Camper Diem! Go to Connemara when you can…

 


Early edition photos posted on social media are greeted with equal measure of excitement and envy: ‘Are you in Greece?’ No, better than Greece, it’s Connemara!

They say you should never meet your heroes. It’s certainly a risky business.

The build-up, anticipation, excitement and expectation are all very fine if fulfilled but an anti-climax or possibly even a downright disaster if those lofty expectations are dashed in disappointment.

Rave reviews, numerous awards and countless photos of campers silhouetted in classic sunsets set against the stunning Connemara landscape paved the way for our long anticipated and overdue trip to Clifden Eco Beach Camping.

We weren’t disappointed. Without over-egging the pudding it is simply fair to say that this place is amazing. Special. And that's even before the sunset takes your breath away.

An authentic camping experience without the demands of wild-camping; an informal lay-out, which lends itself to that sense of a wilderness getaway on the edge of the Atlantic; at dusk a soft light to lull you to sleep; the only sound the shrill cry of some seabird on a last minute errand or the laughter of giddy kids in a nearby tent defying tiredness as they wring the last ounce of fun from their camping adventure. 

Walk to Omey Island or the Sky Road

You set up in your spot, survey your home where you parked it, a 360 degree panorama of rugged land and ocean as far as the eye can see. It’s a fine neighbourhood - lads fishing from the rocks; Connemara ponies grazing in the fields beyond; cattle munching in less friendly pastures on the opposite shore threading their way through a maze of stone walls, watched over by the 12 Bens and if you go for a walk around the block you can stroll over to Omey Island or down the Sky Road and survey its abundance of biodiversity.

Early edition photos posted on social media are greeted with equal measure of excitement and envy: ‘Are you in Greece?’ No, better than Greece, it’s Connemara!















There’s a Friday evening holiday vibe in the fresh breeze, a sense of community, campers all, in canvas, caravans and campervans. Barbecues are lit, fire pits stoked as the evening chill says time to chill and to grab a warm hoodie and a cold beer. The forecast for the next ten days is massive, in the 20’s. We’ll take that any day. There’s been enough rain in Connemara this year, ‘not a sod of turf saved so far’, said the man down at the oyster farm…

The sandy beach, which lends its name to the campsite, suggests it has migrated here with some of the summer birds with its turquoise plumage. It seems so surreal, it looks more like a painting, waiting for the sun to set in the middle of this Connemara canvas. You want to reach out and touch it. You can.


An aerial view of Clifden Eco Beach Camping (Credit: Pat Nevin)

Yoga on the beach

A small chalk sign on the pathway to the beach flags Yoga on the Beach for Saturday morning at 8am. With the side-door of the campervan wide open onto the waterfront of the tidal Streamstown Bay, a fishing boat takes advantage of the heavy current to head out to sea, for a moment creating the illusion that it’s parked between the waterfront motorhomes. On the other side of the headland the beachfront is calmer, the water still and safer.

It’s Saturday. I’m inclined to loll, but the yoga is a good prompt to make the most of the day. The only male, save for one young lad, but the instructor, Sarah, and the other women pay a blind bit of heed. It’s a good class, so much so, Sarah is prevailed upon to agree to going again on Sunday. Lyric FM plays on the tannoy in the shower block. Business is brisk at the recently installed Wild Folk Caravan with its popular pressed juices, coffees and treats.  A thinking person’s campsite is Clifden Eco-Beach. Many of the campers are regulars, family traditions stretching back to the 60’s. You can see why. The location and layout are unique. Each time I think I have the campsite sussed, up pops another tent in a hollow, a campervan on a hillock with its own special vantage point, view of the world. There was talk of a pod of dolphins in the bay but I missed them, and the yoga due to a Sunday line on.














A trip to Omey Island is a must. Inisturk and Inisbofin are a little further out. You can walk across to Omey from the campsite on low tide by threading the shoreline. Grazyna opts to kayak to Omey on her owny-o, while I take the bike and the high road and she is in Omey before me… there were a lot of hills!

