It’s not often that you get to go camping on the grounds of a historic castle in Ireland. Not often that you get to fall asleep with a view of green fields and the open blue sea. And certainly not often in perhaps the most luxurious camping “pod” one can find. But that’s glamping in Glenarm!
“Glamping”, if you haven’t heard of it, is a portmanteau of the words “glamorous” and “camping”. With glamping, there are no soggy tents, no musty sleeping bags, no cans of beans heating up over spitting flames. Glamping is taking all the comforts of home and experiencing a night in style…sort of outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m down for camping in a tent in the woods and experiencing nature to its fullest, but sometimes you just need to feel a bit like a Queen on progress.
The Rocky Road to…Larne?
Getting from Belfast to Glenarm was relatively easy – or at least it would have been, traveling on any day but a Sunday in Ireland. Public transportation options are more limited on Sundays, with trains and buses running less frequently, or in this case, not at all between Larne Harbor and Glenarm. From Belfast, Leo and I took a train to Larne, and stopped for a delightfully decadent Irish Breakfast before phoning a taxi to take us the rest of the way. While we waited, we enjoyed the sights Larne had to offer.
Larne is a port town on the east coast of the Country Antrim, and only 25 miles from the Scottish mainland. Scotland is visible on a clear day, and it was clear when we visited, but we were too busy battling the winds on the shore to take a proper look. We walked up and down the shore and saw the Bankheads, which included a replica of an Irish round tower. What is a round tower, you ask? Nothing posted told us anything, but luckily Wikipedia exists, and tells me that they were most likely bell towers. (I knew it looked familiar – I had in fact seen one at Glendalough).
Coastal Village of Glenarm
The taxi drove us up the coast to Glenarm, a small coastal village with a castle and lovely forest walks. We alighted at the entrance to the castle grounds, and headed straight for our “pod” to drop off our things. The pods at Glenarm are just a few minutes walk away from the castle itself, and overlook the grounds and out to the ocean. We collected our keys from a lockbox and settled into our home for the night.
The pods are really quite cozy, and although they’re all in a row, you feel quite isolated inside one. They seem bigger on the inside than they do on the outside (Tardis, anyone?), and include a queen bed, a bunk bed, and bathroom with a shower. With all of that crammed inside, it still manages to look quite elegant. Perhaps the best attribute is, of course, the enormous window-door that provides a view of the ocean. The bed faces the window, so you can fall asleep and wake up to a beautiful view. There are no curtains, but the windows are tinted so that people on the outside can’t look in. A little unnerving, but the view is worth it.
After exploring the tiny space thoroughly, we walked down to the village of Glenarm to wander a bit and find some dinner. The local guide provided to us in the pod suggested several restaurants in the next village, but as we had no car, we figured a pub in Glenarm would do just fine. Approaching the village center, we passed by the Appalachian trail. Yes, the good old AT! The International Appalachian Trail crosses three continents, and I can now say that I’ve hiked parts of it in two of them. Across the village, we admired one of the imposing gates into the castle grounds. Closed for the evening, but still beautiful in the setting sun alongside a noisy stream.
We stopped into the pub for dinner, and were surprised to find it all but empty. The bartender and two guests looked up in surprise when we walked in, and after hesitantly asking if they were open for dinner, we were dismayed to find that they didn’t serve food at all. Neither of the pubs in Glenarm did. Well, that would be why the guide suggested the next town over. Mumbling an apology and turning to leave, the bartender waved us in anyways. “Come in, I can order you a Chinese”. And in fact, she did! She gave us the menu for the local Chinese delivery joint, and even ordered for us and let us eat in her pub at a table. The Irish kindness at work yet again. We naturally ordered several drinks from her to go along with our meal.
Now, one major lesson learned is this: it’s not necessarily the best idea to order Chinese food in rural Ireland. Especially if you grew up in an extremely diverse city that has really good Chinese restaurants. The Chinese food we ate that night was…not great. What explains it best is perhaps the dipping sauce for the egg rolls. Opening the tin, I jokingly remarked that it smelled of strawberry. Our chuckles turned into nervous laughter. They wouldn’t have given us strawberry jam to dip our eggrolls in… would they? That would just be absurd…right? Well, in fact, they did. It was as close to strawberry jam can get to a dipping sauce for eggrolls, or as close to a dipping sauce for eggrolls as strawberry jam can get. You get the idea. In any case, we took it all with good humor and in stride. We were happy enough to be eating in a cute little Irish village next to the sapphire sea.
Glenarm Castle and Grounds
The next morning, we checked out of our cozy little pod and headed down to the castle grounds to begin touring. Being guests of the pods, we got free passes to the gardens, and we were even allowed to store our bags behind the counter at the gift shop, which made it all very convenient. Unfortunately, the resident family was home for a few weeks, so the castle itself was closed to the public, but we still had plenty to explore in the gardens, woodland, tea rooms, and workshops.
After dining in the Tea Room on yet another Irish Breakfast, we explored the Walled Gardens and Carriage House, which now held a museum explaining the history of the property. I may have gotten slightly tired of European cathedrals, but I will never get tired of wandering castle grounds, visiting luxurious gift shops with garden sections, and supping in quaint tea shops with a cuppa after. It was a delightfully Irish afternoon, and an experience worth even trying to get around on a Sunday.
Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I am SOOO looking forward to my (second) cycling trip into/through Donegal in July.