Are you looking for something a bit different for your family holiday this year? The Bradley family headed to Ireland’s Waterways for a boating holiday on the water, find out what they thought of their family holiday with a difference.
I love the water. But I love it best when I’m looking at it from dry land. Spending four days on a boat was not my idea of a holiday so it was a total surprise to find that it was one of the most enjoyable, relaxing and exciting breaks I’ve ever had. Total convert!
How I Ended Up on a Boat for 4 Days!
It was all my husband’s idea, of course. His parents had taken a cruiser along Lough Erne as a 50th wedding anniversary present from their kids. We heard so much about how exhilarating it was and how it made travelling so convenient.
Patrick caught the bug and began to research routes and cruisers so he could pick out interesting things to keep our two kids entertained. They’re 7 and 9, full of energy and love getting stuck into new things. I found myself warming to the idea of spending my evenings sitting on deck watching the sun go down with a glass of wine nearby.
I packed the typical combination of clothes and toys for a trip anywhere in Ireland- wellies, swimming suits, raincoats, sunglasses, hats and flip flops. You know the drill. We packed up all the essential foods … coco pops for the kids, wine for us and decided to start our trip at the market town Portumna and motor about lower Lough Derg to take in the beautiful towns of Mountshannon and Killaloe.
I was seriously pleasantly surprised at the size of the boat. When you stepped in, there was a great little seating area with a foldaway table for mealtimes and the funkiest little galley kitchen with just the right amount of space to throw some meals together.
Right next to it was a compact toilet and then a fabulous little cabin for the kids tucked into the front of the boat. (I still haven’t worked out if this is stern or bow. Turns out I don’t need to learn all the lingo to get by.) Then at the back of the boat was a neat little cabin with two beds and an ensuite. The couch doubles as a pull out bed which was perfect for us as Patrick’s parents wanted to get in on the act and join us for one of the nights.
While we got an introduction to the essentials of operating the boat, and some top tips on the toilet and rubbish situation, the kids got stuck in straight away deciding where all their vital teddies and wrestling figures should go.
We couldn’t leave Portumna, where we picked up our boat, without taking some time out in the forest park which has some beautiful walks and cycle paths. We packed a picnic and spent a couple of hours there before heading over to the nearby Portumna Castle and Gardens. It’s a stunning building, still in the process of being restored, which operates a kitchen garden and offers guided tours.
We stocked up on some seriously tasty food in the café before heading back to the boat. We decided to get an early night and head off early to our first destination of Dromineer.
The first time you wake up on a boat, you know that something’s different. The light is something else and the gentle rock of the boat makes waking up pretty pleasant. After a quick breakfast on deck, we decided to get the show on the road and tentatively chugged the boat out of the harbour.
The first couple of miles on the boat are so exhilarating. What you don’t expect is the completely different perspective you get from the water. The complete opposite to driving where the countryside and other traffic whizzes by in a blur, you feel you have all the time in the world to notice nature’s lovely little details.
We spotted a heron storming ahead of the boat with its dinner in its mouth. The boys were thrilled to get such a good sighting of ponies chomping on the grassy river banks. And we got some great views of a group of flying geese.
Learning The Ropes
Operating the boat is surprisingly easy when you’re shown what to do. As long as you know where you are going and stay in line with the markers, it’s a real pleasure to navigate.
And with our unpredictable weather, the two different operating options with one wheel inside and one outside were dead helpful. You could be cruising along with the sun on your face and five minutes later have to duck down and take the onboard wheel to avoid getting soaked.
It didn’t take us long to get to Dromineer, where we moored up, had the first challenge of tying the ropes the right way and headed straight for Aqua Splash, Lough Derg’s floating activity centre.
We all got kitted out in wetsuits and put our life vests back on, listened to a safety talk from staff and got stuck in. The boys loved it and could have spent the entire day jumping, bouncing, sliding and swimming around the massive inflatable play park.
After a quick lunch, we all tried out the paddle boards, the kayaks and larked around in the pedal boats. I think it was the highlight of the trip actually, even for me and my whole ‘on the water, not in the water’ approach.
We headed back to the boat for a dry off and while the boys got a bit of screen time, Patrick and I rested on deck, me with my book, him with a load of maps of the area checking out what do next. Wedded bliss.
We all got cleaned up and headed back into the village for dinner at the Whiskey Still and filled up on fish and chips and seafood chowder. We’d heard good things about the restaurant and really enjoyed the food. We even caught some of the live music before wandering back to the boat.
Next morning, we motored down to one of my favourite Co Clare spots, the medieval village of Killaloe. I love visiting here but to cruise up on a boat and have the freedom to just hop off and head off was a whole new experience.
Separated from the town of Ballina by the River Shannon, it’s a lovely mix of old and new. There’s a great vibe and a fabulous farmers’ market every Sunday morning. We arrived on a beautiful bright day so we took to the hills for a walk around Ballycuggran.
There’s lots to do here. You can head off back on the water and paddleboard with UL Sport Adventure Centre or Soulkite. Or check out the local shops, cafes and restaurants.
After a delicious lunch at the Wooden Spoon which does a great menu to keep everyone happy, we headed over to Fishing for Kids where the boys got a 45 minute lesson before being taken out in a fishing boat to practice what they had learned.
Only one parent can accompany them so I had a terrible time drinking coffee and reading the paper. They didn’t catch anything which I was delighted about as I had no intention of gutting and cooking a fish in our little galley kitchen. Or any kitchen really!
Next Stop Exploring Mountshannon
After a pretty packed day, we headed back to the boat to meet Patrick’s parents who were going to travel back up with us to our next stop.
The boys loved having their grandparents on board, showing off about how everything worked and filling them in on all the things we had done. We cooked on the boat that night, and felt completely secluded as the weather changed and rain lashed against the tiny windows.
The next morning, as we headed back North to Mountshannon, the clouds cleared and the day brightened up. Patrick’s Dad took the wheel and we had a really lovely journey up Lough Derg picking out swans, ducks and moorhens, with a nice fresh breeze in our faces and warm cups of coffee in our hands.
Mountshannon is a lovely little village with buckets of history. On our way in, we cruised by the Holy Island which was an important monastic settlement in ancient Ireland. There are several church ruins and interestingly, an ancient stone where people pledge their love. Not interesting enough for the kids though who were more keen to visit Aister Park’s mini maze and run around the play park.
As it was our last night, we headed out for dinner at The Snug which does gorgeous pizzas and lovely fresh salads. Right up my street.
The next morning, we headed back up to Portumna to exchange our little, moving home for our less cosy car and I definitely felt a little pang.
I felt like we’d been away for ages, completely refreshed and quite amazed that we’d packed so much in. And that’s what I loved about cruising on the boat – it gives you so much freedom to try out loads of things and be in a new place every day with minimal effort. And if you don’t fancy joining in the water activities – grand – just chill out on deck and don’t move a muscle!
I’m definitely more of a fan of the water – not so much being in the water but definitely on the water. And that’s good enough, isn’t it?
Find your holiday with a difference with Waterways Ireland and head into the blue!