The way to get one of the best out of a tenting vacation, from these within the know – The Irish Instances

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From practicing tent pitching at home to swimming against the weather in the rain, there are ways to avoid the gloomy camping trips of our youth, Conor Pope learns from those in the know

The scars of Irish camping holidays in the 1970s run deep. Every summer the Pope’s children would be crammed into a car loaded with our belongings – without even a single seatbelt between us – and driven by two chain-smoking parents to a place with an unpromising-sounding name like Boyle or Kilmuckridge.

Once there, we watched miserably as a tent was set up in the pouring rain. Then I would spend two weeks under cold canvas, listening to the rhythm of the falling rain at night, and driving the murky streets of Roscommon and Sligo and Waterford and Wexford by day in search of something funny.

Eventually, the tent would be taken down and the car packed up to a soundtrack of grumbles and promises of “Never Again.” After a particularly brutal summer in tents, “never again” came true and the camping holidays came to an end.

But not everyone has had such a miserable experience camping in Ireland, and if you listen to some advocates – and there are many – it’s clear that the bank holidays weren’t the problem, it was the popes. We put too much faith in the weather gods and when they failed us – and we just knew they would – it all fell apart. To be honest, the smoking and the endless car journeys were also a problem.

Galway landlord Malachy Duggan offers a vision of an alternate reality that comes dangerously close to joy. He and his wife Carrie Budd have been happy campers since they were asses and it has not only become a passion for him, it has also inspired him to write an award-winning camping cookbook.

“We would have courted a lot at campgrounds,” says Duggan. “When I met her, she was very into outdoor living, mountaineering, hiking and camping, and when she asked me if I loved her too, I said, ‘Of course I do.’ Then I started doing it and I actually started loving it.”

The couple had a child and converted their tents into an RV seven years ago. They bought the Volkswagen from a friend in the early 1990s and started touring the highways and back roads of Ireland.

“The facilities at campsites across Ireland are generally amazing,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s raining a bit I suppose, but as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.

“And the trick is to go swimming or kayaking when it rains, so it doesn’t matter if you get wet. If you waited for the weather, you would never do anything. And it’s so changeable that you might drive out of Galway and it would whip up, but by the time you reach Leenane the sun could split the rocks. The trick is not to focus on the weather.”

He also swears by the awning on his motorhome and the folding gazebo that gives them extra space. “I know that when people think of camping in Ireland they think of this episode of Father Ted, but actually there’s a lot more space when camping than in a hotel.”

In addition to the weather and the awnings, he has other tips.

Topping the list are heated outdoor pools across the country, of which, he says, there are a surprising number. “I thought there weren’t any, but there are plenty. There is a 32m swimming pool in Roscrea which is great fun when it rains and there is a beautiful one in Drumshanbo – these are things we would never have found if we hadn’t been camping.”

Then there’s the price. The cost of living crisis has impacted almost every area of ​​our lives in recent months, including vacations. Hotel and self-catering prices have gone through the roof while availability has gone through the roof.

When it comes to camping, it’s a whole different story, Duggan says.

“There’s a place called Mountshannon on Lough Derg that we visit every year,” he says. “We always go there for at least a week and tinker around the other weeks. At the end of June the pitch was €28 per night and we extended our stay into July which is high season. They came to us to say that the price had gone up to €30 per night. They almost apologized and told us the news. You can’t get a one night hotel in Ireland for what a week of camping costs.”

He’s looking forward to having more choices this year than last year. With the pandemic keeping many people at home, campsites have been running out. “Sometimes you couldn’t get a spot, but then in September there were all these €2,500 tents on DoneDeal after some people bought them and decided ‘never again’.”

Not only does the family go camping, they’ve also written a cookbook called Camping Soul Food: Recipes & Playlists by the Buggans Family. “Buggans” combines the surnames of Duggan and Budd.

