From the dizzy cliffs of Done­gal, to sun­sets in Bal­ti­more, it’s easy to see why more of us are ‘stay­ca­tion­ing’

Irish Daily Mail - - News - PHILIP NOLAN

THEY’RE ex­pe­ri­ences I wouldn’t trade for any­thing. I’ve cir­cled the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro in a he­li­copter. I’ve flown in an­other high above the con­crete canyons of Man­hat­tan, and yet an­other deep into the Grand Canyon it­self, for a cham­pagne lunch in a land­scape painstak­ingly carved by water and time.

I’ve crawled out of my bed at 4am to eat damper bread baked on a camp­fire as the sun rose over Uluru in the Red Cen­tre of Aus­tralia, and tra­versed that coun­try by train, from Dar­win to Ade­laide and Ade­laide to Perth, cross­ing the Nullar­bor Desert on the world’s long­est stretch of com­pletely straight track, 489km of wilder­ness with not a curve in sight.

I’ve landed on the sea in a float­plane on White­haven Bay in the Whit­sun­day Islands, to pic­nic al­most alone on the most beau­ti­ful beach I’ve ever seen.

I’ve sat on a bus through the night driv­ing from Sin­ga­pore to Pe­nang in Malaysia; peered down at Dubai from the world’s tallest build­ing, the Burj Khal­ifa; sailed from the Pa­cific to the Caribbean through the Panama Canal; and slept in the shadow of the Pi­tons in St Lu­cia.

Mys­ti­cal

I’ve climbed through a for­est at mid­night to one of only two places in the world where the moon is strong enough to make a ghostly white rain­bow in the run-off spray of a wa­ter­fall, Yosemite Na­tional Park in Cal­i­for­nia. I’ve driven off-road through rivers and across glaciers in Ice­land, made my way by cable car to the top of Ta­ble Moun­tain in Cape Town, swum in the bath-warm In­dian Ocean off Mau­ri­tius and the Sey­chelles.

I’ve seen the Eif­fel Tower, the canals of Am­s­ter­dam and Venice, the as­ton­ish­ing Sagrada Fa­milia cathe­dral in Barcelona, the Colos­seum and St Peter’s Basil­ica in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens, the Lit­tle Mer­maid in Copen­hagen, the Malecón water­front es­planade in Ha­vana, Ni­a­gara Falls, the Swiss Alps, the rain­forests in Costa Rica and Guyana, rum plan­ta­tions in Ja­maica and the mys­ti­cal Trea­sury in Pe­tra in Jor­dan.

I’ve floated in the Dead Sea, and been stunned into si­lence by the majesty of the Taj Ma­hal in Agra, the Pyra­mids at Giza, and the Ha­gia Sophia in Is­tan­bul. Just last week, I sat by the ma­rina in New­port, Rhode Is­land, drink­ing a beer as the sun set.

Th­ese are just some of the high­lights of a trav­el­ling life­time that has taken me well over two mil­lion kilo­me­tres to 71 coun­tries and 20 US states, and I’ve en­joyed ev­ery minute. And yet, one coun­try above all thrills me. One coun­try presents land­scapes so dra­matic, and scenery so ma­jes­tic, I never tire of it.

I’ve never had to take a plane to get there ei­ther, be­cause that coun­try is home. That coun­try is Ire­land.

I’m not alone in this love, it seems, be­cause in Spring of this year, we took 1.2mil­lion breaks right here, a 15% in­crease on the same pe­riod in 2016, and an impressive 450,000 more trips than just five years ago. When the word was minted, a ‘stay­ca­tion’ meant that you lit­er­ally stayed in your own home and slept in your own bed, ex­plor­ing at­trac­tions in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity. Pe­jo­ra­tively, it has come to mean holidays in your own coun­try, and we have taken to the stay­ca­tion with gusto.

And why wouldn’t we, when what we have here ri­vals any of the world’s great­est views or hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ences?

