We had decided for our 3 days in Northern Ireland to skip Belfast, as our experiences in the bigger cities in England and Ireland had not been very good thanks to the camping requirements. So we headed to a town by the name of Carrickfergus and tried to find a campsite.
Oh dear. There was nothing. Of the 2 sites within driving distance, both were fully booked up. And any others would be quite a long drive away, which was too far considering Will’s tiredness and the late hour of the day. Suffice it to say, we had anticipated doing a lot of free camping in the UK and Ireland…until we found out that it is illegal (except in Scotland). So, armed with her charm, Sam went to the tourist information office and asked about any accommodation in the area (while Will made a coffee to keep awake). We ended up checking into a B&B right on the waterfront, which was one of the best things we could have done (after moving rooms during the night thanks to the loud music from the bar below). At 90 pounds it was a lot more expensive than we wanted, but the sublime dinner that we had followed by an amazing sleep and unreal Irish breakfast the next morning made it well worth the price. With full bellies (almost too full!), we headed off the next morning for a campsite that we had prebooked the night before in …….., taking our time getting there and stopping off at villages and hills to enjoy the sights and sounds.
Looking back on it now, we find what happened next quite amusing, although at the time it was horrible. After arriving at the campsite (Browns Bay campsite in Larne), which was packed like sardines and pretty nasty, we found someone in half of our allocated spot. We nicely showed them our booking, and was promptly given the finger and told where to go. As we were discussing what to do next, another camper started to park his car in the other half of our spot. When we politely asked him to move, we were met with a barrage of insults. This uproar stirred other nearby campers who quickly jumped to the defence of the man who had apparently been going there for 30 years. 2 others, after hearing our accents, hurled abuse and told us to f off back to our country. …suffice it to say we left hastily, as staying was not an option. We drove to a B&B that we had seen down the road and, pretty shaken up asked if they had a room. The lady was over-the-top lovely and after hearing our story rang around other B&B’s in the area for us, finding one about a 20 minutes drive away.
Somewhat ironically, this turned out to be the best thing that happened to us in Northern Ireland. The B&B we ended up at was run by the nicest elderly couple that we have ever met, and they welcomed us in with tea and biscuits and showed us to our room. The whole house was as you’d imagine a typical grandparents house…floral wallpaper and coverings everywhere, little ornaments, and think pink carpet. That evening, after spending some time walking around the village, we decided to set up our table and chairs on the footpath next to some fisherman, get fish and chips, and watch the sunset over the horizon. It was a perfect end to a harrowing day!
The next day, after visiting the council offices for a refund and being apologised to profusely by the girl working there (apparently the campsite is renowned for being frequented by dickheads, and the campsite ‘warden’ takes cash from people who turn up to stay where they want), we lazily toured around the north. But we were ready for the next leg of Scotland and to see old friends again, and finally do some proper free camping!