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28/09/2014

Maddybenny Campsite, Portrush, NI


I got an early start for a weekends trip to Maddybenny, due to an understanding boss who could see I was itching to get away (and not much work on), so I was off like a shot!

I arrived at 2pm and chose a nice spot amongst these trees. I found level places to pitch my tents, yes I had more than one tent on this occasion. Actually I had three. I'll explain later. 


This weekend away was not a solo trip, it was arranged some time ago and there were a few people scheduled to attend this 'meet' with their families in various caravans and tents. Then as is often the case, life gets in the way and people bow out for legitimate reasons I'll not go into here - and so it was that there were three lots of us going, which is actually quite a nice number. The first night it was only two lots, with a third joining us for an overnighter on the Saturday. This family borrowed a tent from me, which I put up before their arrival as they were on site quite late. So one tent for me and one tent for them, that's two tents. 

This is the third tent. I brought a Decathlon Base Seconds pop up and this was our shared kitchen for the weekend. In hindsight I still brought too much. I should have just brought a stove, a kettle and a bunch of mugs because we literally lived on coffee. And takeaways. The pre-made and frozen Irish Stew I brought ended up in the bin. The most complicated thing I made was porridge for breakfast. 




For myself I brought the Lichfield Challenger 5, dates from the eighties and is a tent I used from being a teenager to now, and it's sort of on it's way out. The flysheet is getting very tired and delaminated and every time I use it I think it'll be the last time. I am very fond of this tent, lots of great memories were had in and around it and this weekend is another one to add to the list. For the borrowing tent I brought my Vango Icarus 500. No photo of it though. This was my tent....



Night one was incredibly cold. This is actually the latest in the season I've ever camped but it has been an exceptionally mild September. The stars were out on the first night and that means a big temperature drop. I'd remembered to bring my hot water bottle and plenty of blankets, but at 3.30am I woke up colder than I could ever have imagined being and struggled out of my tent into the other tent to stick the kettle on. Hot water bottle replenished I was warm but at approximately 4am the site cockerels started. Which brings me on smoothly to the amazing birdlife on Maddybenny site. There are lots of these things just wandering around, begging to be made in to a roast dinner. Only joking of course. 





But not joking was the  noise they made. This site is fantastic and the birds are an integral and lovely part of it. Earplugs are required for decent sleep though, not a big deal but the ducks go quack and the peacocks make a funny hoot, and the chickens cluck and the guineafowl make a horrible irritating noise. And worse, the cockerels go Cock - a - doodle - doooo in, it seems, two phases. Phase One is at 4am. Then Phase Two kicks in around an hour later. 

The Guinea Fowl look like clowns in full makeup, with their big football bodies and their too tiny heads. Their bodies are about the same size as a beach ball, we thought they were Turkeys but we're townies, we are useless at this sort of thing. The Peacocks are a bit full of themselves, they'd nearly pull the food right out of your hand they are so cheeky! The Ducks and Chickens are just happy around your feet as long as there's bread on the go and then Peacocks bully all the other birds. Fun Fact - a group of Peacocks is called a 'Party'. A group of female Peahens is called a 'Harem'. 

The site is well tended and the toilet and shower facilities are good, and clean. All the toilets are unisex and separate to each other, so no need for male and female facilities. Two out of the three showers are large disabled access wet rooms with a loo in the opposite corner to the shower. 

The site has an outlook over fields with horses and a sliver of sea in the distance. It's one and a half miles in to Portrush and this site is on a hill overlooking Portrush. The campsite is part of a large working Riding School with sixty horses. Thirty of those are owned by other individuals and stabled there, and the other thirty are used for the Riding School for lessons. So as a working 'Farm' you have to be flexible about there being activity, all the birds wandering about, farm cats and a couple of dogs too. 

Maddybenny also has Holiday cottages on the Farm and there is a brilliant games room with a table tennis table and a football table for the use of the Campsite and the Holiday Cottages. 

I didn't really go looking for the play area, but I believe there is one and there are also landscaped gardens to explore too. 

I met some of the other campers using the site, and Night Two of our stay was spent with them and a small campfire, I'd brought a guitar and then it emerged that one of the guys was a bit of a virtuoso guitar player! It was just really nice sitting around that little fire, a bit of chit-chat, a few giggles and somebody who could play a guitar properly to entertain us. Great memories to carry with me and hopefully for everyone else as well. 

Yes I'd recommend Maddybenny, and yes I'll be back. 







24/09/2014

Share Centre Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

Weather - fair but overcast. Mood - excited to see Elan my son who was living at the Share Centre and working as a volunteer for a whole month. The Dog - also excited to see Elan but then she's excited to see anyone especially one of her own Hoomans. Tent used - Vango Icarus, 2010 model. No extension. 

The Share Centre is one of those love it but hate it places. The ethos and the atmostphere of the centre is brilliant, creative, inclusive and welcoming. Here's the thing. The Campsite isn't great. It's ok, in as far as you have a bit of grass and access to Electric Hook Ups and to a loo and shower. 

Now this next bit contains a bit of a rant about how things are at the campsite and what I think should be done about them. You are welcome to skip this bit if you want and it is all in italics so you can easily do so. 

The first big issue is that there is no access with a car. This lot (see pic) took me an hour to carry back and forth to the chosen area. I tried to go as far in to the campsite as I had the energy to do in order to get a bit of privacy as the areas around the entrance to the campsite are often densely used and if you pitch up there you could end up with someone elses guy ropes right past your front door. 

