There has been an unprecedented upsurge in camping activity this summer with upward pressure on prices and availability of vehicles and spaces. Most campsites are booked out for the remainder of August and many are not taking tents.
2020, the year the world went camping mad.
It will go down forever as the year of the #Staycation, when everyone and their mother dusted down the sleeping bags from the hot press, dug out the old tent in the shed and tried to hire a caravan or campervan. You may form an orderly queue at Lidl or Aldi for the camping specials.
Camping is back in vogue, no mistake about it, as families clamour to get out of the house with the kids, and ditch those cabin fever blues in favour of blue skies and the great outdoors.
In fashion terms, camping is the new black.
Okay, it’s #staycation Ireland so make that the grey outdoors, trading as the great outdoors, with blue skies an optional extra…
Nevertheless, hail, rain or… more rain, this is Ireland and the beaches are thronged and the campsites are booked out and we’re not going to let the odd shower spoil our lust for life post lockdown. We’re going to carry on camping!
Recently retired RTE presenter Seán O’Rourke has hit the road and was spotted in Dick’s Field, Ardmore in his 142 Hobby. Munster and Ireland rugby legend Ronan O’Gara was tweeting up about the delights of camping in Biarritz. Even health campaigner, Vicky Phelan, turned to social media in an appeal for a campervan so she too could safely get away with her family.
While camping remains a most sociable affair it has an additional built-in advantage of physical distancing fitted as standard, and you can remain mask-free and soak up the fresh air as you cook or chill, or seek that thrill of biking, hiking, trekking, surfing, this way, that way, on the blueway or greenway and sure whatever you are having yourself way.
Artists are turning to camping as their muse. As Clare based Lani’s Art puts it, ‘One day I’ll own a camper van and drive down to the sea; I’ll have a surf, a little snooze and make a cup of tea.’
The lifestyle is certainly appealing.
Well, here’s the snag. Camping’s return to fame has come at a high price and higher prices.
The upsurge in renewed interest in camping and the curbing of overseas options has led to many of the more popular coastal campsite locations being completely booked out for the peak season of August.
Many campsites are not accepting tents and only allowing self-contained units with their built-in toilets and showers on site.
A full house at the popular Dick’s Field in Ardmore, Co Waterford as posted this weekend on Facebook by one happy camper.
At the same time there is mounting evidence that while campsite services and capacity may be reduced, prices are not. Experienced campers are reporting prices upwards of €40 per night for a unit and two adults.
All these factors have conspired to generate other issues as campers, both veterans and newcomers, are forced to seek alternative options as they hit the staycation road. Not everyone can avail of the mid-week lulls and this has led to chronic traffic congestion at popular seaside resorts at weekends, with some beaches in Wexford even being closed due to over crowding.
A cartoonist’s take on the summer camping scene 2020 vision.
Furthermore there has been an upsurge in ad hoc parking in towns and villages with no designated spaces or where campsites are unable to cope with the spike in demand.
Not surprisingly, this had led to tensions in certain localities with residents complaining of an influx of vehicles and what they view as illegal parking.
Last week the Mayo newspaper, ‘The Western People’ brandished the headline ‘Idiot campers causing a stink on Mayo staycations’, with a claim that certain motorhome holiday makers were dumping their toilet cassette waste into a popular bathing area at the Quay in Westport. The paper doubled down this Wednesday with a claim that the arrival of so many tourists on Achill was causing another problem: ‘Influx of visitors cause water shortages in Mayo village’, leading to local restrictions. The Connacht Tribune reported similar tensions due to the scale of motorhomes parking along the Salthill prom in Galway.
Such is the level of concern the issue has been raised at local authority meetings around the country, including in Kerry, where there are objections to motorhomes camping overnight in town centre car parks and beauty spots in and around Killarney, Torc Waterfall and Muckross and Kenmare.
Adopting a different approach, the community in Castlegregory in Kerry moved to establish two pop-up overnight parking facilities with a modest cost for basic services so as to encourage campers to stay off the special area of conservation at the Maharees. Othe continental style Aires in Cobh and Youghal are proving popular and working well for the communities and the campers.
Elsewhere in the Shannonside Tipperary village of Terryglass the local tidy towns organisation was moved to intervene over what they say is wholesale indiscriminate overnight parking, littering and anti-social behaviour.
The experienced campers cry foul, plead innocence and point the finger at others. It is not in the interest of regular and veteran campers to burn their bridges, as they appreciate the symbiotic relationship between themselves and local communities.
Total Motorhome Ireland (TMI) is one of the many online forums and resources available to motorhome enthusiasts and welcomes newcomers. They have over eight thousand members and are fully signed up to the Leave No Trace Campaign.
“There’s no doubt that the Covid restrictions are the catalyst for the country’s latest love affair with all things camping. But we always urge people to be respectful of the communities they visit, leave no trace and try spend a few bob to support local businesses. There’s an etiquette to be followed and we are always ready to help out with advice,” explains the TMI spokesperson. They even have an inter-active map of 160 pubs throughout Ireland which welcome motorhome overnight parking.
One person who has seen both sides of the Covid coin is Seán O’ Sullivan from Sneem.
‘Dan Murphy’s Bar’, the pub he bought in the village only three years ago remains closed along with 3,500 others around the country. However, his other enterprise, Goosey Island Motorhome Park has proved a lifesaver.
“Business is very good this year. Covid has changed everything for the tourism sector. There’s a huge surge in our business. We are over three-quarters full all the time and it’s all Irish visitors from north and south, whereas in the past there would be French, German and Italians. The Irish are the best tourists, they spend,” asserts Seán. He re-opened on June 29thand says the brisk business in the Motorhome Park is reflected in the footfall in shops and other premises around the Ring of Kerry town.
