Make me an island, make it Valentia Island
A soft summer’s evening in Kerry as we wait to board the ferry at Reenard Point for Valentia Island, which can be a Mediterranean-like paradise on a fine sunny day.
For all the interest and enthusiasm around camping this year, it’s important to remember that camping is not for the faint-hearted. While we have high hopes of a holiday to remember it’s important to remain grounded in our expectations and ensure it’s not one we just want to forget.
Even in a good campsite it can prove challenging and there’s nothing like an Irish summer to bring you back down to earth.
Scenery is great if you can see it; barbecues are brilliant if it’s not pissing rain; sight-seeing, hiking, cycling, trekking, kayaking, fishing or boat trips are all super fun if it’s not blowing a full-on south-westerly.
And as for outdoor hospitality, well, it’s great in theory… until every sizzling dish is a cold platter before it makes it to your table and a shot of neat whiskey is the only thing that will bring the feeling back into your toes.
Yes, you’ve guessed right, we’re just back from a week in Kerry!
The good news is we have survived, (even though it was touch and go on a few occasions, with train times from Tralee even googled!!) and have lived to tell the tale.
Overall the tale is a good one. Camping is as much about perseverance as preparation, and after four days of incessant piddly rain, the sunshine broke through and the week was salvaged. So much so that undeterred and full of optimism on the weather front we’re off again tomorrow, this time to Connemara.
However, it was a salutary lesson. We had taken the forecast for a heatwave and plus 20-degrees temperatures too seriously and paid the price as we had to adjust our footwork, footwear, swimwear and general clothing. Too many t-shirts and shorts for the tears of rain streaming down the outside windows accompanied by the condensation inside. Even those in static units had already thrown in the towel and the parasols by Tuesday. This novel was more 40 shades of grey, than 40 shades of green, which would put any camping trip (or relationship) to the test. Mutinous utterings of ‘let’s go home’ and the crumbling drive-away awning which continued to struggle in the wind made me contemplate that they were really designed as ‘drive-away awnings’ for the Irish weather so that you could drive-away and leave them there! The early days of this sorrowful saga made me think of the Billy Connolly story of Aberdeen where he pronounced the sky is grey, the streets are grey, the footpaths are grey, the people are grey, and so it seemed for four forlorn days and nights on Valentia Island.
This was a trip which had started with much promise the previous weekend on the Lahinch prom drenched in sunshine and parking at a premium.
A ferry interesting trip…
Our excursion to Valentia Island involved two interesting ferry crossings which I had not experienced before. The first from Killimer (Clare) to Tarbert (Kerry) on Shannon Ferries with the €20 fare paid on board and no reservations required; summer sailings run from 7am until 9.30pm; it’s a 20 minute crossing with sailings every hour on the hour. The fee for a motorhome is €30 and the crossing is reputed to potentially save you a 137km circuitous trip.
The second ferry takes you from Reenard Point just outside Cahersiveen to Knightstown. It’s a continuous shuttle service running every 10 minutes, costs €8 per vehicle or €12 return (€2 return for pedestrians). It’s a very handy route onto Valentia Island with the Valentia Island Caravan and Camping Park just a half mile up the road. The last ferry each evening is at 9.25pm. The other access point onto the island is via the land bridge at the bustling village of Portmagee.
The historic Valentia Island has given itself the title of ‘Paradise Island of Ireland’ and it is certainly a paradise for outdoor types who like hiking, trekking or cycling as everywhere is within striking distance and on a fine day the scenery is stunning.
Highlights include Bray Head, Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs, The Grotto and Slate Quarry and Valentia Lighthouse which has just been reopened to visitors (€7.50 for adults). Beware though that some of the roads on the island and in the vicinity are narrow, spiralling and steep and sketchy enough for motorhomes. We had a few hairy experiences coming back from Ballinskelligs to Portmagee in a heavy mist.
The Skelligs re-open to visitors
One of the highlights of the area has to be The Skellig Experience. Based at its Visitor Centre as you enter the island by the bridge from Portmagee the staff here could not be more helpful. It’s €5 to view the heritage exhibition and short film and an additional €35 if you opt to take the boat trip out to view The Skelligs.
The famed Skelligs, historic monastic site, UNESCO World Heritage Site and bird sanctuary lie 15km offshore and are well worth the effort even just to view from the boat. Only a limited number are permitted to disembark by licence each season (commencing the first week in July), about 180 visitors a day, around 15,000 for the season to stroll or study the iconic rocks made even more famous in recent times by their association as a set for the Star Wars movie. Be advised that the seas can be choppy and experience hefty swells once you clear the headland out to open sea. We were grateful to young skipper Darragh Murphy for his skill and knowledge on board the Eagle 3.
Other positive experiences in the general area included the delightful and carefree Café cois Trá at Ballinskelligs Beach; the Royal Valentia Hotel established in 1833 at Knightstown serves a seafood chowder second to none for €8.50 and a creamy pint of Guinness €4.60. The quaint and inviting Knightstown Coffee does a hearty breakfast bap for €7.50 and I’d walk to Cahirsiveen just to look at the amazing cakes and buns and selection of breads on the main street at French bakery, Petit Delice. Quinlan’s fishmongers is on the opposite side of the road for the best of fresh seafood.
Valentia Island has its moods. From murky misty melancholic mornings that can linger on in to dull foggy evenings it would put years on you. Yet all is forgiven as you cycle along the fuchsia and fern lined country roads, the perfume of wild flowers filling up your senses, a chance glimpse through thick hedgerows of fishing boats, the lighthouse and gannets diving out of the blue and this island is a Mediterranean bliss, a paradise. And you could even be in Valencia with sweet continental pastries conjured up in Cahersiveen waiting for you to return…
Vanhalla has not the slightest hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending Valentia Island Caravan and Camping Park. It is open since 2015, where Emma and John offer a range of static seasonal units as well as touring pitches and they’re taking tents from July onwards. I think it’s an ideal base for camping as it’s sufficiently remote without being isolated.
The services and facilities are basic but well maintained and in pristine condition. The cost for us in our campervan was €30 a night, including electrical hook up. Showers are off a metre which takes €1 coins for 6 minutes. There’s a small playground, laundry room and camper’s kitchen with all appliances and a very good waste disposal facility with proper recycling. There are convenient water and EHU points at all pitches.