In 12 months on the road, we have yet to use the services of any kind of campsite for any kind of reason. Slightly reluctant to have Dixie The Backwards Van herded into a flat field and parked regimentally alongside so many other vehicles, unsure that we want the associated rules and regulations but whats worse is we were nervous, of campsite ettiquite, of socialising with strangers, of putting ourselves our there. Conversions like ours are easily overlooked for sleek, modern and spacious motorhomes, we weren’t even sure a banged-up commercial van would be permitted to pay to rest the night alongside these amazing machines. However, one afternoon in late July as we cruised through Scotland, we found ourselves in dire need of a couple of services at once, worst waste first unfortunately but a tank of fresh water too, and so we decided to put our silly fears aside and pull into the very next campsite we saw….
This photo above could have been taken in Scotland but no, it is in fact Tintern Abbey in County Wexford, right on the south east tip of Ireland. A serene walk in the ancient forest surrounding the humongous Cistercian Abbey (built circa 1200 by William Marshall) is free and highly recommended, we ambled between the trees and over the bridge admiring the views without paying admission as the afternoon was already late when we arrived and the sun long in the sky. Wexford is only 90 minutes drive from Dublin city and an explorers paradise, with tons of sandy beaches to walk, thick swabs of dark forest and lots of interesting, historic and ancient places to visit. This was not the first time Dixie has driven these roads (you can read our first impressions on a February 2018 trip here https://wp.me/p8WlP3-gV ) but one weekend is never enough to see the whole county and this time we had another special reason to return to the Hook Peninsula, the dramatic cliff headlands, the sloping golden shores and especially the iconic black and white lighthouse.
Meeting new people can be tough, no matter what age you are. Seems to me it gets more difficult too, as all of lifes turmoils and strife happen one by one and harden like a shell around us and we seem to gather more and more reasons to be suspicious of each other and our motives. Vanlife especially can be quite isolating if we let it, sometimes we stay in places so rural that days go by before we see or speak to another human. The very first question we get when we do speak to locals is often “Where are you staying?” and explaining we live in that Fiat over there is not always easy or advisable or worth it. When we stealth park on a city street we are essentially hiding, we’re quiet as mice and we try not to bother the “House People” (yes, we say that sometimes, in more humorous moments of paranoia, it does aptly describe some attitudes of outrage we’ve experienced in response to our current dwelling, a House Person is anybody who gets off on disapproving- you probably know the sort 😉) and the more you take yourself out of everyday society the more isolated you get. Meeting people online has become the norm because it’s so easy to find like-minded souls in such organised communities and no matter how happy we are to be alone, as humans we also crave that face-to-face, that exchange of information and stories and a friendly wave off with the best wishes of a relative stranger. Sometimes we need to reaffirm our own choices, to know there are people out there just like us, to make sure we’re not the mad ones after all.
On our winding way through Wexford we stopped at Saltmills, a picturesque little community on the banks of Bannow Bay. There, a short golden beach harbours a very old and broken ship, her wooden hull half buried and protruding like an elephants ribcage from the sand.
Weathered by the changing seasons and beaten by the elements, the ship sits exposed, decaying on the beach. We wondered what event brought this vessel here to waste away, what misadventure befell the boat which grounded her here and proved to be her last. Maybe we all start out as a shiny new boat, ready to sail the wide world and then shit happens, life happens, for whatever reason we end up washed up, anchored down, weathering away in situ. What a thought!
It is a thought though, and one worth having: some people stay still. I don’t mean physically, I mean some people don’t grow, their ideas or their world views, they don’t open their minds to seek to understand anything out side of their own norm. A somewhat sad fact of vanlife is that not everybody in your life is going to support your decision to pack up and hit the road. Some people will be genuinely confused. A wise soul once told me that if you have to explain ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ happens to be) then they’ll never ever get ‘it’ and I think that rings true in this case, if understanding your desire to be free from the shackles of modern day economic slavery and spiralling debt and live a life less ordinary is so difficult, chances are that person does not resonate on the same wave length as you anyway and they probably never will.
Some people seem to take the news personally for some reason, as if your decision not to live in a house is a damning indictment of their decision to continue to live in a house, ditto when you make a move towards minimalism and disconnect your cable, it’s not a judgement of how others spend their time, it’s just you reclaiming yours for things you prefer to do. Some are no doubt simply jealous of your freer lifestyle or your ability to seemingly not G.A.F. about what anyone thinks. Some people don’t want to live in a van but don’t want you to either, for some bizarre, unexplainable (even to themselves) reason. Some folk will disassociate with you, some will try to marginalize you, some will warn you of how you will be “judged”, we’ve found these type ironically to be the judgiest individuals of all. These people don’t understand and they never will, they are the very definition of House People, don’t waste your breath trying to change their minds.
