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Motorhome Tour on the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

3 counties in 4 days #threegreynomads

We started our motorhome journey along part of Wild Atlantic Way from Knock in County Mayo and took the route via Claremorris and Ballyrobe. The road took us down in between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib and the pretty town of Cong where we drove in front of the gates of the very grand Ashford Castle but we decided we weren’t hungry enough or dressed appropriately for afternoon tea which is served in style in the Connaught Room for (at the time of writing) 68 Euros per person. An overnight stay in one of their sumptuous rooms or suites will set you back anywhere from around 600 Euros per night depending on your choice of room/suite. Browsing their website was as far as we got but I can only imagine it would be a truly memorable stay for a special occasion. The adjoining lodge may suit your budget more with rooms starting from around 260 euros per night. Despite the 5 star luxury, your four legged friend will be welcome and indeed offered the same 5 star treatment as all guests. Extra charges apply.

Typical Irish thatched fisherman’s cottage
A thatched cottage near The Hooker Bar

The scenery was starting to become rugged and wild as we headed towards Costelleo with beautiful rocky landscapes dotted with small white cottages and water in all directions. It was becoming clear why this route is called the Wild Atlantic Way!

We had read about a free overnight motorhome stay in Annaghvaan in the carpark of The Hooker Bar (Tigh Mhichael Jack) so that is where we headed for our first night. While the welcome from the landlord was warm and the Guinness excellent, we went a little bit off course to stay there and the food offering was quite limited so you might want to be prepared on that front and have your dinner before arriving.

Annaghvaan, The Wild Atlantic Way
The pier at Annaghvaan

It was a quiet Sunday evening but I believe live music is a feature at 8pm on other evenings so it could be worth a revisit for some true Irish hospitality! Though always best to check, the landlord was happy for Tiggy to accompany us into the bar.

The next morning, we retraced our route to Costelloe, this time turning left at Screebe and following the Wild Atlantic Way (R340) towards Carna. If you are looking for good lunch stops you will pass near Coynes Gastropub and Pantry (Tigh Chadhain) at Kilkeiran or check out O’Flaherty’s Seafood for excellent fish and chips (just before Leavy’s pub).

While on this stretch, there is also a lovely beach (not on the map) called Tra Bhuí that can be accessed down the narrow track by the side of Leavy’s Bar. The track is narrow to start with but widens with a turning point at the bottom though more suited to campervans than motorhomes. Once at Carna check out the gastro pub Tigh Mheaic (or Mac’s Place) for fabulous seafood and a pint of Guinness.

Continuing on the coast road and branching off at the R342 and then R341 towards Roundstone we were looking for somewhere to pull in to make a coffee but there weren’t too many options but we did find a large lay-by near the Zetland Country House Hotel near Doonreaghan. Clear signs stating no overnight camping but a good day option if you just want a break overlooking the water.

We then drove on to Roundstone where there is a large carpark suitable for motorhomes right in the centre though no overnight camping allowed. Whilst almost deserted due to the weather, I can imagine it could get busy on a sunny day.

Roundstone is a very picturesque harbour village characterised by pretty coloured houses and the rugged backdrop of the majestic Mount Errisbeg (over 1000 ft high) which was carved by glaciers. It has been the birthplace and inspiration of many artists as well as home to rare wild flowers making it a haven for botanists and nature lovers.

There are a variety of shops and places to eat including O’Dowds of Roundstone, and Vaughan’s Restaurant where you can dine on locally sourced, fresh seafood dishes. If it is a coffee hit you are after then head to the Coffee Cottage with outside seating near the water or The Bogbean Cafe. Both serve good coffee and a range of light bites.

We wandered down to the site of the old monastery which is now an Irish craft centre where you can see the traditional Irish goat skin drums called bodhrans being made by Ireland’s master bodhan maker. You can also check out local handicrafts including a wide selection of knitwear and locally made ceramics. When the master bodhran maker and kind owner of the Music Shop found out we were in a motorhome, he generously offered us his driveway for an overnight stay but you would need to ask permission at the shop first and there would only be room for one vehicle. Another example of the remarkable Irish hospitality and welcome.

