Richard Creagh is a landscape, adventure and wildlife photographer as well as the co-author of Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. The year after the book was published he put his royalties to good use by buying a beautiful 1989 Volkswagen LT31. Now Richard and his girlfriend spend a lot of their free time travelling up and down the west coast in their van. Here he shares some advice for anyone thinking of touring the Wild Atlantic Way in a camper van or RV.
Check out Richard’s amazing work at www.richardcreagh.com
The Wild Atlantic Way is a scenic driving route. At its most basic it’s all about the open road and the beautiful places you can get to by traveling on it. It should be an immersive journey; not a series of dots to be connected but a flowing line to be drawn on the mind’s map of experience. And so what better possible way could there be to undertake it than in a campervan? With the freedom to come and go as you please, to stop and eat when and where you want and to sleep and wake in the very places you’re there to see van life is surely the ultimate way to go about a trip along the west coast of Ireland.
There’s something different about traveling in a camper van, for me at least. Even if I’m just taking mine for a spin to the shops it still feels like a holiday has started. The chore of driving from place to place becomes an enjoyable event in itself when all that you need is behind the driver’s seat. Hungry? Pull in and put together some food. Tired? Pull over and get yourself a powernap (in a proper bed). Like where you’ve found? Stay there, and don’t worry about finding a restaurant or a room that evening – you decide the schedule and it needn’t be changed for meals and sleep. Slide open the side door and cook dinner while the setting sun streams golden light into your home on wheels. Fall asleep with the sound of the waves outside your window and wake up to the same.
Of course I’m painting the ideal scenario here. It’s not all fun and games all the time. There’s a particular characteristic about the west of Ireland. It rains a lot. Persistent bad weather can grind you down when you’re living space is reduced to a 2x4m metal box. Scrabble and card games only go so far before cabin fever gets you. But you’ll never be far from a B&B in the west of Ireland if you really get stuck. And realistically the weather is rarely catastrophic for days on end. Chances are it’ll clear up quick, and you hardly came here to top up your tan anyway.
There are countless classic parking places all along the Wild Atlantic Way. Most of the main beaches have generous car parks, and as campervanning isn’t as popular in Ireland as on continental Europe (yet), chances are you could have the place to yourself once the day trippers have left for their dinners. If you’d rather lay your tyres down on something softer than tarmac there are plenty of other options too. Some of my favourite spots to sleep overnight are where quiet roads fade into grassy tracks that end on some green clifftop. These kinds of places tend to be out of the way and ‘undeveloped’ of infrastructure but that’s where their appeal is. Many of the bigger beaches can even be driven on, so as soon as you step foot outside you’re on sand, with the water only a stone’s throw away (provided you’ve sussed out the high tide line correctly…) In last summer’s incredible heatwave I spent more than one early morning swimming in the warmed sea within five minutes of having woken. And back then to the van for tea and a bite to eat, all the while immersed in the place. That’s a way to start a day which is hard to beat. And with the keys to a van you can carry on in the same style for the entirety of your trip.
Some Practical Tips
Many of Ireland’s roads, even the main ones, can be narrow and winding. As a general rule, the most scenic and interesting roads tend to be some of the narrowest. Some vans might be too big for comfort in the west of Ireland, unless you really like a driving challenge. If you’re coming from elsewhere with a big bus consider you might find it stressful to drive it around. Height barriers exist at some car parks but generally aren’t an issue.
Tidy up after yourself. The attitude to overnighting vans is fairly relaxed along the west coast at the moment, and for everybody’s sake it should stay that way. Don’t be loud, don’t leave rubbish behind, and consider spending a little money locally if you’re staying in a public car park.
Top up your water when you can. Unlike in much of Europe Ireland’s towns and villages generally don’t have public water taps. If you’re planning on staying out of paid accommodation then fill your water tanks whenever you get the chance or you’ll be going to the shop to buy it.
If you’re parking on the beach be aware of the tides. Every year unsuspecting tourists destroy cars through the novelty of being able to park on the beach. Getting bogged down in soft sand or going away for a walk while the tide comes in won’t do your van much good.