Tim and I have reached that time in life. Our lovely daughters, 21 and 18, happily go to festivals, films and art exhibitions with us for family outings but the days of two weeks of rough camping in Cornwall with them and a posse of their friends is no longer on the annual agenda. We go our own slow travelling ways these days. So faced with a holiday on our own we thought we'd do something different.
We decided to visit Ireland – land of my grandparents and holiday destination of my childhood – and specifically Connemara. I had fallen in love with the place when I was five and its haunting beauty has never left me. I had to go back.
Irish property collapse
Having heard so much about the post-Celtic Tiger economy and the housing collapse that has left countless new builds empty, even unfinished, I wondered whether my fond memories of this country and its gentle people would be challenged. It wasn't.
Tim and I love wilderness and we love weather. We love to be in nature, especially by the Atlantic with its wild beaches and cold water. Having decided on Connemara we found a campsite on the internet that seemed to fit all of our requirements, and more. Set on a 20 hectare organic farm, Acton's Camping and Caravaning Eco-Park is right in the dunes on the Claddaghduff road, near Clifden, bordered by an estuary, Streamstown Bay, on one side and the Atlantic on another. It is a low density site with modest but clean facilities (that's fine with us) and run by a kind and helpful couple, Kris Acton and his partner Tatjana. They live on the site with their two lovely children in a mobile home but are in the middle of self-building an eco-house.
Biodiversity and botany
The site itself is stunning. It is carpeted in orchids and many other wild flowers (I'll write a blog about the biodiversity next time) and the dunes are held together with marram grass (an ecological machair habitat site). This place is a botanist's dream. The unpopulated beaches are of golden sand and the estuary at high tide has a run of seven knots, a great place for an experienced kayaker. There are also more gentle tidal paddles to be had on the estuary and Ireland's only fjord not far away at Killarney.
Our pitch looked out to the Twelve Bens mountains in the distance, our back garden was the crystal clear estuary, and a short 100 meter walk away was the open sea with those glorious beaches.
Our trusty canvas bell tent kept us comfortably sheltered and warm even in a gusting gale and we quickly became immersed in the changing weather and landscape. We watched herons, cormorants and aerodynamic terns fish in the bay behind our tent, lobster fishermen pull up their pots, clouds scud across the changing skies and rainbows grace the hillside beyond. We had the promised mist, wind and rain, but also adequate amounts of sun to send us home tanned and well.
Outdoor cooking and fishing in Ireland
Outdoor life suits us. We love to live simply and cook outside, walk miles every day, beachcomb, forage, fish and clamber over rocks. We also love the Connemara people, generally so friendly and generous with a healthy degree of eccentricity. Most of all, we love the simplicity of watching weather, landscape, tide and creatures converge into the grand natural rhythm of life.
Carbon footprint: Holidays
Coming back this week, people have remarked on our great tans and how well we look. We could of course have flown to some warm destination in an urban complex on the Med, expensive on the pocket and unacceptable for the eco-footprint. Instead we have chosen a car ride and a ferry to a wild place. To us, this kind of trip is a homage to nature, a meditation of place and a journey in which we re-wild ourselves. It feeds our souls and enables us to carry on with the other life with the multi-media digital complexity that is permaculture publishing.
The temptation is to keep quiet about places like Actons, but Kris and Tatjana deserve to be busy. Running an small organic farm in Ireland is not easy and their stewardship of their local environment deserves to be celebrated. And Connemara? It is still a dream place, even 40 years on from the childhood idyll.
Read Maddy's second Irish blog: Wildfowers, Wildfowers Everywhere! Connemara Dreaming Part 2
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