Carry on glamping

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PICTURE PERFECT A bird’s eye view of Cong village. Pic: Elizabeth Toher

Cong proved to be the perfect place for a short staycation recently

Mike Finnerty

STAYCATIONS.
A word we never knew existed (I don’t think it did, actually) before Covid (another word we never knew existed!) not so long ago.
And now everyone from your 95 year-old neighbour to the 10 year-old in your house can shoot the breeze about renting a cottage in Clifden or the price of a four-star hotel in Donegal. Not to mention how complicated it can be to book a table for a meal on a wet Wednesday in West Clare. We’re all experts now!
Earlier this month the Finnertys decided to get in on the action.
So somewhere in between an All-Ireland Hurling Qualifier and the Connacht Football Final we found a few days and decided to go for it! With the adults in the house vaccinated, and the certs uploaded to the phones, nothing could stop us!
Nothing that is, except a Bank Holiday Monday which, when you work for The Mayo News which comes out on a Tuesday, means that it’s the exact same as any other Monday.
As a result, heading to the other side of the country would have to wait until Tuesday morning.
‘But wouldn’t it be nice to do something on the Monday night?’ mused yours truly.
Which takes us (quite literally) to Cong.
If someone had told me just a few weeks earlier that I’d be glamping in Cong on the August Bank Holiday Monday evening, I’d have probably rolled my eyes and written them off.
But we are living in strange times, and so it came to pass that it made perfect sense to make the ten minute journey to one of the most picture-perfect villages in the country, and book into a bell-tent for the night.
Everyone in our house loves glamping. And they love Cong. So it all made perfect sense.
We rolled into the glamping, camping and caravan park around 7pm. It was packed.
There were tents as far as the eye could see, from the small two-person variety to ones that looked like five-bedroom houses. Complete with the conservatory.
The smell of burgers, steaks, hot dogs and sweetcorn filled the air and the smoke from the barbecues wafted across the park like the old Knorr (or was it Bisto?) gravy ad.
We were checked in with the minimum of fuss and got a lovely warm welcome; it was actually all so simple and straightforward that even I could manage it!
Within a few minutes we were parked up and opening the lock to our bell tent.
As first impressions go, we were blown away. We could have been standing in a room in boutique hotel or a really nice ‘Airbnb’. It was clean, bright, spacious and cosy all at once.
We threw in our bags, made ourselves at home, checked out the rest of the campsite to get our bearings, and had a look to see if we knew any of the neighbours.
Then we did what anyone in our position — only being there for one night for the craic — would do, we headed into Cong village for a bite to eat and a few drinks.
It turned out that half the country had decided to do the same thing, so after a few laps of the place, we eventually found a parking spot and a table outside Danagher’s.
It didn’t take long before all was right with the world, and the holiday had officially started. We were people-watching to beat the band, enjoying our meal, and watching the world go by.
The village was hopping. There were tourists everywhere; feeding ducks, posing for photos with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara at their bronze statue, drinking Guinness, and strolling around without a care in the world. It was great to see, and a far cry from the lockdowns we all went through in the last 18 months.
A little later we went for a walk around the grounds of the old Abbey to see the sun set.
These were the same grounds where 13 years earlier we had some of our wedding photos taken, and the area, just a short walk from Ashford Castle, remains as stunning as ever.
A few minutes from the street you can disappear into the Cong woods, and a short stroll takes you to the doorstep of Ashford Castle from where you can meander back to the village again.
Darkness was falling by the time we arrived back at the campsite, so we settled into our bell tent for the night, and relaxed in the comfort and warmth of our surroundings.
We were giddy about the prospect of the few days away, and there’s also something about sleeping in a tent that turns us all into big kids for a few hours!
We went through our ‘Walton’s routine’ before the light was switched off and, I can honestly say, I had one of the best sleeps of the year over the eight hours that followed.
The facilities were top-class, clean and easily accessible, everything ran like clockwork, and  our short stay was as enjoyable as it was memorable.
The following morning we hit the road for our next stop.

NEW BOOK

THE photos of Cong accompanying this article were taken by Elizabeth Toher and are among those featuring in her new book about the picturesque South Mayo village.