Heading out of Roundstone and only a few minutes drive further north brings you to the beaches of Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Bay. The two beaches are back to back, forming a tombolo that juts out into the Atlantic.

These beaches definitely rank up there as two of the finest beaches I have ever seen and we were there in extreme weather conditions. High winds and very heavy showers could not detract from the beauty of the fine white sand and turquoise waters which I can only imagine on a fine day would look more like the Caribbean! The only advantage of the inclement weather was that we easily parked the motorhome by Dog’s Bay beach but at busier times this could be tricky. Dogs are allowed on both beaches on the lead. After a breezy walk from one beach to the other (you can do an easy circuit) we had a cozy cuppa back at the van and continued on our way.

Continuing around in the direction of Clifden, you can take short detour with a left turn at Ballyconneely to visit the Connemara Smokehouse and Factory Shop. Back on the R341 there is another lovely beach called Mannin Bay Blueway which the road directly passes by. The water is the most unbelievable blue green even in overcast weather which I imagine is how it got its name.

En route to Clifden you can also stop in at the Alcock and Brown Memorial and read about the first transatlantic plane crossing or do the 3 mile landing site walk. This was also the site of the first transatlantic radio transmission by Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guilielmo Marconi.

Clifden is a busy, bustling town with lots of shops and pubs/restaurants but parking was at a premium on the day we went through so a quick stop for the cashpoint was all we managed on this occasion but from a quick circuit of the town around lunchtime, I would say if you’re looking for food, head to Guy’s Bar & Snug as it seemed to be the most popular with a small queue forming outside and the even the outdoor tables were full despite the weather. Reading reviews before writing this, it seems they have many happy customers! There were many other options available (too numerous to mention) if Guy’s Bar is too busy.

A short drive out of Clifden was our next overnight stay with a 2 night booking at the Clifton Eco Campsite situated on its own delightful and sheltered beach opposite Omey Island. Yet again, the weather couldn’t detract from the wild beauty of the place. Where ever you are pitched on the site, you have water around you and all windows of the van look towards beautiful scenery with a few horses grazing in the distance. Pitches for a motorhome with 2 people cost 26 euros during high season with an additional 8 euros for electricity. The shower facilities are limited to just 2 showers but they are clean and and well maintained and there is a kitchen with fridge, freezer, microwave and kettle which I am sure was very welcome for those in tents. There are even seaweed hot tubs available on the beach, a necessary indulgence after a swim in the Atlantic! Dogs are also welcome on the site and allowed on the beach on a lead.

A trip to this part of the world wouldn’t be complete without a walk over to Omey Island, a now uninhabited island (other than a few holiday makers) that can be reached on foot at low tide via a signed causeway along the beach. First stop was Sweeny’s in Claddaghduff for an Irish coffee to set us on our way, located about a mile or so along the road from the campsite and near the turnoff for Omey Island. While you can take your car across (and we saw a motorhome driving along the beach too), walking across would seem the better option as you can only go so far around on the narrow road by vehicle in any case. There are a few houses which operate presumably as holiday homes given the last permanent resident died in 2017, as well as a number of old derelict properties which seems to be a feature in a lot of places in Ireland.

The walk around Omey Island is magnificent. We headed off to the left on approach, along a tarmac road for a while and then a track to the right cuts across to the other side and though marked at first, it then just seems to be a case of following your nose over springy green terrain covered in wild flowers and an abundance of bird life, to a series of beautiful beaches and then back around. You then pass the only graveyard on the island (definitely a tomb with a view!) before meeting back up with the causeway to join the mainland again. We found this helpful guide to the walk after doing it but could be a useful tool to make sure you keep to the correct paths as I’m sure we didn’t! The sign in the car park advises being back across no later than 3 hours before high tide when apparently the sea is high enough to cover a car. Another stop at Sweeny’s for their famous chowder and a Guinness is optional but recommended.