Three years ago, I drove al­most the en­tire Wild At­lantic Way, start­ing in Derry and mak­ing my way through Done­gal, Leitrim’s 4km sliver of At­lantic coast, Sligo, Mayo, Gal­way, Clare, Kerry and Cork (sorry, Lim­er­ick, but I took the ferry from Kil­limer to Tar­bert!). The scenery along the route was star­tling, from hon­ey­comb sand beaches on the Inishowen penin­sula to the dra­matic cliffs at Slieve League and the huge skies over the strand at Ross­nowl­agh.

In Sligo, the brood­ing hulk of Ben Bul­ben, and the sea­weed baths at En­nis­crone, dat­ing from 1912. In Mayo, the 5,000-yearold Céide Fields, the world’s old­est field sys­tem, and my favourite view in Ire­land, that from the 466 me­tre Min­aun Heights on Achill Is­land. In Gal­way, the beauty of Con­nemara, with its iri­des­cent aqua­ma­rine coves, and Clare, where the harsh karst land­scape of the Bur­ren is leav­ened by alpine plants that turn it gen­tian blue.

In Kerry, the heart-stop­ping ter­ror of ne­go­ti­at­ing the nar­row road over the Conor Pass be­fore the de­scent into Din­gle, and the views to Skel­lig Michael, and the Rings of Kerry and Beara that bring you to Cork and on to Mizen Head, al­most the most southerly point of the en­tire is­land.

And, of course, the sea­far­ing vil­lages of west Cork, not least Bal­ti­more, where one of the great­est plea­sures to be had in Ire­land is sip­ping a well-de­served pint at sun­set out­side Bushe’s bar.

That jour­ney alone eas­ily is among the world’s great­est tourist at­trac­tions and it’s not weather de­pen­dent. What looks beau­ti­ful in blaz­ing sun­shine is no less impressive un­der the gun­metal skies of an ap­proach­ing At­lantic storm, when charm yields to drama, and the placid be­comes gen­uinely wild, de­liv­er­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence as el­e­men­tal to­day as it surely was to those who first saw it mil­len­nia ago.

The coast is not the only at­trac­tion, though. How many nights in my life have I par­tied to the sound of tra­di­tional mu­sic in West­port or Doolin? How many have I passed ir­re­spon­si­bly in the quirky ‘Hi-B’, the Hiber­nian Bar in Cork City, or the Vic­to­rian mas­ter­piece that is the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast, or en­joy­ing the best pints of Guin­ness in Ire­land in Mul­li­gan’s in Pool­beg Street in Dublin and Tigh Neach­tain in Gal­way?

Plea­sures

And what about the in­land wa­ter­ways? There are few greater plea­sures than be­ing on the water on the Shan­non, sail­ing down Lough Derg from Por­tumna to Drom­i­neer, or sim­ply be­ing be­side it, hav­ing a cof­fee and a cake in the Mul­licháin Café in St Mullins in Co. Car­low, watch­ing the River Bar­row lazily slither around a broad, forested bend.

And, of course, th­ese are just the out­door at­trac­tions. Move in­doors and you can en­joy the re­fur­bished Na­tional Gallery, Dublin’s artis­tic gem; or Ti­tanic Belfast, which tells its own tale of sad­ness in bril­liantly in­ter­ac­tive gal­leries that bring the golden age of transat­lantic travel, and tragedy, vividly to life; or the Famine Mu­seum in Strokestown, Co. Roscom­mon, where we are re­minded why our peo­ple are scat­tered to ev­ery cor­ner of the planet.

So, yes, while for­eign travel broad­ens the mind, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber what we have on our own doorstep, and it is a de­light to find out that more and more of us are do­ing so now.

Last week, on the fi­nal night of a short hol­i­day, I was on a beach in Hyan­nis on Cape Cod, look­ing out on the ocean. And, rather oddly, be­cause I was hav­ing a great time, I still felt my eye drawn to the hori­zon. Look­ing north­east, I found my­self think­ing of the lit­tle is­land some­where beyond that hori­zon, the beau­ti­ful rock in the At­lantic we so of­ten take for granted.

I found my­self think­ing of home. Of Ire­land, and that sun­set pint in Bushe’s bar.

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