Malcolm Johnson recalls taking an Auto-Sleeper van conversion to Ireland for a tour full of inspirational scenery and unforgettable experiences

We had, quite literally, run out of road. Our Auto-Sleeper campervan was parked in the darkness of the loading area beside the dock at Holyhead, and we could travel no further.

We’d driven for most of the day and had planned to grab a few hours of rest before the ferry sailed for Dublin in the wee small hours, but we were too full of adrenalin to sleep. Instead, we drank coffee, ate Mars bars and waited, watching a stream of HGVs sweep past and onto the boat. 

The trip to Ireland had been a bit of a work of improvisation. It started with the chance to take part in an international blacksmithing event in Monaghan; then on top of that was the opportunity to take the ’van to the west coast and back. What was not to like? Finally all the planning had come good; what had seemed like a pipe dream was really happening.

At last we arrived in Ireland, but as we were driving out of Port Dublin we took a wrong turn and found ourselves crossing the River Liffey, and quickly arriving at a tollbooth. My partner, Kate, scrambled for Euros as I asked the attendant where the road went.

“Where do you want to be going?” he replied. “The M1, north,” I said. Handing back the note, he shouted across to the other side of the booth: “He’ll be doing a U-turn!” Turning back to me, he grinned: “Go back the way you came, and keep going.”

Finally on the right road, what we really needed was a place to park up and get some shut-eye. A sign to Laytown sparked a memory: the only horse races in Europe that are run on a beach took place there. Surely there’d be somewhere to park and rest for a few hours? Actually, no, but we followed the road northwards and just up the coast we found the perfect thing: a pay-and-display beach. 

At last, parked on firm, dry sand with horse-gigs trotting through the surf and Dublin Bay sweeping into the distance, we knew we’d arrived.

Ahead lay an unforgettable journey, which included the camaraderie of the ’smiths gathering in Monaghan. There were also the green mountains, lakes and poetry of County Sligo, the pan-rattling roads of County Mayo, and the otherworldly beauty of Connemara, which was like driving through the landscape of The Lord of the Rings. There was the motorway blast from Galway back to Dublin, and a pint of the black stuff after a tour of the Guinness brewery. Truly, it was one of those epic trips that makes life richer.

Since then we've toured the sandy beaches and fishing ports of South Cornwall, taking shelter in the Eden Project on a wet and windy day. We've explored the cliffs and countryside of Devon, from genteel Lynton and Lynmouth in North Devon to Dunster castle and Dunster Beacon (surely the windiest place on Exmoor). We've explored King John's southern hunting grounds of Cranborne Chase, and toured the Hall and Woodhouse brewery in Blandford, Dorset, to find out how Badger beers are made.

But nothing compares to that magical early motorhome tour of Ireland

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