I've surprised myself with how little I have cared about not planning a far-flung adventure abroad this year.
Usually, I love the thrill of booking plane tickets to somewhere sunny and planning out a full-blown itinerary in the Notes app on my phone.
As I've said in this post though, lockdown has mellowed me in a way, and reminded me of the joy in simplicity. Knowing that any trips for the foreseeable will be at home in Ireland doesn't bother me, because I know how lucky we are to have such a beautiful island to explore. Yes, the weather is shite, but look, you can't have it all eh?
My first trip post-lockdown was something of an impulsive one. My boyfriend and I knew we wanted to book an Airbnb so we could remain as socially distant as possible on our getaway, but we kept putting it on the long finger. One morning, whilst scrolling the app as Conor snoozed, I found a cabin in rural Donegal, surrounded by fields, down the road from a lake, a few minutes drive to a beach. I booked it for three nights immediately, and excitedly showed Conor when he woke up. "I love it," he said. "But you do realise it's electricity-free?" No. No, reader, I did not.
But, "feck it", I thought. Maybe this is just what I need. Somewhere to force me to stop looking at a screen, whether it's my phone or tv, and recharge my batteries. And so onto Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal we went.
From Dublin, it took just over two hours to reach Ireland's oldest town (where the iconic Rory Gallagher was from, btw) and as soon as we drove down to our cabin, a sense of calm washed over me. We had total privacy, bar a flock of sheep, scattered around a tractor in an adjacent field. In front, a sea of green. This is the kind of Ireland that Americans are shown in movies, minus the terrible accents and leprechauns.
Inside, we were greeted by cosy beds draped in sheep-skin blankets, a log-fire stove, battery operated lanterns and books on Tom Crean, the explorer who inspired the name of the cabin. For our first night, we fired up our portable BBQ and played charades while we ate hot dogs and drank wine and played music by the aforementioned Mr. Gallagher. We were in bed by 10pm. Divine.
The following morning, we woke up to the sounds of the great outdoors and headed up to the cookhouse, where freshly-laid eggs and loaves of home-made bread are left out daily for the guests (more people stay nearby in teepees). There's a hot plate to cook with, a toaster, kettle and all the utensils needed for a delicious, hearty breakfast, which we enjoyed whilst watching the hens who laid them waddle by.
We chatted to Paul, the Airbnb owner who created the wonder that is Basecamp Knader -and built the cabin himself - a total character of a man who beguiled us with his stories and filled us with ideas on how to spend our day. A finer gentleman you'd struggle to meet.
On Paul's advice, we headed out to see the beautiful Abbey Mills and Catsby Caves, took a stroll down stunning Rossnowlagh beach and then tackled Slieve League, which has some of the highest sea cliffs in Ireland. As it started to rain, we made a pit-stop at the Rusty Mackerel, for a feed of fish & chips and a creamy pint of Guinness. Sometimes you have to be a tourist in your own country.
The rain didn't let up, but again, I surprised myself: I didn't care. I did this new thing I've started doing, and I...rolled with the punches. We lit our stove fire, got into bed with bottles of beer and hot water bottles and read. For HOURS. Not only do I never find the time to read anymore, but Conor and I have never really spent time like that before. It was flippin' lovely.
The weather played ball the next day, and we swung the cabin door open to sun-soaked fields. Donegal bacon and sausages were added to our breakfast pile and we gobbled it all up before playing with Paul's resident collie Miss Ellie...a truly majestic creature. After more chats and laughs (we also met a couple staying in the aforementioned teepees), we headed to nearby Bundoran. The landscape is postcard worthy; as I stood upon a cliff edge and watched the sea crash in and out, dotted with both novice and skilled surfers, a surge of gratitude came over me, that we are able to now travel and see places like this, not far from home.
We visited a gorgeous little cafe called Foam (order the pulled pork bap with pickles and cheese!) and lay out on the beach, before attempting to get into the freezing cold sea - we got as far as our shins and ran out screaming like we'd touched the depths of hell.
That evening, after another delish BBQ, we walked down to Assaroe lake, five minutes down the road from the cabin, and experienced the most awe-inspiring sunset of pinks and oranges. Soon after, we joined the couple we'd met earlier at Paul's fire pit, where we sat opposite the flames and shared stories over a couple of beers.
I left the cabin feeling truly rested. Usually, after a holiday, I joke about needing another holiday because I'm so wrecked. Not with this one. I genuinely switched off, slept and relaxed and learned that this is what every vacation should leave you feeling.