Esther N McCarthy eschews wifi and takes the family on a weekend break to the rustic charm of Loop Head in Co Clare.
We want a weekend with a bit of adventure and outdoor activity and away from all the screens that seem to dominate our lives of late.
Something fun and different and memorable. But, you know, with a bit of comfort?
So we tentatively (no pun intended) come around to the idea of glamping. That’s glamorous camping in case you didn’t know. ‘Tis far from it we were reared, I know. It kind of feels like cheating, right?
Husband and I hiked around bits of Spain with backpacks and a cheap tent for a few weeks.
We did the weekend concerts in Ireland, hammering in pegs through a blur of rain and cans of, er, Fanta. We also shared a one-man tent for the best part of a year throughout Africa.
Less glamorous, more “I smell worse than an actual warthog, that literal, live, whiffy, warthog walking past me there.” True story.
So glamour and camping? Never the twain did meet. All this however, was pre children. Before nappy bags and bottles and boosters and blankies. Before high chairs and dodies and Calpol and onesies.
Feather Down Farms have two lodges at Purecamping, an eco-campsite run by Trea and Kevin Heapes in the unparalleled beauty of Querrin, Kilkee, around the Loop Head area of Co Clare.
We get the car ferry from Tarbert, Co Kerry to Killimer, Co Clare, and as we watch dolphins slicing the waves from the top deck, we realise the adventure is beginning before we even get there. Road trips can be fun with little ones, I swear.
We’re given really exact directions in our welcome document that we download after we make the online booking so we arrive without the stress of getting lost in unfamiliar back roads. We’re greeted at reception by Trea and Kevin and made feel right at home.
The cabins are incredible. A mixture of rustic charm with modern conveniences, off the grid but comfort at every turn, a wonderful blend of simple and style. Wooden floors but canvas roof and walls.
Indoor toilet, but no electricity. A wood burning stove, a well kitted-out kitchen, two cool bedrooms and another bed in what we first thought was a cupboard.
The cabin has hooks to hang our kerosene lamps and candle holders. Crisp white linens, a big kettle and a huge wooden kitchen table with mix and match chairs. Framed pictures of farmyard animals adorn the walls.
The seven-year-old and the four-year-old are agog, flying around, exploring every inch of the place. We have our 13-year-old cousin in tow too and she is equally charmed. We haven’t broken the news that there’s no wifi yet. One step at a time.
Nestled in a small orchard adjacent to our hosts’ eco-camp, we’re surrounded by nature. There’s two ponds, two friendly dogs, friendlier hens, and a short walk to fabulous forest trails where the boys spend happy hours tramping around, safe but utterly wild.
There’s also a very cool giant geodesic dome in the middle of the campsite where the kids can play inside and meet other campers.
In our cabin, there’s no signal on phones, nowhere to plug in an iPad, and the only flat screen is the window in the canvas. And no one cares.
About 99% of the spats we have with the lads at home is about screen time and whose turn it is to pick the Minecraft world and get off that bloody iPad and if you’re on your phone, Dad, why can’t I be on the Playstation… you get the drift.
In glamping land, none of this matters. In the evening we play cards and draw pictures and read books by candlelight.
The one-year-old seems slightly bemused by all the attention he’s getting (we take turns keeping him away from the stove) but he figures out what “AH AH HOT!” means fast enough and soon adjusts to the dos and don’ts of his new surroundings.
I call one of my sons John Boy as I tuck him in. I hum the tune of Little House on the Prairie as I light the candles at dusk. It’s that kind of vibe.
There’s loads to do in this corner of heaven on the Wild Atlantic Way and we don’t let the weather get in the way of a good time.
On the rainy Saturday, after an hour of yoga for me with Trish in her gorgeous, hemp-walled studio, we hit the road for Ballyvaughan and the Ailwee Caves.
Set in the very bosom of The Burren, this incredible facility is a must visit if you’re in the area.
We wander in for the Birds of Prey display, not knowing what to expect. Set in an outdoor amphitheater with the dramatic landscape as background, the staff introduce different raptors, the owls, falcons, hawks, and even a vulture swoops right over our heads as they move from their trainers to various perches.
All the while, we’re learning about the birds and the best yet, kids from the audience are invited out to hold the birds.
Our four-year-old got up close and personal with a snowy white barn yard owl, by the name of Jon Snow, and it made his year.
We trekked up to the cave then and had a magical tour with Steve who brought the geographical miracles to life, the teenager declared it the best part of the whole weekend. No mean feat. Do not miss it. Fabulous tea rooms and super friendly staff make it a really nice option on a wet day.
As we drive past Ballyvaughan pier on the way back to Querrin, the clouds clear and the sun beats down, like the opening credits of The Simpsons.
We screech to a halt, pull on the wetsuits and fling ourselves off the pier, dodging the odd jellyfish or two. It is glorious, unscripted, flesh-tingling fun.
Mother Nature turns the heat on the next and final day of our sojourn to Co Clare, so we stop off at Kilkee beach. Cue sandcastles, stand up paddleboarding, and suncream.
The kids and dad paddle over to the pier and join a gang of jumpers, all ages, high jinxing around, diving and ducking and hours pass as the they make new friends and their skin gets that salty sheen and their hair gets blonder and then it’s time to go back to Cork and real life.
But two days later, husband buys a second hand trailer tent... Watch this space.
Glamping with Feather Down Farms, prices vary depending on the time of year and length of stay.
Aillwee Cave and the Birds of Prey Centre; www.aillweecave.ie
The Burren Centre and The Kilfenora Ceili Band Parlour; www.theburrencentre.ie
Caherconnell Stone Fort and Sheepdog Demonstrations; www.caherconnell.com
The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience; www.cliffsofmoher.ie
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