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Enchanted Caravan Travel in Ireland
Betsy Bauer and Juliet Staveley
July 23-30 2005, Gypsy Horse Caravan in County Wicklow, Ireland with a family of two adults and two small children
If you are looking for a fun, rustic, on the move, country holiday, this is for you. Think of meandering for a week in a horse drawn gypsy caravan through the country lanes of County Wicklow, south of Dublin, Ireland. As we searched for the right holiday for our family in August 2005, we came across this enchanting idea. We are two adults and two children, ages 4 and 6 years. Considering that our children's enjoyment came first in this holiday, why not have our avid horse lover 5-year-old take the reins and our 6-year-old camping enthusiast be in charge of the caravan. I grew up with an original gypsy caravan in an English country garden and used to camp out in it during the summer.
There's no family holiday more perfect than Mary Clissman's horse drawn caravan holiday. A seven-night inclusive horse-drawn caravan package ranges from $1050 low season to $1520 high season for up to five people.
Although it wasn't really the most comfortable accommodation, there's nothing that compares to going to sleep next to a river under a starry night and waking up to calves crowding around the caravan in a lush, dew filled field grass. The children slept like babies every night and bounced out of their cozy spots each morning giggling.
Riding in the caravan.
The children slept in the back of the caravan where the day seats and table turned into a small double bed. The adults had two choices of sleeping arrangements. The first choice was to turn a bench seat in the front of the caravan opposite the kitchen into two bunk beds or make a double bed out of the bench seat, leaving no room for anyone to be able to pass through from the back of the caravan. Breakfast certainly had to happen once we were all up and beds put away.
The kitchen consisted of a two-ringed gas burner and a small sink that drained into a bucket underneath the counter. The refrigerator was down to initiative because there wasn't one! The food storage was under the bench seat. We cooked inside the caravan but enjoyed our meals both inside and out.
Living in a small space meant having to be pretty organized or else it can be chaotic as we found out! Routines soon became established, creating a home away from home feel. Bedtime was a sweet affair as we lit the little gas burner lamps and our candles throughout the caravan. We'd all cozy into the children's bed and tell stories or read our favorite books or listen to the night sounds. Our favorite was the sounds of the horses close by munching on the grass and breathing.
As you can tell, we loved being in the caravan. It would be hard to compare this to staying in a vacation rental, because they are such vastly different experiences. Perhaps one would enjoy a more comfortable sleep in a vacation house. The horse caravan experience is definitely not for people who cannot live without their creature comforts. Ultimately though, nothing compares to hitching up your horse to your little mobile home and plodding off to find another beautiful spot to stay the next night.
A Week in a Caravan
We rented the caravan from a woman named Mary Clissman of Clissman Horse Caravans outside the eastern seaside town of Wicklow. The caravans are replicas of the original Irish travelers' caravans with some mod cons. Small tire wheels replaced large wooden wheels. A little gas burner replaced a wood stove.
The first night was spent sleeping in our new home on wheels in a field on Mary's farm. The field was home to about 20 other caravans, some of which were the new home to other hardy families. It was a friendly and rather magical sight seeing our fellow adventurers peering out of their caravan windows or sitting on the little bench outside the door taking in their new style of living. In our group there were about 5 other families with children of all ages.
The following day we all gathered to listen to our instructions for saddling, feeding and working the horse. The children enjoyed learning to clean the horse's hooves and brushing the mud off the horses' tummies. Mary provided everything from food for the horse for the seven days, to extra blankets for us and a couple of good Irish novels.
We set off feeling very pleased with ourselves and ready for a week of adventure into the unknown. The horse was going the way it should, the inside of the caravan looked lived in already and was full of good food and treats we'd bought in Dublin. A very charming fellow guided us out of Mary's farm and got us going on the right road. After about 10 minutes our guide hopped off the caravan, causing great excitement for the girls who were already grinning from ear to ear. Then we were on our own, on a circular route, free to choose our own destinations from a map provided by Mary.
We headed off into the sleepy early afternoon haze, map in hand, bound for one of the closer overnight spots about 6 miles away. A few times we had to cross onto busy roads which was slightly nerve racking. Apparently Mary had trained her horses well. I heard that the horses had been subjected to busy Dublin traffic to train them for this task. Our horse, Zulu, was fantastic and very safe. Nothing fazed him.
Our first stop, Avonmore, a small campsite along a river provided a parking site for our caravan and a field for our horse Zulu. Avonmore was an idyllic place for us all, Zulu included. Our journey the first day began after lunch and we arrived around teatime, 4:30 - 5:00pm. We enjoyed the leisurely pace of our horse Zulu, and were able to hop on and off the caravan and walk beside him whenever we wanted. Cars stopped to marvel at our mode of transport and take a few pictures.
The first day we experienced our first "hairy moment" when we made Zulu take a premature right before the campground up a small hill and had to make an emergency u-turn, just about making it. Luckily for all of us, Zulu was very easy to handle. Mary had chosen well!
