Life on the open road in Ireland

by Clare.Jones

For a back-to-basics family holiday, try taking a horse-drawn caravan around the country lanes of Ireland. This is definitely life out of the fast lane, with pints for parents and hoof picks for kids

Being presented with a half-ton Irish draught horse and the instruction to catch it and then attach it to a brightly painted wooden caravan might seem a tall order for anyone.
But when you look across and see a crack commando team of under-10s in action and Mum and Dad ushered firmly into the side wings, you know you could well have the makings of a firm family holiday favourite on your hands.
With fresh air in abundance, a horse of your own and the only real objective for the day being to get to the next campsite, which tends to be conveniently close to the local pub, then kids and parents can finally be unanimous. They get the horse and all the daily brushing, stroking and petting, and you get the solitude of a rustic backwater tavern and a pint of the infamous black stuff. It’s a life on the open road for everyone.
Clissman Horse Caravans offer a nostalgic, wholesome, ‘good old days’ kind of holiday experience. There are no gadgets and gizmos, no phones or DVDs. It’s all fluttering gingham curtains and metal plates, cooking on gas and sleeping in bunks. You’ll find yourself wearing wellies with gusto and donning thick woolly sweaters with comforting ease. This is all about stepping back and enjoying time that really is in the slow lane as you explore the sleepy country highways and byways of county Wicklow in Ireland.
As for the kids, well this is a trip back in time to an uncluttered era of holidaying. The simple pleasures rule. Daily activities revolve around some very simple routines. There are the horse rituals, decisions on what you will all eat and who will cook it and the delightfully slow process of getting to the campsite as you clip-clop your ways through hedgerow lined lanes. Somehow a whole day is consumed and yet everyone is kept happy.
The first job is to catch your trusty steed, a process well aided by a large bucket of oats. Then there’s the morning mane preparation, which daughters in particular seem to take the greatest pride in, as well as general brushing and hoof clearing activities.
You really don’t have to be a ‘horsey’ type to somehow find yourself falling for these docile animals. All the stuff that seemed so complicated back at the Carrigmore base during your initial briefing just falls into place. Attaching a horse to a creaking caravan and its bridle seems somehow to slot into place like you’ve been a stable hand all your life.
Before you know it you are off, on a back-to-basics journey through idyllic pastoral scenery in which the sounds of barking farm dogs and the hum of distant tractors mingle with the cries of shinty players mid-match.
Head west and you will discover heather-clad rolling mountains and sharply hewn valleys, like the dramatic Glenmalure, the longest glacial valley in the British Isles, as well as Glendalough with its stunning lakes. Around the seaside town of Arklow and Brittas Bay you will find a landscape of broad empty beaches backed by tumbling dunes.
An ideal first day takes you through the lush green fields surrounding Glenealy and around the foot of Carrick Mountain to Garryduff and O’ Byrne’s farm where traditional Irish soda bread and homemade scones are part of the welcome that lies waiting.
With travelling speed limited to about 6km an hour you won’t be going anywhere fast. But somehow the slowed-down pace of the caravan with its steady rhythm and the soothing sounds of its creaks and moans really does allow you to sit back and take in each new view that comes with every twist of the road. It’s just you, your caravan and the lure of the open road.



Clare Jones is a travel writer and photographer who loves a good adventure and has been lucky enough to make this her work travelling across the globe for a variety of magazines and newspapers. She is co-author and photographer of the international best-selling BBC books Unforgettable Things to do before you die, Unforgettable Journeys to take before you die and the recently published Unforgettable Walks to take before you die. She has also co-authored the AA titles, Extreme Places and the flagship Key Guide to Spain. She has been on assignment in over 50 countries and five continents exploring them on foot, by kayak, under sail, by mountain bike as well as skiing and climbing. One of her most testing adventures was a three-month sea-kayaking expedition from Vancouver to Alaska, as part of the first British all-female team to undertake this 1000-mile epic journey. She is a Winston Churchill Fellow and was honoured with the Mike Jones Award for accomplishing this journey. She is also sponsored by Salomon. Her work has been featured by a variety of publications, including the Sunday Telegraph, The Times, Mail on Sunday, The Scotsman, and The Herald, USA Today, Geographical, Health & Fitness and Traveller. Clare is also an assistant television producer and has worked on several BBC documentaries.