Barn storming – BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
International vacations may be back, but for some, getting away from it all in the sun turns out to be a headache.
accine certification issues, access to Covid-19 tests, and spending your free time picking up your phone to make sure the country you’re visiting isn’t on a redlist, all of these are an administrative nightmare.
For those who want less stress, now is the time to experience what our own island has to offer and there was plenty to see and do in Co Sligo. It’s not quite the sun, sea, and sangria, but as we found out, it comes close enough for a pandemic vacation.
The west coast of Ireland has seen a boom in recent years with the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way. The tourist office has even set up a passport which involves the collection of stamps at each stage. The 2,500 km road route crosses nine counties and three provinces, stretching from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork.
For our visit to Sligo, we stayed at the Sligo Sea Barn, a relatively new place to stay overlooking Sligo Bay. The beautifully converted barn, which once housed cows like Black Rosie, Linty and Bluebell, has six bedrooms, comfortably sleeps 17 and is easily one of the most unique places we have ever stayed. As soon as you walk in you find yourself in a 40 foot living room with large windows with solid maple wood flooring. Each bedroom offers stunning views of the mountains and bay and onto your own private terrace where you can enjoy a coffee in the morning sun and watch the nearby cattle graze. It is well suited for large families or a group of friends to organize an event as the kitchen has modern equipment, while the main reception area is the perfect place to socialize. There’s even an upstairs viewing gallery where you can admire the Raghly Peninsula and Knocknarea.
The barn feels like you are in the middle of nowhere and you can really disconnect from the busy world. In fact, the nearest beach is a 10 minute walk away and the area has a cliff walk worth taking in the morning to blow away spider webs. Steeped in history and mythology, this part of our island has been well described by WB Yeats for its beauty and creativity.
From there it was less than 30 minutes by local taxi to Sligo town for dinner and drinks. We had dinner at Hooked which is just off the main drag for pubs and restaurants. It’s a laid back dining experience and the owner said he aims to source all of his produce locally to support the vendors and that was evident when you tried the food. Our party of six tried what was on offer including chicken wings, pork belly, and my favorite, fish and chips. The haddock was in a light batter which is how all fish should be prepared (in my opinion). Hooked also offered a set menu and a kids’ menu if you’re on vacation with the little ones. Main meals are usually around € 16 which is a reasonable price considering the portions and location of the main pubs. We had a few drinks at a few local bars and most of us sat outside. It may be summer, but a jacket is highly recommended. We planned an early night and headed back to the Sligo Sea Barn before a morning surfing.
Described as the jewel of the Wild Atlantic Way surf coast, Strandhill is nestled at the foot of Knocknarea, just outside the town of Sligo. It is a lively village with lots of activities and places to eat and drink.
Strandhill Surf Experience was our choice of surf schools as it came highly recommended. Only one of us had surfed before, so there was a bit of apprehension among a group of men who had spent the majority of lockdowns eating and not moving around much. Owner Eddie made us put on our wetsuits, grab our boards, then walk across Strandhill to the beach.
As we pulled into the sand and sat down for our safety briefing, the wind and torrential rain came in which is what you would expect for a holiday in Ireland. The rain and the wind did not abate, but they provided the necessary waves to have a real surf feeling. We all managed to get on our boards at least once, but it took dozens of attempts over an hour and 20 minutes to fight the elements. There were a lot of falls and I managed to hit the seabed hard enough and had a bruise on my hip for a week to tell the story. The instructors made the experience very rewarding as they took time with each of us to develop our technique and position, which is often lacking in group lessons.
Sligo County Council is in the process of developing a new National Surf Center on Strandhill Drive. The facility, which has received € 1 million in funding from Failte Ireland, will serve locals and tourists keen to ride waves along the west coast. It will also be the National Center of Excellence for Surfing in Ireland and a focal point for activities on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Our time in the water whetted our appetites and to feed that hunger we had lunch at the Shells Cafe which overlooks the beach. You won’t have a hard time finding something on the menu here to keep you going all day. From pastries to the chicken burger and fries (highly recommended) and toast to awesome salads, there is plenty to choose from. Lunch warmed us up enough for us to enjoy ice cream at Mammy Johnston’s a few doors down. Established on the Strandhill waterfront almost 100 years ago in the 1930s, the business has been in the Byrne family for three generations, and their ice cream is renowned in Sligo and beyond. It’s not only extremely popular for its award-winning ice cream, but its coffee and pancakes are a big hit with tourists who line up to treat themselves after a stroll on the long and beautiful beach nearby.
Our trip to Sligo ends with some yoga on the beach, which is not an activity we usually plan for our trips. We met Blaithin Sweeney on the energetic promenade and greeted us with a big smile. She led us to the beach and through a large area of rocky terrain before arriving in a more secluded area. We unrolled our mats on the sand, surrounded by dunes climbed by children, and prepared for the unknown. The dunes acted as a windbreak and when you take off your shoes lie back and close your eyes all you can hear are the crashing waves of the nearby Atlantic. The class was perfect for beginners and regulars alike. Blaithin made us do breathing exercises and gentle movements to relax our admittedly sensitive muscles after surfing, before introducing stronger postures and poses. There might have been a few drops, but overall it was a great way to clear your mind to reflect on a busy stay. The class was enough to make me think of resuming yoga when I got home.
Ireland’s west coast has arguably seen a resurgence as the Wild Atlantic Way continues to draw visitors from near and far. The combination of breathtaking scenery, adventure activities and of course the famous Irish hospitality that one finds along the way, makes this a destination worth discovering. The pandemic has decimated the travel and tourism industries, but it could be argued that the inability and difficulty of jumping on a plane has allowed many of us to explore what’s on our doorstep.
* We stayed at Sligo Sea Barn. It can accommodate up to 17 people and costs from € 1,295 (£ 1,100) per night. To verify https://fivestar.ie/self-catering/sligo-sea-barn or email [email protected] or call Des on 0035386 1722309
For more information on Sligo see sligotourism.ie
To book Strandhill Surf Experience, go to https://strandhillsurfexperience.ie/
For a yoga tour on the beach https://www.yourwellbeingwarrior.com/
Restaurant addicted: https://hookedsligo.ie/
Shell coffee: shellscafe.com
Mammy Johnston Glacier: https://www.mammyjohnstons.org/