Goosey Island Camping in Sneem on the Ring of Kerry is having a busy summer. It offers great value in a stunning location.
Goosey Island has 30 pitches in the heart of Sneem village and the plan is for it to remain open all year round. The cost is a very competitive €10 a night or €15 with electrical hook up, for waste disposal and water supply, Aire style facilities.
It’s a similar picture in one of the country’s newest Motorhome Parks, Meath Eco-Park near Dunshaughlin.
“This has been the luckiest break of my life,” says the upbeat owner, Dave Robinson. “We have 18 pitches with electric hook up, it’s an adult-only site, most of our clients are over-50’s, looking for a break or looking for a break from the kids, out in nature, where they can relax and we also offer fishing as an activity,” explains Dave, who opened up the facility only five weeks ago.
“We used to run a children’s adventure park here but we were crippled with overheads, especially exorbitant insurance which was over €40,000. This is the best move we’ve ever made, I’m so delighted we made the switch with so many people, many of them who had been cocooning, looking for a safe place to visit. We conducted a survey during the lockdown with Total Motorhome Ireland and 82% of the respondents said they would use an adult only site, so here we are and it’s going great. We even leave two-free range eggs at the door of the motorhome for all our guests each morning to make them feel welcome.”
That ebullient mood is also reflected at Anchor Point Motorhomes in Birdhill, Tipperary, one of the country’s leading dealerships.
It’s a family business and in 20 years the O’Keeffe’s have never seen anything like the demand, interest and sales. Like so many other businesses they were closed during the lockdown, but the phones were hopping.
“This June and July has been our busiest ever and it’s mostly first time buyers or people returning to motor-homing, so we’re not getting that many trade-ins, so our stock of second hand vehicles is depleted, but we still have a few. The ball has certainly bounced right for us on this occasion. The biggest segment of the market is retirees who have the money and the time to use the motorhome and perhaps bring their grandchildren,” outlines Mark O’Keeffe.
The six million dollar question? What’s the cost to get on the road with your own pride-and-joy of a motorhome?
Prices at Anchor Point start at €70,000 for a panel-van conversion, something like a Fiat Ducato fitted out, with an entry level coach built new motorhome standing you 80 grand and anything up to €130,000 for a 4-berth top of the range Bernimar, Westfalia or Burnster.
It can cost anything from €70k up to €130k to get a new motorhome on the road and the demand has surged this summer.
A twenty-year-old second hand motorhome will still set you back around €20,000.
“The thing about second hand vehicles you have to be careful not to be buying someone else’s problems. You have to watch out for damp and other issues. We do a full habitation test and offer a warranty, as buying on the likes of Done Deal can be a minefield. But the advantage is that once you make the original outlay motorhomes do hold their value very well and can still command 70% of their original sale price after 10 years. The important thing with such a big spend is to buy the vehicle and layout that suits you,” advises Mark.
There is another way of getting on the road to camping heaven, but the waiting list at David Hanley’s Vanderlust in Ennistymon in Co Clare has just gone out from 6 months to at least 10 months.
Vanderlust Campervans can convert anything you like from a bean can to a double-decker bus and some of their fit-outs have run to €35k, even one for fifty grand, while the average for a high roof van with its own toilet and shower compartment is €20,000. The VW Transporter type with the pop-up roof that are so popular will leave you with little change from €18,500 for a conversion.
There is also VRT to watch out for, a tax levied at the rate of 13.3% on the value of the converted vehicle as determined by the Revenue authorities, can amount to quite a hefty bill which many overlook.
“We just can’t keep up with the demand. People are actually moving on their plans, placing deposits, they are doing the business and not just dreaming about it. We are out the door, so too is our online shop for all camping and campervan accessories. We also do campervan hire and I can’t keep up with it, we simply don’t have enough vehicles, they are all booked out,” David Hanley of Vanderlust reflects the huge spike in demand for all things camping, with over 50 calls and as many email enquiries every day.
A camping getaway is the staycation of choice in the summer of 2020.
He hasn’t jacked up his prices this year with the view that people will return next year for repeat business if they get a good deal and have a positive experience. It’s €945 for a 2-berth Transporter type hire for a week and €1,295 for a more family-friendly 5-berth with its own toilet and shower.
On the subject of toilet’s the Vanderlust man reveals that the Covid inspired camping surge has had yet another side-affect, you can’t get your hands on a ‘porta-potty’ for love or money.
“We usually sell about 80 in a year but this season we could have sold a thousand, but they can’t be got anywhere, we have tried all the suppliers in the UK and Europe, but you can’t physically get them due to the demand and when they’re gone, they’re gone, as apparently they are all made in China.”
The demand for the elusive ‘porta-potty’ is because many campsites are not accepting tents this season, while others are not opening their shared facilities such as toilets and shower blocks, and if you gotta go, you gotta go. A porta-potty costs anything from €65 to €100 depending on the model, but the sky is the limit if you can source them this summer.
Camping is not for everyone. Nothing is handed to you. You have to cook your own meals.
“I’m actually advising people to hold off on buying a campervan at the minute as there is a dearth of supply on the market, but that could all change later in the year. Camping is not for everyone. It’s not like booking into a hotel where everything is handed to you. It’s all down to yourself and you can’t do anything about the weather. You often have to pitch up in the rain and empty the toilet from your campervan. I always tell people, ‘if you don’t like camping you are not going to necessarily like a motorhome’, it’s camping on wheels,” sage advice from David Hanley of Vanderlust in Ennistymon, Co. Clare.
·A version of this blog was originally published in last weekend’s edition of the The Sunday Times newspaper.
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 www.communicateireland.ie.
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 www.thelastbeekeeper.ie.