A Hundred Acre Wood, just outside Dublin

One of the yurts by the lake at Mount Druid, Westmeath. Photo: Catherine Mack

‘The Hundred Acre Wood’  is Winnie the Pooh’s home, my younger son reminds me as we start to explore the pathways leading through the 200,000 trees planted by the owners of this extraordinary 100 acre farm in Castletown Geoghegan, County Westmeath. Although Pooh, Tigger and Roo are nowhere to be seen, there are streams and bridges to throw Pooh sticks from, endless spots for Owl to hang out but, happily, nowhere for Eyeore to feel gloomy. In fact, he would be positively jumping for joy if he could take part in the yurt hunt here, with ten of these magnificent Mongolian tents carefully concealed around its 100 acres.

The landscaping here is about as perfect as the famous map of AA Milne’s fantasy world, except this is a reality and certainly not just to be enjoyed by children. Boutique Camping was opened just over a year ago, by owners Adrian and Deirdre Murphy, although they have been developing their dream landscape, called Mount Druid (and yes, it does have a mount with a druid) for the last five years, and the many broadleaf trees which thrive all around us providing evidence of this long term planning. With carefully thought out pathways which follow the natural undulations of their hills and the recently opened up streams and lakes which were concealed underground until the Murphys went a digging, this is definitely not a case of someone just making a quick dash to jump on board an eco bandwagon.

I am a fan of yurts anyway, but have never seen anything as extensive as this in Ireland, and with so much land to explore, everyone has space to themselves. And space was just what the doctor ordered after a week of Christmas cabin fever. ‘Why on earth would you go camping in December?’ one of the curious villagers asked me at the gorgeous local pub, Claffeys, two minutes’ walk away from the farm, and just one of three lovely pubs in this village. I explain that it has a large central, wood burning stove, warm beds raised off the floor, enough insulation to cope with a Mongolian snowstorm, and that it feels lovely waking up in the ‘fresh air’ with a toasty body and a chilly nose peeking out over the top of the winter tog duvets. The only problem, I add, is working out who gets up first to stick some wood or turf on the fire to warm us up in the morning. ‘But where do you make the breakfast?’ he asks, and I reassure him that there is a beautifully restored barn for the use of all guests, with giant stove, comfy sofas, a large communal dining table and cooking facilities.

The communal barn Photo: Catherine Mack

The only thing missing in the yurt  is a kettle, as it would be lovely to stick one on the stove to get your day off to an even cosier start, so bring a camping one with you if you are a ‘tea before you can move a muscle’ sort of a person, like me. And if you travel with a hot water jar, then you’d have something to fill it from, without having to embarrass yourself in the communal barn. Not speaking from experience of course. They also like you to bring towels, although all bed linen is provided.

And then there is the sauna, which would have shed a whole new light on Christopher Robin’s day if he’d have had one, I’m sure. Our kids, who are always banned from such luxuries in leisure centres, were in their element, going from their early morning cycle around the land, on kindly provided high quality mountain bikes, to the sauna. It also gave them a good excuse to use the shower in the barn, rather than running from the yurt to the shower in a ‘shed’ which are scattered in various locations convenient to each accommodation. Albeit fine quality, eco wooden sheds.

I spared my new pal in the pub the details of the compost loos, though, as I thought this might just finish him off altogether, and as he and a few of his welcoming friends, who had joined the chat by now, were full of admiration for what the Murphys had achieved, I didn’t want them to think that we were all just a bunch of hippies hiding up on the hill with the druids. The Murphys live on site, and so are always around to make sure we are warm and comfortable, Adrian popping over to the barn with a freshly made loaf and some of their farm eggs, their boys inviting ours for a game of football, and their daughter keen to show us the recently converted self-catering house. This is a clever addition to their accommodation portfolio, created with the same flair for contemporary design  which the Murphys have applied to their own fine house, once a grey Presbytery, now a magnificent home to six kids, dogs, cats and a stream of visitors enquiring about this and that. The self-catering house, known as Kindalin, was the old school master’s home, and has been refurbished with a green oak frame, has an open plan design, mezzanine walkways and three bedrooms. And a telly, for those people who find it difficult to let the screens go completely. There is a yurt just nearby so if you have friends who want to do the indoors thing, while you do the out, then this is ideal. Or bring the grandparents, who won’t get the ‘yurk’ idea, as my mother in law insists on calling it. And if you have a very special birthday or anniversary coming up, rent out the whole place, putting families in yurts, and feed the gang in the barn or Kindalin. The Murphys are happy to help with catering if there is a crowd in.

