I’ve always counted motorhomes and boats as first cousins. The two activities are virtually interchangeable, and some people are lucky to enjoy both.
While purists of either pursuit might not agree as to the overriding similarities, I politely beg to differ.
The first myth to dispel is that either a boat or motorhome are a means of transport. They’re not. They’re more like a means to an end.
That endgame is rest & recreation, adventure, a desire to explore, engage and enjoy the great outdoors.
If you don’t like camping, it is highly unlikely that you are going to enjoy a campervan. Likewise with boating, it’s the same difference. Sailing is similar.
Let’s look at the crossovers.
You pack light. Prepare to live and operate, cook and sleep in a confined space, in close proximity to others. In the confined space of a boat or a campervan every millimeter is important real estate, (I must credit Dave Hanley of Vanderlust.com with that key takeaway).
Mostly you are fending and cooking for yourself, onboard or outdoors. You won’t be served or have anything handed to you. Normally you rise early and make the best of the day with whatever turns you on and by early evening you’re looking for a good spot to berth for the night.
You make your own entertainment. A party piece is as important as knowing how to cook. You might have to sing for your supper, or at least keep logs on the camp fire.
For those of us who have fallen in love with this lifestyle you come to appreciate the value of light, of heat, of a good pot, pan and sleeping bag, a map, a guitar, a one-pot recipe, some special places and some secret spots, the joys of a sunrise, the pleasures of a sunset, the tonic and delight of a night beneath the stars.
So that brings me to Portumna, albeit by the scenic route.
Portumna is a popular marina for boaters and holiday makers on the Shannon-Erne Waterway.
But it doubles beautifully as an excellent overnight facility for motorhomes and campervans. Last summer it proved a particularly important stopover for both, with berths and camping spaces at a premium.
Based on the French style aire model, which is a key component of continental camping and touring, the facilities are designed to accommodate overnight stop or short stays, basic parking facilities. This is supplemented by charged-for-services, such as electrical hook up, toilets/showers and waste disposal. Not a place you’d plan to spend your entire holiday but a good spot to stopover, recharge and regroup.
The Portumna aire stopover at the marina is regulated by a metered €10 charge for parking over a 24 hour period with additional services available via a smart card. All the services are operated under the auspices of Waterways Ireland.
You can purchase a smart card (the same size as a credit card) in units of 10 and 20 for €6.35 and €12.70 respectively, from over 90 retail outlets in counties Fermanagh, Cavan, Leitrim, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, Galway, Tipperary, Clare, Dublin, Kildare and Carlow as well as from Waterways Ireland offices in Carrick-on-Shannon, Dublin, Enniskillen, Portumna, Scariff and Tullamore.
It’s a great system and service for the excellent facilities available at the various Waterway Ireland marinas/aires with units docked from your card for lock passage (1 unit), showers (2 units ), electricity (based on usage), pump out (2 units), chemical toilet (2 units), washing machine (5 units) and tumble dryer (5 units). Toilet access at these locations like Portumna is free.
The marina and aire are an excellent base in which to explore such local attractions as Portumna Forest Park, Portumna Castle and Portumna Friary. There is also a good playground nearby within easy walking distance and a picnic area on location.
So far, so good.
The question is, why are such facilities so few and far between? There is a golden opportunity and a growing demand for the likes of Waterways Ireland to invest now in upgrading and enhancing such public amenities. Locations like Portumna are already a winning formula and provide the template. Boaters and motorhomes alike can benefit and enjoy the shared use of such common purpose facilities, ensuring critical mass and sufficient demand to justify the capital investment, upkeep and maintenance of such amenities.
The demand for campervan and motorhome stopovers is at an all-time-high and all the indications are that’s here to stay. It would be to the benefit of those who enjoy and share the waterways and require such services. In the future it would help strengthen indigenous tourism infrastructure for both the domestic and international visitors. It’s a classic no brainer.
Yet down the road from Portumna, you have a huge, busy and thriving marina in Banagher and no provision for motorhomes. Some great jetties and facilities also at Shannonbridge and Clonmacnoise, but again nothing for motorhomes. There are talks of a privately developed aire facility at Shannonbridge, which would be most welcome and I think would prove a successful venture.
In neighbouring Shannon Harbour, it’s picturesque and tranquil except for a virtual hostility with a barrage of barriers and signs forbidding motorhomes. What’s all that about? It makes no sense to provide services for mooring boats and blithely ignore extending that facility to motorhomes. Such an arrangement works just fine up the road in Portumna.
Waterways Ireland in partnership with local authorities and tourism entities are currently engaged in the roll out of some fantastic new greenway and blueway attractions across the country. This is to be welcomed on so many levels and has proven immensely successful to-date in so many locations.
Shannonbridge has just embarked on a campaign to have the latest greenway proposal from Athlone to Galway routed through their village. Understandably and rightly so.
But the gift horse staring everyone in the face is the burgeoning motorhome and campervan community. When I called in to the Portumna aire last summer, it wasn’t just busy, it was full to capacity with boats and motorhomes.
So when Waterways Ireland start to roll out and invest in new greenway and blueway attractions such as the Barrow Blueway they should also incorporate spaces and services for motorhomes at key stop-offs along the route such as Rathangan, Monasterevin, Vicarstown, Fisherstown and Athy.
All that's required is to designate some parking spaces with basic amenities for motorhomes. Build it, they will come!
Portumna has shown the way, and it works.