“We would always have written little notes saying, ‘Do this or don’t do that’, just to make life easier for the next trip. When we started we cooked pasta and pesto and burgers and sandwiches. Then Carrie said, “We need to get something healthy.” Each recipe can be cooked on a single heat source without refrigeration. Then when the world stopped spinning, we decided to write a book. We wrote it for our daughter Easkey to make something positive out of the craziest year. It’s crazy to think that we were in Sweden for the World Cookbook Awards last week. Egg on Toast brought us to the World Book Awards.”

When asked for more tips for new campers, he doesn’t skip a beat.

“When you get a new tent, set it up and take it down a few times in your yard before you take it out onto the road because a campsite is no place for a domestic worker and no matter how experienced you are it will be difficult pitching a tent causing a fight at a campsite.”

He also suggests that people should consider that they are not Bear Grylls. ‘This is Ireland and you’ll be passing a centra so you don’t have to leave the house with everything. It is better to shop at local stores when traveling.”

He camps in campsites and in the wild, although he dislikes the term “wild camping” just a bit.

“It’s really just camping. And the only thing to remember is to leave no trace, just leave it as you found it.”

While Duggan is a die-hard camper, Sarah Power is, as she’s quick to admit, “relatively new” to the experience. But despite being a newbie she is quite the enthusiast and has booked four trips around Ireland in the coming months.

“It rains on almost every trip I take,” she says. “We plan accordingly [and] Do loads of sea activities with wetsuits that the kids really don’t care. Surfing and all water sports are a big hit.”

She says they travel with “buckets full of microfiber towels, clothes, socks, socks, socks and rain gear. We go out in any weather. We won’t let that stop us. We dry clothes in tumble dryers either on site or at a Tesco if we are unable to dry them at the campsite. We warm ourselves with hot water bottles, giant hoodies and teacups.”

She says the “payout is well worth it. Stress free kids and adults, no screen time during the day, seeing our beautiful country and being outside. We go with the flow and once or twice we swam at half past ten at night because it was warm and dry and safe why not?!”

Five campsites worth mentioning

Rock Farm, Slane, County Meath

This is a pretty, glittering campsite set in the Mountcharles family garden. There are chic yurts with wood-burning stoves and bunk beds, and shepherd’s huts and bell tents for those who like things relatively rough. Availability is limited for the summer months, but if you can find a free yurt for four, two nights will cost just under €200.

041-988486, rockfarmslane.ie

Pure Camping, Kilkee, Co. Clare

This Loop Head campground is just a short walk from the ocean and offers bell tents and eco-cabins or a “wild camping” option in the campground’s native woodland. Pitches start at €14 per adult per night, while unfurnished bell tents start at €35 per night.

065-905795, purecamping.ie

Lough Key Caravan and Camping Park, Boyle, Co. Roscommon

This has been a jewel in Ireland’s camping crown for half a century and has come a long way since the 1970s when this writer first experienced its delights. There are all sorts of things to keep children and adults entertained and when it comes to a bargain price £12 a night is hard to beat. Tent pitches start at €12 per night and go up to €40 for an eight-man tent. Pitches for mobile homes and caravans cost from €22 per night. Showers cost €2, electricity €3 per night.

071-9673122, loughkey.ie

Mannix Point Camping Park, Cahersiveen, County Kerry

This spectacular campsite has 500m of wild Atlantic coastline and the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula. Facilities are good and you might encounter a trad session if you’re lucky. Pitches for two adults cost between 26 and 30 euros, while prices for two adults and two children range from 30 to 34 euros. A shower costs one euro, while electricity costs 4 euros per day.

066-9472806, campinginkerry.com

Hidden Valley Camping Resort, Rathdrum, County Wicklow

This is a real gem and one that has a very good reputation as so few people know about it. Those who do are the lucky ones. It has pods and lodges, as well as pitches for tents and caravans, with the cost of a pitch starting from just €12 per night. There are all sorts of brilliant activities too including an inflatable water park which is the best way to endure a rainy day.

086 7272 872, hiddenvalley.ie