Just one of many friendly faces at Mount Druid. Photo: Catherine Mack

We did not explore any further than the Hundred Acres or the village during our brief stay, but there is already pressure to return from our kids, and so I note that for a summer week there is plenty to do in the area, with Lough Ennell on the doorstep, where you can rent a boat and go fishing (www.lilliputboathire.com), the Mullingar Cycle Hub which consists of several looped cycles around the Lough and others nearby (www.irishtrails.ie), walking or cycling along the Royal Canal which goes through nearby Mullingar (www.iwai.ie), or day long summer camps with kayaking, orienteering and gorge walking at the nearby Lilliput Adventure Centre from as little as €30 per day. Oh, and because the Murphy’s don’t do things by halves, they also have a Green Village Music and Arts Festival on 29 September 2012, and they are still basking in the success of its 2011 inauguration. In fact, I think the Murphys, with their dynamic, life loving energy, combined with sustainable awareness must have gathered a little of Winnie the Pooh’s wisdom along their way in life. Among many famous quotes, he said, ‘A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference.’ And this pretty much sums up Mount Druid. Thoughtful and making a difference. As my friend from the pub said just before he downed his last, ‘Adrian saved that land from being developed into a housing estate, you know. He just couldn’t stand back and let that happen here’. To which I raised my new Year’s pint, and toasted a year of Pooh-like positivity the likes of which lie on the top of a Westmeath hill.

For more information on the yurts and self-catering at Mount Druid, see www.boutiquecamping.ie. Yurts from
€80 per night for a midweek two night stay, otherwise €100 per night.

This article was first published in The Southern Star, Ireland

Teapot Lane Luxury Yurt Camp, Leitrim Ireland – so cute it’s camp

Teapot Lane - a great place for old friends and their kids to catch up Photo: Catherine Mack

While the rest of Europe has gone ‘glamping’ crazy,Ireland is still playing catch up.  In some ways this is a good thing, with the UK and France offering such a plethora of posh pitches now, it almost has me pining for my old four man Vango. But then I step inside the comforting cocoon of a yurt and, fickle and weak, I’m hooked again. And they don’t get much lovelier than Leitrim’s latest offering.

Although Teapot Lane Luxury Yurt Camp looks a bit ‘yummy mummy’ on its website, with its spotty wellies, teapots and pamper pages, don’t judge a book. This carefully thought out eco-venture, run by Derval McGovern, has managed to encapsulate so many aspects of a truly responsible tourism business, it can fly its green flag as high as its gobsmackingly gorgeous one. Thanks to Teapot Lane, Leitrim just got lovelier.

Teapot Lane has achieved in a year what other European glamp camps have only managed to pull off after ten. It’s more like a mini festival of green outdoor living, with plenty of indoor space to cater for Irish weather too. As well as three luxury yurts all equipped with wood burning stoves, cast iron beds with top of the range bed linen, fairy lights and lanterns, there is a thatched self-catering cottage, and a private bathroom with roll top bath in case you just can’t do compost loos and outdoor showers. When the self-catering cottage is vacant, this bathroom is available for yurt users too. The yurts’ showers are powered by gas, are tankless, need no electric supply and use a combination of mains and rainwater from the roof, and both showers and toilets are concealed in sensitively designed wooden huts alongside each yurt.

When we arrived at Teapot Lane, there was homemade vegetable soup and bread to welcome people after their journey, all laid out in the well equipped chalet kitchen with its two big tables, crockery, board games, books, cupboards full of ready made salad dressings, olive oils, spices, herbs and everything you might need to do the perfect camping cook-in.

There is never a big crowd cooking here either, as Derval has committed to keeping her remote woodland site restricted to small numbers.  It is ideal, therefore, for coming with a gang of friends or a few families taking over the whole camp, bagsying every tree swing, hammock, and campfire stool for a week of chilling in comfort. And at €100 per night for a yurt sleeping 4-6, this is fair and square sustainable tourism.

Nearby Mullaghmore Strand in Sligo. Photo: Catherine Mack

The location is ‘tri-licious’ too, sitting pretty on the borders of three counties. Donegal’s beaches of Bundoran and Tullan Strand are both under 13 kms from the camp, Sligo’s stunning Mullaghmore Strand a perfect cycle down quiet roads just 8kms away, and Leitrim’s famous hillwalks around the Dartry Mountains are within about 5kms. You can even bring your dog for some serious walking, as Teapot Lane welcomes responsible dog owners too.