The next morning, continuing on our way with the scenery becoming more mountainous, we took the road towards Kylemoor Abbey which was built as a beautiful private castle in 1868 but is now home to a Benedictine Community of Nuns who have resided there since 1920. Whilst we didn’t enter the abbey and grounds, the setting of this striking Gothic landmark nestled into the shores of Pollacapall Lough, was breathtaking enough and it will be a must see for another trip when time isn’t so short. The extensive grounds and walled garden are dog friendly though dogs aren’t allowed inside any of the buildings.

High on the wish list was Glassilaun Beach but having read up on access with a motorhome and very limited parking nearby, we opted to park on the main road and cycle down. We drove up to the point where the N59 meets the Killary Fjord and we parked in the large carpark of The Misunderstood Heron. After a chat with Mary, the very friendly owner of the Killary Adventure Company and whose family also run The Misundestood Heron (a fabulous waterside cafe hut), we were allowed to park there for a couple of hours whilst we took off on the bikes with the promise of returning to enjoy some of their wonderful coffee and lunch.

There are a couple of other spots suitable to park a motorhome a little further along the road if you didn’t want to eat at The Misunderstood Heron though we would highly recommend it for the coffee, delicious food and incredible view.

It took around 30 minutes from there to cycle to Glassilaun Beach through yet more stunning scenery alongside Lough Muck. It felt very other worldly and remote. We passed a couple of spots on the road down to the beach where we could have perhaps left the motorhome a bit closer but it was nice to get the bikes out and explore out in the open air. One campervan had tucked in right by Lough Muck and had obviously spent the night there in the most prime of locations.

The beach itself was well worth the cycle. More fine white sand and turquoise water, even on a dull day. It was also very sheltered by a series of tiny islands encircling the bay. You could see the ocean was choppy beyond but it was as flat as a millpond at Glassilaun. It was all too tempting so braving the chilly conditions, it was time for my first dip in the Atlantic. I always feel the trip doesn’t properly start until I’ve been in the water and although it was only a minute or two, it was completely invigorating. It was a shame that having just got dry, the heavens opened and we all got soaked. Tiggy wasn’t impressed, though once ensconced in her basket on the bike, wrapped in her soft microfibre dog bag she was happy again and luckily the shower passed for the cycle back.

I was hoping to check out the seafood at Killary Fjord Shellfish and treat myself to half a dozen oysters but we were just too wet by then to do the additional detour but it will be yet another addition to the wish list for next time.

The excellent flat white coffee and delicious pasty, followed by a warming soup back at The Misunderstood Heron soon shook off the chill and it was back in the van for the journey back.

The road continued alongside Killary Fjord for a while where you can take a boat tour just before the pretty village of Leenaun which is another place to stop, enjoy the view and perhaps a spot of lunch.

Heading to the far side of the Fjord and just back into Co Mayo, there is a turning down to Aasleagh Falls, a series of pretty waterfalls set against a rugged mountainous backdrop. The same turning takes you around to the north side of the Fjord and onward to The Lost Valley which offers a completely unique experience to learn about Ireland’s past, most notably the Great Famine. Being on private land, the way to visit is by taking part in an exciting 3 hour tour conducted by the Bourke family who have been farming this land for over 300 years. A good source of information on the Lost Valley can be found here but a visit needs to be conducted via an organised tour as it the Bourke family’s private estate.

It was then onward towards Co Roscommon and to pay another visit to the family. We passed through Westport en route, another lively pretty town with plenty of shops, cafes and pubs/restaurants. Needless to say, 4 days wasn’t nearly enough time but it was long enough to realise how much the area has to offer and so with a wishlist as long as our arm, we are already looking ahead to another visit to this enchanting area.

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