Jewel in the crown

 

CATHERINE MACKon responsible tourism



ETHICAL TRAVELLER:IT IS THE beginning of April, and I’m sitting outside a small island cafe, sipping frothy coffee as I look over a peacock-blue harbour, before returning up the hill to a Mongolian yurt. If you aren’t yet familiar with yurts, theyare large round tents,

built from canvas stretched around a wooden trellis, with a star-viewing hole in the roof.

As we walk back towards our one, and from afar admire its beauty, located majestically on a cliff top, my younger son says that the view is “like one of those posters saying Come to Portugal”. This is not Portugal, however, but Clear Island, in Co Cork, and as close to paradise as I have been recently.

Chléire Haven (yurt- holidays-ireland.com) is a small campsite with yurts and tepees, set up by Sally Davies and Dave Calvert, and the only yurt campsite I have come across in Ireland. And, boy, did they pick the right site. Yurts are camping heaven, ideal for

those who dread the canvas experience but know their kids would adore it. Set on raised wooden floors, they are spacious and high, with real beds – a double and a sofa bed – a cooker and other kitchen equipment, plus, joy of all joys, wood-burning stoves.

The stoves are not yet connected, as we arrive on the first open weekend of the year, but they are nearly ready to go. We have no need for them anyway, as the weather is idyllic and yurts have great natural insulation – although the comfortable duvets and blankets help.

Davies and Calvert, who are committed to ethical practices, have solar-powered shower rooms and give their visitors good advice on how to use less water (a major island issue), and they maintain the site in an ecologically sound way, with recycling and plans to plant many more trees.

You can’t get a much greener holiday than this anyway. Cars are not allowed on the ferry, which takes 45 minutes from Baltimore (cailinoir.com), gliding past the sorts of land- and seascapes that make us proud to be Irish. So take the bus to Baltimore and leave the car at home. You can get all you need on the island, whose Bus Chléire meets the ferry and drops you and your bags, wherever you want, for €2.

We walk everywhere. Despite being only six kilometres long and a kilometre and a half wide, the island has plenty to see. The landscape is hilly and varied, with heritage highlights such as megalithic standing stones, a 5,000-year- old passage grave, the ruins of a 12th-century church, and a 14th-century castle.

There’s plenty of living culture, too, at An Siopa Beag (siopabeag.ie), a shop and restaurant at the harbour, where locals and tourists

gather for cappuccinos, ice creams and great home-made food, or just to watch boats come and go. We sit there until dusk, wolfing excellent pizzas, then stroll all of 50m to the welcoming Cotters bar for a hot whiskey before bed – as per Mongolian tradition, of course.

We stay for two nights and wish we had come for a week. There is something magical about sleeping in a yurt, with its transparent window in the roof and cocoon-like cosiness.

One of the most striking aspects of Cléire, however, is the openness of its people – everyone has a smile and a story to tell, and is keen to hear ours. Which is perhaps why Cléire’s storytelling festival, each September, has become so renowned. But you can come and swap stories here anytime – and no better place to start than in a warm, felt-lined yurt, with the sound of the Atlantic in the distance, and lighting from the moon and stars.

Fáilte Ireland should look no farther for its next photo shoot. This one’s a diamond in its emerald crown.

  • Ethicaltraveller.net, twitter.com/catherinemack