An advantage of walking to Omey Island along by the beach is that you can take in Sweeney’s Strand Bar of Claddaghduff just a short stroll up the road to check out their fresh crispy pints or send a post card home, as they also serve as the local post office as well as a popular local. Their menu too deserves some praise, a chowder for €6.95; open crab meat sandwich for €14.95; smoked mackerel paté with cucumber and pickle for €8.50, all served with leaves, sundried tomatoes, pomegranate and toasted seeds.

If you do get a chance do try to pop down the road ten minutes to Cleggan the jumping off point for the busy ferry to Inishbofin but also the location of the pop up restaurant of the year, The Sea Hare. What a treat for sea food lovers but also some proper vegan options on this destination menu. You'll have to hurry though as they are due to wrap up soon for the season.


Lunch at The Sea Hare in Cleggan, what a treat!





















Sophisticated taste buds in the Connemara Gaeltacht

Sophisticated taste buds here in the Connemara Gaeltacht, a place of lore, legend and literature etched into the landscape and the place names from Ros Muc to Renvyle and Roundstone, Letterfrack, Lettergesh, Leenaun, Cleggan, Carraroe and Clifden just down the road as you head back towards the Maam Turks and Oughterard.

A long overdue visit to a local Connemara Oyster Farm out near Letterfrack was on our to-do list. Our run of good luck continued as a spring tide revealed the oyster beds in the crystal clear waters of Ballinakill Bay. Our guide, Catriona, knew her oysters from her elbow but was also a wealth of local knowledge and insights… it’s the Twelve Bens and not the Twelve Pins according to the locals and that’s that debate over. She also had some excellent insights and tips as to how to serve and savour the fresh Connemara oysters all the better. If you fancy an oyster farm tour or oyster picnic you will find them on www.dkconnemaraoysters.com  or call directly to David to make a booking at 0879186997.










The camper’s kitchen at Clifden Eco Beach is a treasure throve of information with a detailed ordnance survey map of the area and pucks of information of things to do and places to go, bikes to hire and boat trips. Like so many of the best campsites this undertaking is a labour of love for Tatjana and Kris Acton who are always on hand to help, advise and assist. So much so that I am convinced that they both have a double as they are constantly directing new arrivals, first-timers, chatting and a word for everyone, a constant eye-out directing operations from dawn ‘til dusk.







Enthusiastic embrace of environmental values leading by example

The Eco bit is not just for show either. They are a fully certified climate neutral geo-site habitat so you also have the dividend of feeling better about the sustainability of your holiday with an enthusiastic embrace of environmental values in everything from water supply, waste reduction, to conservation and care for the machair habitat. While Kris and Tatjana are clearly keen eco-warriors they are not evangelically shoving it down anyone’s neck, it’s all leading by good example and gentle persuasion.








One ingenious way is how they have gotten around the need to protect the grass and soil from fires. I do think that the campfire is one of the lovely signatures of a great outdoors getaway and I am a BBQ fan, so how to weld the two with not wanting to damage the ground? Kris has managed to reuse and upcycle old beer kegs and with sufficiently high tripod legs and reinvent them as reinforced dual purpose barbecues and fire pits. Love it! And you can hire these brazier fire pits for €7 per night or €13 if you want the handy kindling, eco-firelighter and logs, which I highly recommend. Unforgivably, I forget to pack the marshmallows.

What more can I say? Camper Diem! Go to Clifden Eco-Beach camping when you can… and make sure to bring your marshmallows.

You can contact Clifden Eco-Beach Camping at www.clifdenecocamping.ie  or info@clifdenecocamping.ie

Their tariffs are €22 to €24 for a unit with two adults; plus €5 for electrical hook up. Unit with 2 adults and 2 children is €28 to €32. It’s most suitable and welcoming for tents and the cost is €15. Additional charges of €6 per adult, €4 per child and €5 for a car apply. Showers are off a meter, €1 for 5 minutes and the two shower/toilet blocks are communal. Free fishing points and free secure mobile device charging is a nice touch. Clifden Eco Beach Camping are open until November 1st.

SEE ALSO: Spoiler alert as the weather gods put the mist into mystical Connemara

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