Horse-drawn caravans in County Wicklow, Ireland
There are few journeys that begin with a lengthy lesson on howto drive your mode of transport. Horsepower is what you will beharnessing in the most literal sense on your caravan trip in Ireland, andhorsepower must always be handled with care.
This is a holiday that defies the normal expectation of shuffling offthe cares of everyday life. It gives you an extra responsibility – a horse.And in this business, the customer does not come first; the horse does.Fortunately, the animals here are good-natured and well trained, usedto their role as head of the house – the one they pull behind them.
Unlike his temporary handlers, each horse has been tested for histemperament, health, road sense and driving skills before being giventhe job. You may have little experience of horses, but luckily, the horsehas plenty of experience of people.
This may well be a dream holiday for children, travelling in apicturesque caravan, taking time out with parents and with a horse aswell. And for the romantic and nomadically inclined, this is a taste of adifferent way of life for a few days, on a summer holiday that is moreadventurous than camping.
The holidaymakers are given a half-day of instructions on care andhandling, and routes recommended for caravans are mapped out. Thereis an established network of caravan-friendly farms, where travellerscan graze the horse and make camp. Or you can roam free and gowhere your fancy takes you, in your all-terrain vehicle. In addition todesignated farms, many guesthouses and pubs make overnight facilitiesavailable for a reasonable fee – at least providing parking and grass,and often more, such as meals, fresh farm produce, and hot showers.Horse-drawn caravans have no driving lights, so they must be parkedoff the road during the hours of darkness.
Each caravan has a comfortable simple interior, with four beds –one double – that are seats by day, a well-equipped kitchen, a diningtable and plenty of cupboards. The various stops along the way havebathroom facilities and there is often more extensive kitchen and livingspace in buildings alongside the farmers’ fields. Gas lamps and candlesprovide atmospheric lighting. A balcony serves as the entrance to thecaravan and is the location of the driving seat, wide enough for twoor three.
Oats are included for the horse’s daily diet, but humans must fendfor themselves. Picnic-style meals can be made or you can eat at pubsand restaurants along the way. There is no shortage of pubs here. Thecaravans are bright bursts of colour as they wander through the greenlandscape. Reminiscent of the gypsy fables and the covered wagons ofAmerican settler days, these are based on the old woodencaravans that the ‘travelling people’ used to roam around Ireland in;sometimes on their own, others in company. This more leisurely usebegan as a way to go on holiday during World War II, when petrol wasrationed or unavailable.
It is comparatively un-crowded here in County Wicklow, ‘the gardenof Ireland’, only an hour’s drive – in a fast car – from Dublin. Travelis through areas patch-worked with farms and dotted with villages.Visiting the towns and villages to shop, eat at restaurants and cafesor enjoy a drink and the craic (Irish for good times) in the local pub,caravanners can become part of the local life during the holiday. Irishpeople have a strong tradition of welcoming the stranger; plenty ofcontact with the locals is characteristic of the caravan holiday. Youmeet and talk to the farmers at whose farm you park at night; youmight ask the way at crossroads, and you travel at a speed – walkingpace – that encourages conversation with the people you meet on theroad, or the man grooming his garden hedge.
Motorists are surprisingly patient when having to wait for the originalhorsepower. The sight of the cheerful red and green mobile home oftenelicits a smile and a wave from them as you amble, or dawdle even,through the country lanes and villages.
Around seven to twenty kilometres is the usual distance travelledeach day, taking between two and five hours depending on the speedof your horse and the number of stops the driver decides to make enroute. This is a holiday where you and the horse set the pace.
Horses at rest after a long day on the roadCounty Wicklow is one of the best-looking areas of Ireland. Heathercovered mountains, deep glens and wooded valleys make for a richlytextured landscape. With your mobile home, you can travel when andwhere you please. In a matter of three hours, you can reach sandybeaches that stretch for miles, or head for the valleys, quiet lakes andmountains. The vale (valley) and picturesque village of Avoca, featuredin the popular television series Ballykissangel, nestles on a fold of theWicklow mountains; the road through the Vale of Clara twists alongsidethe river revealing a new vista at every turn; and the quiet grandeur ofthe waters in Glendalough, the Valley of the Two Lakes, can all be seenat a leisurely pace.
An extra horse can accompany you for riding expeditions, but it mustbe ridden or led, not tied to the caravan as you travel. Bicycles can bestored on board for pedal-powered excursions.
This must be one of the oldest and most traditional of movingexperiences, on wheels and behind a horse. And it’s perhaps the onlyholiday where you can try out a pet and return it, with no obligation tokeep it. Although, the temporary ‘travelling people’ who return to baseafter living the gypsy life for a few days quite often want to buy theplacid powerful horse who has led them on the journey.
Clissmann Horse Caravans and Donkey Walking Tours, CountyWicklow, Ireland. www.clissmann.com/wicklow