Issue two. The showers for the ladies are a row of shower heads along a wall with no dividing curtains. It's a bit like being at school only in my school at least we still had curtains. There is a wall to hide your modesty from an open door but you shower in view of other people who are also showering. There's no lock on the door which is accessed through the ladies. I suppose a lock would mean you have about 8 shower heads all to yourself which could create a queue outside. Isn't it obvious that this is appalling? There's three things you can do here, insider tips if you will. First you can take a shower and just be really quick and hope nobody comes in (this causes a certain amount of stress) or you can take a shower in the disabled shower which is a separate room.Lastly (and my preferred option but you have to pay extra) is you can go for a swim at the pool which is a five minute dander away. 

Issue three (minor I suppose) is that there's no soap in the ladies. You go to the loo. You only have plain water to wash your hands with. You could bring your own soap, but I find I nip to the loo when I'm passing the amenity block and I won't always have a bottle of Carex in my jeans pocket. Even if I intentionally go to the loo, the natural assumption is that there will be soap there, either a dispenser or a bottle of handwash. In the whole weekend I was there, I forgot about there being no soap on every single occasion I was in the bathroom. In every campsite, in every shopping centre, in every public place in the land - there is soap. It's a convention. It shouldn't be a big thing, but it could have a serious impact if someone suffers from food poisoning because they've been barbecuing and preparing food. 

Under utilized - The dishwashing area. 

Now I've seen the glory of a really well appointed kitchen area at a campsite, which is the mainstay of many a campsite in this beautiful land, I think we should be making more of these dishwashing facilities. Unfortunately in the case of the Share Centre, it's distinctly scruffy. There's missing surface on the edge of the worktop, which begs a hygiene question. The sinks were clean enough and the place does get washed down, floors and surfaces. I tend to bring my own dishwashing container anyway. There's a bin, that's good. New (to me anyway) was a fridge, sitting up unnaturally high on a worktop. This is clearly a cast off fridge from somewhere else, and someone has thought 'I know, why don't we let the campers use it' which is fine and great. The fridge is pretty grotty though. It did have an icebox which was useful to put my ice packs in, and they didn't get stolen which is even better. I noticed as the weekend wore on that someone plugged in a mini fridge and kept a few beers in the main fridge. Then someone else was charging their phone up, and I realised that opposite the dishwashing sinks (2 of)  there is a couple of double sockets and actually there's enough room to put a stove and prepare food (if you've remembered your handwash) and store food (if you risk using the fridge) and you could store your items there too if you placed a bit of blind faith in the other campers. 

What a world away from Mannix Point in Kerry, The Apple in Tipperary, even Hillfoot in Dungiven, where there's a busy inviting kitchen that people walk through, rest a while in, chat in. Things don't go walkies so much when people develop a relationship with their fellow campers. When there's a place to sit, potter and prepare food. When everyone chips in and even, dare I say it, share a bit! 

Here's a campsite with so much potential. There has been no investment. The complaints I had about this place four years ago have not changed one tiny bit. The Share Centre is a charity and I understand it's a daily struggle to keep the doors open. I sympathize with that. I would be up for supporting the place. But people do not want to struggle when they go on their well earned break. They do not want to work really hard huffing and puffing carrying heavy camping equipment to a pitch. They do not want a frankly grotty amenity block. They want to wash their hands hygienically, have a shower in privacy, basic stuff here! 

My suggestion, and I don't expect to be listened to here (as I highlighted my concerns four years ago, and nothing has changed), is that a road needs to be installed through the centre of the campsite. There is a curve of land that is already in a hollow, prone to churning up mud, hence the reason why cars are not allowed on site. It starts at the car park and heads diagonally towards the rear of the site, towards the main road and the ropes activity area. It does not need to be a tarmac surface. Many campsites have a rough rubble road, what planners call a metallised surface. 

Is Planning the issue here? I don't think so, the site already would have Planning Permission to operate as a campsite. I don't know if there's any extra permission needed to install a roadway that would also improve drainage if pipes were installed too, may as well have those too if you're going to dig a hole in the ground to fill with rubble and stones! 



Righto, if you've skipped to this bit, this is the camping bit.

Below is my trusty Vango Icarus, I have had this for four years but it is getting on a bit. Still functional and no tears or pole breaks or leaks and although I fancy the new colour of green on the current ones, plus the redesigned and much bigger 'panoramic' windows on the same, I'll use this one until it is much more done than it is at the moment. I brought what I thought was fairly basic camping gear, whilst still being enough to be comfortable. I had a tea/coffee making station, a decent camping bed to sleep in and I brought the electric hook up cable in case I got cold so therefore I had a small fan heater. It proved to be unnecessary as I wasn't one bit cold. Doggins was accommodated in a 'pet pen' which is simply an alternative to a tether arrangement but I wish I'd just stuck to the tether as this is quite a heavy object to carry. She also had her own crate for night time use inside the tent. It made a handy coffee table too. 

So how did my weekend go? Well it was great to see my son, who is 17 and who I'd never been separated from for a whole two weeks before. We went in to the shops for some supplies, we went for a swim together on his day off on Saturday, and we shared a barbecue together, sitting up late with my son and his friend Damien til' all hours around the campfire. On the Sunday the tent got wet and so I had a wet pack up, which was sorted out later at home. Good weekend all in all.












Bed and Bedding is the make or break of a good camping trip. Here I used an Argos steel framed campbed. An old sleeping bag to use as a bit of padding. 5cm Decathlon 'Sleep In' bed which is a Self Inflating Mat and sleeping bag integrated. Pillows from home. I used the 'level' function on my phone to find the more level bit of the sleeping area to put my bed. I am very fussy in this regard! 





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