A couple of other families decided to come to this spot too, so the horses all shared the field together. Once we'd arrived, the fun was seeing if we remembered what to do for our first unhitching of Zulu from the caravan. All went well and Zulu was grazing with his friends in no time. That evening some of the children were having a mellow ride around on their horse's back in the field, while we and another family played in the river and pretended to catch fish. That night it was full moon, not a cloud in the sky and the air was so still and clear. We were fortunate to enjoy a magical start to our trip.
The next day we walked to the village of Avonmore to stock up on our supplies and gather any tips for the road ahead. After successfully figuring out how to hitch up Zulu to the caravan, we set out for Glenmalure, taking us inland to a beautiful mountainous region. The whole day was spent plodding along at Zulu's very slow pace, spending time on both main roads and side lanes taking in the gorgeous countryside all the way. We traveled from about 10:00am - 5:00pm, going only seven to eight miles! By the end of that day, we all really felt this was the life for us.
Walking beside the caravan.
The following morning we woke up to drizzle and an overcast day, so we left our horse and caravan in the field we'd parked in and took a taxi to explore Glendalough. The oldest church of Ireland, St. Kevin was built here, the peace and quiet was breath taking. Behind the church we found an ancient graveyard filled with Celtic crosses and ruins with a beautiful view of the lough (lake), beyond. To reach the lough, we walked along a lovely mysterious path, definitely well trodden. There is a hotel, visitor's centre and a little tea, fish and chip stand. Since it was a cold rainy day, the cafe was hopping with people.
In Glenmalure, we shared a field with a small herd of calves and a few other caravans. We stayed a few days in this spot, as its beauty was alluring. We mostly cooked in our teeny kitchen, but did enjoy an occasional pub meal and delicious Guinness. Since the caravan has no bathroom facilities, all of the places we stayed had access to facilities. On those cold rainy days our hot showers and pub meals cheered us up a lot.
After four days we headed south and east, making our way towards the beach. We hit a few busy roads en route, but found most cars and truck slowed at least to wave. One of the towns on our route was the gorgeous town of Avoca. Here we found a wonderfully colorful woolen mill, the famous Avoca Mills and all bought scarves. Again here we stocked ourselves up with more food supplies.
Sadly, one of us had to stay with Zulu and the caravan outside the town because there was a really steep hill that was not passable. That's when the good Irish novel came in handy waiting on the side of the road, just Zulu and I. Zulu was as good as gold.
Then we headed to Woodenbridge for the night, a small village with a lot of hotels and river running through it. The bridge is now made of stone! We crossed the bridge and found the hotel Mary had suggested whose field was our sanctuary for the night. Happily, a Swiss family was staying here too, so we spent the evening together, and broke open the much-awaited bottle of Chateaneuf de Pape, hardly an Irish wine! Our horses spent the night together, too, and seemed to have crushes of each other much to the children interest. We all marveled at how much the horses drank, especially when we arrived. We took it in turns to fill up the two buckets with water from the hotel, watching how it took only a few gulps for the horses to finish the water. A lot of buckets were hauled that night!
Caravans in a field at night.
The next day we set off for the beach, Brittas Bay, a beautiful white sandy beach below the town of Wicklow. Hitching and unhitching the horse was easy now and the children were good helpers. The part that was slightly unnerving was catching Zulu in the mornings. We'd entice him with some of his feed, but he would have come without it. Mary had trained her horses well. As we put on all his tack, Zulu would be enjoying his breakfast. He seemed to really like us by now.
This was another long journey of seven hours. Along the way we took a lot of breaks. We picked flowers and decorated Zulu. We ate our snacks, had picnics and stopped for ice cream. We stopped for those photo moments and lay in a grassy fields soaking it all in. Then, of course, we chatted with people a lot. It was such a pleasure to have the time to be in the moment and not be in a hurry, a real slow traveler's delight!
We arrived at Brittas Bay in the early evening, and stayed at a small campground directly across from the ocean. The sea was a welcome sight, with the bonus of beautiful small, white sandy coves. What a sight it was watching the moonrise out of the sea, taking in the sounds and smells, too. The children loved this part of the trip and the caravan soon resembled the beach with the amount of sand on the floor. Here we relaxed for a day before finishing the final leg of our journey back to Mary's.
Sad to leave Zulu, we were glad though to return to more comfortable beds. We would happily take up residence in a gypsy horse caravan again, perhaps in a different part of Ireland and with friends.
This adventure was for people who can handle camping, as it was a bit like a tent on wheels. In the end, we gladly gave up a bit of comfort for watching the smiles on the children and seeing Ireland at a slow pace.
www.slowphotos.com/photo/showgallery.php?cat=3753: Gypsy Horse Caravan Travel in Ireland, Betsy's photos.
www.clissmann.com: Clissmann Horse Caravans
www.wicklow.ie/tourism/: Wicklow Tourist site
© Betsy Bauer, 2005
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