There she is, Hook Lighthouse, in all her glory. The oldest working lighthouse in the world (The Tower of Hercules lighthouse in Spain claims this title too but further research shows it had been built and rebuilt in its past, unlike Wexfords iconic beacon) and possibly the most photogenic building on the shores of Ireland! William captured this breathtaking image upon our arrival:
The real reason for our visit to Hook Head this week was an invitation to meet The Colfer Family; Niamh, Liam and their two little co-pilots who are living in their motorhome here on the peninsula and preparing for the trip of a lifetime around Europe! Driving to Wexford to meet up with brand new, online friends is definitely a step out of Dixies comfort zone. The long narrow road to the lighthouse nudged us gently left and as we rounded the corner and saw the other vans, at least twenty of them, sprawled around the grassy lawn in the space between the stripy beacon and the cliffs I must admit my heart started racing, were we staying here, parked amongst all these other campers? It would be our first time on any kind of site, free or paid, because that day in Scotland I mentioned earlier? Not a very good experience.
I took this misty photo from the top of the lighthouse to illustrate the volume of campers parked up. Dixie is there amongst the crowd. The line of large white vehicles is not unlike the site we drove into in Scotland either, but we never even got to park up there. The owner of the campsite took one look at us from behind her lace curtains and made her mind up. No doubt she was thrown off slightly by my accent, soft northside Dublin but Americised by many years abroad because she looked confused at first, her head cocked in interest as I attempted to explain our plight but she cut me short and asked no questions before telling us to leave, Travellers are not welcome here.
Our weekend in Hook Head was absolutely fantastic. We spent 2 nights parked there and had an amazing time. The presence of other vans and vanners nearby was unusual but really good fun too, a strange festival atmosphere prevailed and all spirits we encountered all weekend were high. We made new friends in the Colfers, Lighthousekeeper Liam gave us a personal tour of the insides of the lighthouse right up to the massive spinning lens and the family took us for a walk across the peninsulas spindly headlands to see so many fossils exposed on the rocks and to explore the deep wave-cut caves under the black cliffs. We watched Irish singer songwriter Maria Doyle Kennedy set up for an intimate gig at the lighthouse and later listened from below the tower to her haunting voice echoing down from above, sheltered from the fierce Atlantic wind behind the old Wexford stone walls. We ate lunch at the cafe and wandered the grounds and spent hours sitting, watching the waves and just chatting with our friends. On day 2 John, a regular reader of our blog, contacted us and just a few hours later we were singing and dancing and ukelele-ing and having a right ceili in his motorhome with his hilarious family, parked just next door to Dixie, our first real moho session and an extremely memorable evening (we remember anyway 😉!) We sat out late the next night, wrapped in blankets, waiting for the Perseid meteor shower which proved elusive behind the thick night cloud but I really don’t think anybody minded, the sky is worth a long gaze regardless and having time to sit and stare upwards in great company is still such a privelage to both of us. Clan is an old Irish word for family, it means “offshoot”, at Hook Head that weekend we were warmly welcomed into the van clan.
The Colfer family are setting sail on their ultimate adventure, leaving Ireland at the end of August and planning their journey as they go with every thing they need packed into their van. Their bravery and wanderlust is fascinating, they want that life less ordinary for their little family and they’re excitedly taking the big leap together. We’re so glad we met before they leave and we will be following them from afar and cheering them on all the way! You can follow the Colfers too at the link below and show your support:
What was all my worry about, parking up beside other vans? Feeling crowded I guess, losing our peace and quiet, being amongst strangers, all somewhat valid considerations but not in this instance! In the evenings we retired to Dixie, propped the doors open and watched the sun set over the calm Atlantic Ocean, we may as well have been alone on the whole island of Ireland as everyone around us stopped what they were doing to sit and watch the same stunning solar show in silence.
I should have been more open-minded to begin with, and considered the fact that any person willing to sleep in a vehicle for any amount of time must be of a certain naturally cheerful temperment and is probably the owner of a very good sense of humour. Maybe the Scottish campsite experience just put me off groups of vans altogether, maybe it’s any kind of judgement I’m trying to avoid. They say safety comes in numbers but I’ve never felt unsafe living in Dixie, for me its more about support, for you it may be both, or something else entirely. If you need help or support for any reason, try to surround yourself with like-minded souls, humans who relate to you and encourage your desires to live an alternative lifestyle, seek out communities who care about the planet like you do or find groups of vanners, campers and free spirits nearby. People who are not hemmed in by rules, regulations or ‘societies expectations’, people who understand you or will at least respect and ask about what they don’t understand first. Find your clan online and whether you meet up in real life or not you will have a friend on hand to help you through any challenge or just swap stories with. Even if your real life friends and family don’t understand your life choices, someone who does is never far away.
What about the lady in the campsite in Scotland? We can only surmise she has a huge chip on her shoulder. She couldn’t see past her judgement to even be nice to us, to treat us like humans, let alone to serve us. We’re so sorry for any trouble she has had in the past and we can assure her it certainly wasn’t us who caused it but that doesn’t seem to matter, she will most likely continue to treat every white van wearing a white Irish registration the same disgusting way. There are a million phrases that she, a businesswoman, could have on hand to get rid of us kindly, had she chosen that route. It is easy to say “I’m So Sorry, We Are Full Tonight” but no, she wasn’t interested in kindness or humanity. We feel bad for her, carrying such heavy prejudices around needlessly all her life, she will never change, she may as well be anchored alongside the old boat in Bannow Bay for the rest of time. Talk about a House Person!