Laurence McCoy is bewitched on a camper van holiday to Ireland's rugged west coast.
Irene and Bob Dwyer have been making their pilgrimage to wild and windswept Connemara from their home in Seattle just about every year since they can remember. For them it’s the lure of old family connections, both of them tracing their ancestors back to the famine that forced Irish people to flee to the four corners of the globe.
But there are many reasons for visiting this unique area in the far west of Ireland and many different types of people mingle and chat at O’Dowd’s cosy pub at Roundstone, 50 miles north-west of Galway, overlooking the Atlantic at the foot of the Errisbeg Mountains.
Outside the sun is shining down on the idyllically quaint harbour framed by jagged inlets and the bulky blue-grey hills in the distance. Inside we’re feasting on chowder, local crab, oysters and prawns – and the obligatory pint of stout.
This particular region of the “Old Country” seems to have an abiding sadness about it that even a glimpse of sunshine cannot wholly dispel.
Its history is a hard one, marked by tragedies and partings. Bob and Irene tell us, for instance, of the poignant episode when mothers and children died exhausted on a 15-mile fruitless trek to seek food across the barren hills at nearby Doo Lough.
Sustaining any kind of life here in this harsh climate can be difficult. On the lonely road over to Roundstone from Westport, an old man was cycling doggedly against the wind, seemingly on the way to nowhere, slowly passing the clumps of lurid purple rhododendron bushes, a shock of colour against the myriad flat greys and greens of the bleak rolling hills.
The Atlantic winds can turn the weather from leaden skies and horizontal rain to broken clouds and breathtaking beauty and back in an instant.
That morning we had walked out across the deserted beaches near Gurteen and Dog Bay, to a headland where hares darted over slabs of rock and sparse green heath. Huge banks of white clouds flowed across the blue sky, reflected in the pure turquoise waters washing the pristine sand.
The vastness of the sea and the sky are ever-present and nowhere better appreciated than the stunning drive around the coast on the Sky Road, westwards out of Clifden, the major town in this part of County Galway. The eight-mile loop around the coast provides heart-stopping views of the shimmering Atlantic and the broken coastline, a chaos of jagged islands and rocks.
The weather, as always in Ireland, is an issue, but we were in a camper van, shielded from the frequent showers of rain and the omnipresent wind.
It’s a great way to tour this spectacular country, stopping where the mood takes you and carrying everything you need.
A short ferry crossing makes Ireland easy to reach by road from the Midlands and Irish Ferries’ aptly named Ulysses provided a pleasant three-hour hop from Holyhead to Dublin. The £16 extra to go club class is well worth it for the panoramic views from the comfortable lounge at the front of the ship as well as the nibbles, tea and coffee included.