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Hogmanay at Sleepy Hollows and the discovery of Trá an Bhaid

Hogmanay at Sleepy Hollows and the discovery of Trá an Bhaid

Trá an Bhaid

Boat Strand at Carrickfinn in the Donegal Gaeltacht is a stunning setting and a safe spot for a refreshing sea swim. We only managed to discover it through some invaluable local knowledge and advice, which is important to enhance any camping expedition experience.

The sound you hear in the background is of the sheets of rain hopping off the roof. This is the soundtrack of winter camping.

We’ve set up base at Sleepy Hollows in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht where everyone knows someone in Scotland, is related to someone, has connections, or comes from Scotland themselves… what better place to celebrate Hogmanay and welcome in the New Year?

But first the weather. It wasn’t half as cold as you might imagine, and I was delighted with the way the insulation in the campervan kept us snug. To be sure to be sure I was taking no chances and resorted to old school methods for insurance against the elements.

When we were growing up a heavy top-coat at the foot of the bed and a hot water bottle were standard issue come winter, the coat usually one of those inch thick furze green army jackets requisitioned from my father’s wardrobe.

On this occasion my fifteen-year-old parka, a fancy fur lined water bottle, a good heavy tog sleepy bag and my thermal long johns from Lidl did the trick. What cold?

En route to Sleepy Hollows a surfing stop-off at Rossnowlagh was a must and it would also provide a perfect pitstop on the return leg as we hit one of our favourite haunts, The Smugglers Creek Inn, to tuck into some of their famous fayre, the oysters and rhubarb tart proving impossible to pass by.

Smugglers Creek Oysters Vanhalla
Camping Vanhalla

This latest excursion to Donegal proved once again that no matter how many times you visit or how many maps you have, you simply can’t beat local knowledge. Donegal is a treasure throve of off-the-beaten-track places, but narrow lanes and bumpy bog terrain can throw up trouble – not a place to get stuck in the middle of nowhere during the Christmas holidays.

On this occasion a fortuitous encounter with a Laois-Donegal couple at the car park at Carrickfinn Beach right next to Donegal Airport proved fruitful. An interesting chat provided valuable insights and advice to visit Trá an Bhaid (Boat Strand) a perfect place to shake off the New Year’s Eve excesses with a sea swim. Without their insight and forensic directions, I wouldn’t have chanced the narrow road to the Boat Strand and I’d still be hesitant in a larger motorhome.  A good tip too to visit the picture postcard perfect village port of An Bun Beag (Bunbeg), meaning ‘the small river mouth’, and its harbour, a jumping off point for one of the ferry routes out to Tory Island.

Camping in Donegal with Camper Vans
Camper Van Heaven Donegal

The night before I had become immersed in a conversation with Gareth and totally fascinated by his encyclopaedic knowledge of the coastline and the offshore islands, most of which I had not even heard of. Gareth and his wife Amanda are the charming good-natured pair behind Selkie Sailing who can take you on kayaking, surfing and sailing expeditions you can only dream of, and with the puffins due to return to Tory once more in early summer another good reason to come back to these parts

Camper Vans

And so to New Year’s Eve. It started early and with quite a flourish let’s say. Nicola and Ian of Sleepy Hollows fame had been busy preparing for a small gathering of regulars, friends, and neighbours. The campfire was extra warm and welcoming in the howling wind and sporadic downpour. Equally as welcoming and now indispensable is the new indoor-outdoor space conjured up by the intrepid Sleepy Hollows duo.

Sleppy Hollows Campsite Vanhalla
Campfire camping at sleepy hollows Donegal

This proved the perfect shelter and setting to welcome 2022 and the adventures it would bring. There was the inevitable sing-song and whispers of a mighty session the previous night down the road in Teach Tessie, and it just across the road from Leo’s Tavern,the home place of the fabled Clannad and Enya.

Ian kept the logs on the fire and the talented Ken and John stoked the singalong session with something for everyone in their folk-ballad vocabulary. My father’s favourite, Spancil Hill even got an airing, and I enthusiastically got stuck into the chorus on his behalf. Leon proved a dark horse with his resounding operatic version of Stand By Me. The Sleepy Hollows songbook is an eclectic one and there was no party piece which Ken and John could not eagerly accompany and enhance.

Music and camping at Sleepy Hollows

I’m told that at midnight, Donegal-Scots neighbour, Brian McCafferty did the honours as he marched up the road and onto the campsite, the full flourish of his bagpipes providing a storming rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Alas, I missed it.

Ian, not one for rubbing salt in the wound, insists the piper was the highlight of the night. He showed me the video on his phone to prove it. My loss for sure. But what a great reason to return to Sleepy Hollows for Hogmanay again, next year, although I can’t see myself waiting that long…

Sleepy Hollows Camping is due to reopen in March for the 2022 season.


SEE ALSO: Sleepy Hollows the best wee campsite in Donegal


Vanhalla Camping Trip to Donegal
Sleepy Hollows Campsite sign
Vanhalla Camping Trip to Donegal
Camping in Donegal
Vanhalla Camping Trip to Donegal
Camping and Camper Vans
Camper Van Heaven in Donegal
Campfire in Donegal Vanhalla
Vanhalla Camping at the end of the year 2021 1
Sleepy Hollows Campsite with dog
Sleep Cabin Sleepy Hollows Vanhalla Road Trip

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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