulsive than ordinary Guinness but still, not great). No one ran off with Irish men, and there were no bar brawls – his I feel was a massive success as far as the evening was concerned. About midnight we piled into the courtesy car back and collapsed to fitful sleep (it was really windy) in our respective tents.

Saturday morning and we all woke bright and early – well early at any rate, because birds are noisy the sun is bright and rain is damned noisy and makes you sleep rather restlessly. an exciting breakfast of sausages and beans from a tin and mugs of tea was had before we obtained a fresh loaf of bread from the reception and went for a wander along the beach.

The beach was fantastic- fresh sea air, sand, sand dunes and rock pools and a myriad of salty sea dogs all wishing to be temporarily adopted at various points by anyone willing to throw sticks and give them attention. we picked our way over rocks and along the beach and costal paths – taking in some glorious (if rather flat – Ireland is most disconcertingly flat for a Celtic country) country scenes(big expansive fields and bundles of hay, with ruined castles and houses and little cottages and greenery everywhere and the sea breaking against piles of rocks – admittedly the wind farm did slightly break-up the visage but that could be forgiven easily enough. we walked along to Carne beach and St Helen’s and I found a little Island o adventurously clamber onto (much it seems to the disapproval of some cormorants who were on another little island a little bit behind Jayne-Island – a the flew off for a bit -I think I must smell) we found our way to the little fishing wharf and a bit beyond before heading back for marginally soggy Sally-Birthday cake (for it is Miss Sally’s birthday this week) and bowls of tea (since bowls were cleaner at the time and easier to obtain than a motley assortment of cups and mugs). After cake-based elevenses we headed towards the supermarket and off-licence a few miles away at Island St Mary – which is a place of pilgrimage -after obtaining the essentials (largely beer and bread it would seem) Gary looked after bags whilst the rest of us wandered towards what looked like a castle but was identified as a place of pilgrimage. The castle apparently is the ruins of an old monastery- and rather beautiful – it sits in the middle of what seems t be a peninsula (rather than an island) jutting into a lake (it looks slightly marshy in some places where the fields have not been cultivated), there’s a pretty little grave yard behind the main tower/ gatehouse (which now houses an alter and outside is set out rows of pews for pilgrims to sit and pray) the place is very pretty and peaceful and somehow conjures up the idea of pretty weddings outside (a disconcerting thought to pop into the minds of all females present – especially to the females concerned) a very beautiful spot.

After our wandering past lakes, castle-monastery ruins and off-licences we deposited bits and bobs at the campsite at this point it had been sort of sunny for a while)) and headed (via a shop to acquire a bucket and spade for sally) to the beach.

Sally set about making towers – which with the aid of myself and Nathan became a spectacular fortress whilst Gary and Bexy dived (rather crazily) into the freezing Irish ocean (there were many squeals). There was more splashing post-fortress (I just paddled -not feeling brave/ crazy enough to dive in bodily) and general messing around before the rain began to fall in earnest (again) and we headed back t deposit our very grownup play things (inflatable hurdles and Frisbees and all) back at the camp before showering, relaxing for a bit (or in the case of sally openly snoozing) and plotting dinner of the fish and chips by the harbour side variety (that is – I went “fish and chips! fish and chips!” enough times that we marched to the take-but place, acquired another dog and sat near the harbour wall and munched tasty – if marginally expensive take-out obtained from a rather grumpy polish girl).

A goodly amount of walking later and our evening wound up fairly sedate, involving gossiping – strange song renditions from Bexy, much silliness lots of baileys and other assorted alcohols on a rather unstable picnic bench before we continued these revelries in the )obviously superior because we put t up) girls tent before sleep was attempted (I say attempted as although there was less rain there was a hell of a lot of non-beans manufactured wind. Indeed the sky had looked apocalyptic all day with falling clouds and big voids in the grey above).

This morning was very early – as we had to leave by taxi at about 7:45 in order to make sure we were in good time for the 9am ferry. This meant early morning unpacking, cleaning and very fast munching of beans and sausages. We also seemed to accumulate more bags – which made very little sense at all.

everyone was sleepy (understandably) on the ferry which made for increased levels of sea sickness (cured by beef pies and wandering up on the top deck for a while). By the time we arrived in Fishguard we were sleepy but more alive – though a two our prospective wait was not exciting. We checked times and headed towards a pub (which was nearer a 15 minute rather than walk from the ferry port and alas didn’t serve dinner but did have comfy seats coffee, beer and scratching – which is a very good start indeed). The train from Fishguard o Carmarthen was a little full but timely with the train from Carmarthen being much comfier (I really wish we had better trains in west Wales it takes twice as log to travel half the distance as say lines between Cardiff and Birmingham – which is really crazy). We arrive din Cardiff at 5:30 where Bexy hopped off to head to Hereford and Dr Finn, I escaped towards a bed (which I shall soon collapse into), Nathan traveled on a stop to Newport (someone has to) and Gary and Sally continued their epic return journeys to places in England which seem to have useless train networks on a Sunday.

All in all a lot of traveling, a lot of rain, but a lot of good fun. I am now a very tired little Jayne-creature. Fortunately I have no work tomorrow so shall sleep before work on Tuesday.

hmmm sleep.

This little adventure does of course mean I can claim to have been to yet another country this year (and indeed throughout my life) which is more than little bit pleasing. Where next I wonder? adventure suggestions always welcome!

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[1] somethings really are best left to your imagination – but if it helps – he “likes the way you moo!”

[2] There was a neat little sign just inside the pub with the legend “well behaved children are always welcome in this pub” followed by something about no screaming an running around.