Inspired by the ancient dwellings of monks, a west Cork venture brings glamping to a whole new level, says Louise Roseingrave
NESTLED in an old farmyard overlooking the Ilen River Valley in west Cork is Ireland’s first “pod páirc”. Inspired by the ancient Gallarus Oratory in Dingle, the pods are little wooden huts. Fully insulated and complete with French doors, they are the latest twist in the ever evolving world of glamping.
The newly complete pod park is situated at the Top of the Rock, 1km above the town of Drimoleague. It comprises seven individual pods dotted among the old stone walls, each perfectly placed to maximise the panoramic views across the ancient stronghold of Castledonovan.
For all the world the pods look like upturned arks with their roofs sweeping down to the earth. They are a surprising sight for the unsuspecting walker travelling along one of region’s heritage walkways. There’s an alpaca farm across the valley and the fertile fields below are home to the pastures of Glenilen Farm, producers of award-winning yoghurts.
The idea to provide accommodation for increasing numbers of walkers came naturally to proprietors David and Elizabeth Ross, who’ve been involved in the development of the Drimoleague Heritage Walkway project since its inception.
The Ross’s farm is the only dwelling that remains of the original Drimoleague village, directly north of the town as it exists today.
Their farmhouse sits at the cross roads that marks the Top of the Rock, an area that is home to an incredible wealth of history.
The Ross’s found evidence of 36 old dwellings in the 1841 map of the old village, no trace of which exists today, except for the footprint of a seventh century church.
The narrow boreen that crosses the hilltop was once the main route from Cork to Bantry, before the arrival of the mail coach road in 1820, followed by the railway in 1880.
“When the railway came in 1880 that was the final death knell of the village up here because the public house moved down to the area that gave rise to the town of Drimoleague as it stands today,” David Ross explains.
It’s thought that St Ciarán passed through the area on his way from Rome to Cape Clear in 402 AD, bringing Christianity to the region before St Patrick ever arrived in Ireland. That journey may have provided the influence for the building of the old church, whose foundations are still visible today.
In the sixth century, St Finbarr passed through the old settlement, known then as ‘Barr na Carriage’ on his way to Gougane Barra.
That journey gave rise to one of the ancient Pilgrim Paths of Ireland, St Finbarr’s Way, now enjoying a resurgence in interest thanks to the popularity of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. One visiting journalist christened the two-day journey across the Mealagh Valley to the source of the River Lee the “Camino de Cork”. The Ross’s have built a replica of the old church on the grounds of the pod park. The ruin resonates with the pods, whose design reflects the early Christian monastic beehive huts of west Kerry.
The pod design is the brainchild of Ian Bone, a visiting engineer whose tent was battered by the elements during a trip to the Dingle Peninsula 20 years ago. He wanted to build something dry and warm, yet aesthetically non-invasive and the result bears an uncanny resemblance to the corbel-roofed Gallarus Church that dates from between the seventh and eighth centuries.
“We were thinking of self-catering farm cottages first, but when we applied for a grant to the West Cork Development Partnership (WCDP), they felt we were taking too big a risk financially. They offered us an alternative idea, the pods. So we went to the UK and spent two nights in a pod and we really liked it,” Elizabeth says.
Manufactured in Lixnaw, Co Kerry by Cisco Woodframe Homes, the pods arrived at the Ross’s farm — where extensive ground works were carried out to accommodate them — on the back of a lorry.
The pod park features two luxury ‘megapods’, equipped with double bed, toilet and handwash basin, mini kitchen, dining table and a pull-out sofa.
There are two ‘family’ pods with room for five adults or a family group of six, featuring three fold-up beds and full access to the campsite kitchen, showers, laundry and games room. Three standard pods complete the park.
“It’s as if you are going camping and your tent is already up,” Elizabeth says.
Each pod has a lining of aluminium foil that casts off the heat during summer and in the winter keeps the heat in. There’s sheep’s wool insulation in the bulkheads and an oil-filled radiator in each. There is clever storage space, a toilet, sink, fridge and microwave.
“It’s a kind of a natural human habitation space, almost like an igloo,” David says.
Each pod is housed in its own individual setting and named after various areas of the old farm.
The ‘Sheepfold’ pod sits in a tiny field that served as the fold for impounding stray sheep at the great Top of the Rock fairs of days gone by. The ‘Moscovy’ pod looks out over the duck pond across the yard.
The ‘Celtic’ pod is situated next to the ‘daimh liag,’ the stone-roofed structure reminiscent of Drimoleague’s first church. It’s billed as the ‘perfect spot for reflection and quiet solace,’ on the pod park’s website.
It’s the concept of going to a place and reaching out to God. I love that concept,” David says. Certainly the park could be described as a little piece of heaven, perched high above the rolling green contours of the valley.
The pods look towards Owen Hill, (Cnoc na hAbhainn) where the three main west Cork waterways rise, the Bandon, Ilen and Mealagh Rivers, making it a central connection point linking Kinsale, Skibbereen and Bantry and reinforcing the notion of Drimoleague as the heart of west Cork.
Certainly for walkers, or anyone seeking nature’s embrace, the park provides a spectacular place to stay.
“I can’t go out for a walk without somehow seeing the majesty of God all around me. It’s a beauty that feeds the soul,” Elizabeth says.
David’s grandparents, Sam Ross and Kate Kingston arrived to begin their married life at Top of the Rock in 1920. Sam had both his legs amputated in his 60s and was driven by a desire to continue walking independently. An excerpt from the Drimoleague Heritage Walkways guidebook describes how he “shortened his crutches and made stumps of leather and timber” upon which to walk.
It might have tickled old Sam Ross to think that in the future his farm would serve as a junction for visiting walkers. He certainly went to great lengths to preserve his own capacity for forward motion.
IF YOU’RE TEMPTED
Prices: Megapods: €69 per night Family pods: €49 per night. Standards pods: €39 per night. High season rates apply from May to September, which is likely to see prices rise by €10 per night.
The campsite includes three grassy areas to accommodate tents and a purpose-built campervan site, which can house up to six motorhomes offering full access to facilities.
February: Weekly Wednesday guided walks from 10.30am — 1.30pm followed by light lunch.
April 19-20: Walk from the Top of the Rock to Gougane Barra.
May: (dates to be finalised) Seven Day walking holiday from Sheeps’ Head lighthouse to Gougane Barra.
June: Bantry Walking Festival & Bantry Chamber Music Festival
August 2-9: Family week with farmhouse cookery classes each
August 9-10: St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Way Community Walk.
August 16-17: St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Way Contemplative Walk.
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