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An experience to beat the band in West Cork

An experience to beat the band in West Cork

Desert Camping is quite literally a campsite outstanding in its own field.

This is a gem of a spot.

Couldn’t believe my eyes that there was a camping park situated so close to Clonakilty. 

Desert Camping is quite literally a campsite outstanding in its own field.

Desert House Camping is no mirage, it’s an oasis of rural tranquillity located on a working dairy farm on the Ring Road in the famous West Cork town.

The campsite peeps down across two fields onto Clonakilty and the broad estuary which around the corner will take you out along the Wild Atlantic Way and ten minutes out the road to Inchydoney Beach.

Beach 2
Surf Shop
Beach 3
Inchydoney beach is just out the road from Clonakilty and a favourite with families, swimmers and surfers alike.

It’s a five minutes lazy amble in to the town itself, so how convenient a location is that.

Desert House Camping is a 2-star facility on a family farm whose charm and appeal is its easy-going nature and nature itself all around you. You’d be hard pressed to find such a refreshingly relaxed tranquil spot so close to any town. That you can stroll down into the delightful Clonakilty and all its charms is a real added advantage.

Desert House

The campsite itself is a rugged spot, pressed up against the hedgerows and apart from fellow campers your neighbours are the Jennings Family dairy herd out mooching and ruminating around in the next field. I did encounter a surprised wide-eyed field mouse as I stoked up the barbecue and later that night as I chilled with the campervan door wide open in the balmy night air, a curious fox paused to see if I was friend or foe before tip-toing away on his rounds. There was an encounter too with a rather flamboyant looking elephant hawk moth.


Pretty campsite
Outstnading in your own field

This is the great outdoors with no intrusion into the inky dark night sky from ambient lighting. The only other noise you will hear is on the low tide, when the gulls and swans are joined across the mudflats by lanky waders equipped with the long-billed tools to forage in this larder of shellfish and worms.

Clonakilty is just a hop, skip and a jump from Desert Camping with a short walk in along by the estuary.
Desert Camping seems such a misnomer as the shades of green, wild-flowers and wildlife burst from every hedgerow.
The facilities too are, let’s say, basic, with toilets, chem-toilet disposal and grey water discard; showers, TV room, camper’s kitchen (which had all the appliances you’d need). Overall it’s a rugged services block, no frills, a bit rough-and-ready even, but adequate. Showers are €1 for 4 minutes. There are plenty of fresh water and electric hook up (EHU) points.
Tent field

The reception office is at the farmhouse and open from 9am to 9pm. The cost for two nights for two adults and one child with an EHU for the campervan was €50. Showers as already noted are extra, so do make sure to have €1 and €2 coins handy.

The campsite is divided in to two sections, the camping field as you approach for tents and the caravan field with the services block and the milking parlour in between. Children are welcome to visit the farmyard, once accompanied by parents. Pets too are welcome and there were lots of well-behaved dogs about last weekend. You will get them at:

Services block

And we had to have the good fortune to land in Clonakilty to coincide with its 40th annual band championships. This was just worth the trip alone and a textbook example of how to run a good, family-friendly festival in the middle of the town. I guess like the 30 plus bands who filled the streets and squares with airs of everything from Edith Piaff to The Final Countdown, they have been practicing for a long time in Clonakilty.


Tinsmith 2

Clonakilty has had the good sense to surround itself with other interesting places like Timoleague, Courtmacsherry, Rosscarberry, Leap, Glandore and Union Hall, all within easy distance.

But ‘Clon’ itself as it’s affectionately known by those in the know has plenty up its sleeve to keep you well occupied.

Marching Band in Clon
Oh When the Saints Come Marching In….

We were fortunate to hit on the weekend of the 40th South of Ireland Band Championships, which is run in tandem with an Old Time Fair. This entertainment is entirely free of charge and was lapped up by visitors of all ages.


Band and pikeman
The Ambling Band
Rolls Royce

The Old Time Fair too was a revelation, inviting interest and participation in crafts of yesteryear like pottery and basket weaving, with a copper-smith and violin maker giving demonstrations to the delight of wide-eyed youngsters, who could only look on in wide-eyed awe as members of the Cobh Animation Team walked the town in their finery, garb straight out of the an episode of the BBC’s ‘The Good Old Days’, which stopped airing in 1983 before they were even born.

Cobh Costumes
Cobh Animation Team were out in style for the Old Time Fair.

All these skills and style of yesteryear set against a backdrop of the 35th window box and hanging basket competition which set the streets ablaze with floral decorations as vintage vehicles polished to the last saw Rolls Royce and Morris Minors rub shoulders to beat the band, with The Ambling Band from Bristol egging on the carnival atmosphere in their own swashbuckling style. You’d need a lick of the delicious local ice creams to cool down after all the excitement!


Icecream parlour
Bobby Blackwell
Clonakilty black pudding

Clonakilty of course has its famous West Cork Model Railway Village and Road Train; its new distillery with its visitor experience and an arts centre. There are its taverns renowned for music sessions – Shanleys, De Barras (a favourite haunt of the likes of Noel Redding and Christy Moore) and An Teach Beag and other spots which serve up the best of local fare like An Súgán and the Whale’s Tail bistro. A weekly Farmer’s Market each Friday and it is home territory too for Clonakilty Blackpudding which will shortly have its own visitor’s centre we are assured.

Parking is free throughout the town (although there is a two hour limit in some locations), while Clonakilty also boasts that it offers the country’s first rural community bike rental scheme –

An Sugan
Ambling Band
The Ambling Band from Bristol work the crowd outside De Barra’s Pub.

The place seems to be a hive of activity no matter when you land and locals and visitors alike were constantly telling us that we missed the long table street festival in June and to make sure not to miss out on the guitar festival in September.


Michael Collins Museum
Collins and spuds
Only in Clonakilty do you see a picture of  The Big Fella, Michael Collins with the spuds.

And with streets bearing names like Wolfe Tone, Pearse, Emmett, Ashe and Kent it would be sacrilege not to acknowledge Clonakilty’s most famous son and Irish hero, Michael Collins. You are in the heart of the Rebel County after all and there is now a museum dedicated to The Big Fella and the history of Irish independence at Emmett Square in the heart of the town. Admission is €5 for adults, children €2 and €12 for a family ticket.

The Clonakilty International Guitar Festival runs this year from September 16 to 22.

In the town that was also home to the legendary Noel Redding, the bass player with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a guitar festival promises to be a special event indeed and a great excuse for a return trip to Desert Camping and Clonakilty.

What an experience!

Caravan and campervan

About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at Safe travels...

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