Camping and creepy crawlies


THOU SHALT NOT PASS Áine Ryan enjoys a glass of vino during her night’s camping on Clare Island while she has watchdog Samhradh on hand to keep unwelcome guests out (and possibly to keep Áine in).

Fish out of Water
Áine Ryan

I imagined it as a trek along undiscovered cliff-sides on the Wild Atlantic Way. The sun would be shining (naturally), a soft breeze tickling the machair as I, an intrepid traveller, a consummate camper, trekked across streams and rivulets with my knapsack on my back.
I wouldn’t be daunted by my lack of Girl Guide training, or that replacing the duvet can cause self-strangulation, or that that part of my brain which was meant to read instruction labels and manuals, never developed to proper maturity.
So when The Mayo News decided to again run a summer series entitled Fish Out Of Water, I should have thought twice, taken a rain check, had a psychological assessment, made an appointment with the podiatrist, had a long hard look at myself. But I was undoubtedly buoyed up by the fact that I had gone surfing the last time we ran such a series. And I had survived, caught a wave or two out on Carrowniskey (well, while in a more supine than surfing pose.)
What was I thinking when I said I’d go camping? That I was married to Bear Grylls? That Ant and Dec were planning to invite me onto the set of I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here?
As I said earlier, the original plan was to head off on some Celtic pilgrim path along the Annagh Cliffs or down the Mullet peninsula. But, for some reason, the summer flew by and what with getting stuck in gridlock on Bridge Street and waiting for the sun to shine, deadline day soon loomed and I had to resort to Plan B.

Sardines in the sand
THE last time the tent was slept in was at Electric Picnic. Owned by the eldest Pirate Princess and even though I wasn’t attending a cool cultural festival, I almost felt I should take out an insurance policy just in case it got a scratch, was attacked by midges, hailstone showers, swarms of bees. In the end, the plan was simple. I was more a sardine on the sand than a fish out of water, metaphorically speaking, of course.
So the tent was transported by fast-ferry to Clare Island for a night in the garden.
Hands up! It wasn’t quite survival against the odds. Not like the time we camped under the Menawn Cliffs in Achill or on the edge of the River Slaney in Enniscorthy during the Strawberry Fair when our canoe club descended on the Wexford town for some frolicking in the river. That was the time, due to a dodgy groundsheet, that every earwig in Wexford managed to visit me while I slept like a baby …. well, until I woke up to the creepy crawlies having a rave on the walls of the tent or snoozing in the fold of my sleeping bag. (Yuck….eek!)
Notwithstanding the underworlds of insects – bugs and beetles, termites and ticks – as I set up tent last Saturday evening with a little help from the owner, the fresh smell of the green, green grass, the potpourri from the hedgerows, the sense of proximity to the natural world and its cacophony of music evoked those adventures from the distant past. Thirty five years melted away and I was a young student from the suburbs of the capital city discovering there was a world beyond university campuses and dingy pubs, lecture halls and tutorial rooms.

EATING alfresco, albeit with a soft mist at the time, always adds flavour to the food, which, even if it wasn’t cooked on a camp fire, had a taste of the outdoors. It was as if those new potatoes had been dug from the nearby soil and the fish caught hours earlier from a currach anchored in the cove beyond the nearby Coinne Rón cliffs.
You couldn’t quite call it glamping, despite the fact that I used a real mattress, two duvets and more pillows than Marie Antoinette (if you know what I mean). Curiously, reading my book with a torch made each line more exciting, ensured I was drawn into its narrative with more clarity and vitality, helped me to sleep better than I have for months.
Like camping alone on some deserted crag had been abandoned, I deferred my plan to light a real fire from foraging along the nooks and crannies of Erris’s ancient land. I had been watching the weather forecast for the previous week and, despite the one above-mentioned light shower, it was a lovely balmy evening on the island and perfect for a late night stroll before retiring to my new canvas boudoir.
The fact that Samhradh, the middle Pirate Princess’s dog, insisted on staying on guard outside the tent all night provided great comfort. Although, her bark being much worse than her bite, meant that every time a sheep turned in its sleep, anywhere on the island she wound up her wuffing to a most menacing level.
At least I knew I was safe and no longer quite so afraid of the dark.