While being given an introductory tour of Rock Farm – Slane’s delightful eco-friendly glamping site – I notice that one of the other guests, a girl, looks confused. It quickly turns out that the fable “The Three Little Pigs” is to blame.
The wolf can blow it away,” she whispers to staff member Luciano Diez, who has just revealed that the main building – the Limehouse Ecolodge – is built partly of straw.
Luciano, originally from Spain, assures the boy that the added materials – mud plaster and lime – make the lodge as safe as any other building and no wolf, no matter how strong its lungs, can damage it.
When the girl is distracted by real pigs and newborn calves on the surrounding farm, Luciano reveals how blessed he feels to work and live at Rock Farm with his family. He explains that the site, which stretches across a mile of Meath’s fertile countryside, was founded in 2010 by Alex and Carina Conyngham – current residents of nearby Slane Castle, who are known for their superstar concerts.
“You are surrounded by this breathtaking nature,” praises Luciano and leads me across lush meadows and past plane trees, oaks, ash trees and chestnuts, “but Belfast and Dublin are also easy to reach.”
Since launch, the budget-friendly Rock Farm has seemed an instant hit with families, couples and honeymooners, all of whom have fallen for the unique charm of the yurts, bell tents and shepherd’s huts — as well as the wolf-proof Limehouse Ecolodge, ideal for groups. During my two-day stay, I will experience both a yurt with its thick waterproof tarpaulin and the Swallow’s Nest, a cozy straw bale hut.
“Our guests love the slow pace,” notes Luciano, “it’s perfect for unwinding and getting away from it all.”
That’s not to say that every activity at Rock Farm is leisurely.
This afternoon the charismatic David Buckley – who also runs Boyne Voyage – takes me kayaking down the Boyne. After navigating some tricky weirs, I learn about the diverse wildlife that frequents the river – below and above – including trout, salmon, dragonflies, swallows and swifts.
David from Drogheda is determined to promote responsible stewardship of the Boyne.
“Now more people are enjoying the water – especially since the pandemic. There’s nowhere I like better than by the river with my son or other outdoor enthusiasts.”
As we glide across the still surface and the sun shines on our faces, I can understand why.
The heart of any stay at Rock Farm is socializing with other guests in the communal facilities, including the hot tub and natural outdoor pool dotted with lily pads. But it’s in the kitchen, Le Shack – and around the outdoor grills and clay pizza oven – where friendships are really made.
As I prepare my pizza from a packet available to guests, I meet a beautiful family from Belfast – theater maker Caoileann Curry-Thompson, her writer husband Sam and their three children Oisín, Odhrán and Sadhbh. Before the mozzarella can melt, let’s put the world in order and list our many mutual friends.
“Rock Farm gets a big thumbs up from all of us,” Sam tells me. “The environment makes it easy for both adults and children to relax and unplug for a few days.”
He adds: “The kids love to spend all the time at the campsite, playing with the kids in the other tents, swimming in the natural pool, talking to the pigs in the neighboring field and telling scary campfire stories!”
When ghost stories are told that night, I don’t hear them – before my head even touches the pillow in the cloud-like bed of my yurt, I fall into a deep sleep.
A farmer’s market is held every Thursday in the former hay barn, welcoming guests and the public. The next morning, I meet the producers behind the Slane Food Circle – artisans of modern food and drink using old Boyne Valley methods.
Along with organic meats and vegetables from Rock Farm and Newgrange Gold canola oil, I sample charcuterie from Wooded Pig, a sustainable farm near the hill of Tara, along with goat cheese from another farm, Mullagha, dating back to 1510.
Though not nearly as old, the award-winning Cider Mill, founded in this century, provides me with a delicious drink – their naturally sparkling cider, Cockagee.
“Originally, cider making started as a hobby,” says Fiona Jenkinson, who runs the confectionery business with her husband Mark in nearby Stackallan. “When the recession hit, we made it our full-time business. We haven’t looked back since then.”
At another stand I meet Aoife Coogan from Mellifont. After the death of her child Charlie, she honored him by fulfilling an ambition to open a business specializing in sustainable, locally produced products, including beeswax wraps.
“My partner built a workshop overlooking the fields from reclaimed materials,” Aoife tells me, adding that her company’s success is particularly gratifying because she feels her late son is a constant presence and support.
Beyond the rock farm
Beyond Rock Farm there are plenty of activities to enjoy – from Newgrange to the Francis Ledwidge Museum, housed in the war poet’s childhood cottage. I tour the newly opened Slane Distillery opposite the castle in the restored 18th century stable yard.
A joint venture between the Conynghams and Brown-Forman of Jack Daniel’s, this multi-million pound distillery is dedicated to reducing carbon footprint and promoting biodiversity and sustainability. For example, they recently planted 14,000 trees next to their barley fields.
After learning about their aging process in three casks, I sample their aromatic, golden elixir in the former horse stalls, now imaginatively transformed into a bar. It’s clear that the pace in the Boyne Valley is more of a gallop than a gallop – to paraphrase Luciano, the perfect place to get away from it all.
Two nights in a yurt starts at €210 for two adults and two children. An overnight stay in the Swallow’s Nest costs from €90 for two adults. For more information, see rockfarmslane.ie.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/ireland/happy-glampers-escape-from-it-all-at-slanes-rock-farm-41930493.html Happy Glampers: Get away from it all at Slane’s Rock Farm