Teapot Lane has good links with local activity providers, organising surfing or riding lessons, fishing or foraging trips and guided walks. Or follow the nearby North West Cycle Trail along endless, pretty backroads, hiring a bike from Hire and Sell in Bundoran, Tel: 071 98 41526.

Blessed with good weather, we took advantage of the excellent surfing instructors at the Donegal Adventure Centre in Bundoran and spent an exhilarating few hours on Tullan Strand. I followed this up with a heavenly hour of aromatherapy massage back at the camp in Derval’s treatment room, while the rest of the gang headed off to raid PJ O’Reilly’s fish van in Bundoran of its daily catch to throw on the barbecue.

But it’s at night that Teapot Lane really started to shine for me. This is the time of day when glamping turns back to camping, when the stars come out, the campfire comes to life, lanterns are lit, the yurts glow, wood burners smoke and children cuddle in hammocks among the silhouetted trees. When the rain kicks in, you can just head to your circle of canvas, warmed up in minutes by the wood burner, and just watch the rain from your king size bed. Sorry, Vango, you’ll just have to wait for next year.

www.teapotlaneluxurycamp.com   An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times in June 2011

Photo: Catherine Mack

Yurt campsite, Cape Clear Island, Ireland

Yurts at Cape Clear Credit: Chleire Haven

It is the beginning of April, and I’m sitting outside a small island cafe, sipping frothy coffee, overlooking a peacock blue harbour, before returning up the hill to a Mongolian yurt. For those who aren’t yet familiar with yurts, they are large round tents, built around a wooden trellis structure, with canvas stretched over the top, and a (covered) star-viewing hole in the roof. As we walk back towards our one, and admire its beauty from afar, located majestically on a clifftop, my younger son says that the view is “like one of those posters saying, Come To Portugal.” However, this is not Portugal, but Ireland’s own Cape Clear island, County Cork, and as close to paradise as I have been recently.

Chléire Haven, is a small campsite with yurts and tipis, set up by Sally Davies and Dave Calvert, and the only yurt campsite I have come across in Ireland. And boy, did they pick the right site. Yurts are camping heaven, ideal for those who dread the canvas experience but know that their kids would adore it.  They are set on a raised wooden floor, spacious, high, have real beds (a double and fold out sofa bed), a cooker, kitchen equipment and, joy of all joys, wood burning stoves. The stoves are not yet connected as we arrive on their first open weekend of the year, but nearly ready to go. We have no need for them anyway, as the weather’s idyllic and yurts have great natural insulation. Although the comfy duvets and blankets help.

Sally and Dave are very committed to ethical practices, with solar powered shower rooms, recycling, good advice on restricting water (a major island issue), and maintain the site in an ecologically sound way. You can’t get a much greener holiday than this anyway. There are no cars allowed on the ferry, 45 minutes’ crossing from Baltimore (cailinoir.com). So take the bus to Baltimore and leave the car at home altogether. You can get everything you need on the island. The island’s Bus Chléire meets the ferry and drops you and your bags wherever you want, for €2.

Credit: Cape Clear yurts

We walk everywhere and, despite the island being just under 6k long and 1.5k wide, there is plenty to see. The landscape is hilly and varied, with heritage highlights such as megalithic standing stones, a 5000 year old passage grave, a 12th Century church ruin and a 14th Century castle. There’s plenty of living culture too at the café/shop in the harbour, An Siopa Beag, where local people and tourists gather for cappuchinos, ice creams, great homemade food, or just to watch boats come and go . We sit there ‘til dusk, wolfing excellent pizzas, and then stroll all of fifty metres to the welcoming Cotters Pub, for a hot whisky before bed.

We stay for two nights, and wish we had come for a week. There is something so magical about sleeping in a yurt, with its cocoon like cosiness. One of the most striking things about Cléire, however, is the genuine openness of its people, everyone with a smile and a story to tell, and keen to hear ours.  Which is perhaps why Cléire’s International Storytelling Festival in September has become a world renowned event. But you can come and swap stories here anytime, and no better place to start than in a warm, felt-lined yurt, with the soundtrack of the Atlantic in the distance, and natural lighting from the moon and stars. Failte Ireland should look no further for its next photo shoot. This one’s a diamond in its emerald crown.