all heard me rave about Kirwan House in Wexford, well
now I'm going to introduce you to a new discovery. Back
in February, when I was exhibiting my South America
book at the ITW Show in London, I met Joanne Macken,
who not only bought my book but, upon learning of my
plans this summer, also invited me to her stay at her
hostel should I find myself in the vicinity of Slane,
Co. Meath. Over the past few weeks I had met a few people
who had stayed there and had nothing but good things
to say about the place, so I was intrigued to see it
for myself. Nika, a very lovely Slovenian girl I met
last year in Spain flew in to Ireland on Sunday, so
I met her at the airport and we came straight up here.
in the heart of the Boyne Valley, an area of low green
hills, Slane is a very small village centred around
a crossroads and sitting alongside the River Boyne.
Its most famous landmark is the privately owned Slane
Castle, a place so big that it was host to many rock
concerts over the years. However, the locals soon got
fed up with being invaded by hoards of rock fans each
summer and so the amount of concerts dwindled. Now there
is only one a year. The castle lies just two kilometres
out of town on the Navan road. Directly opposite the
castle is a turn off. Just up this road lies the hostel.
hostel is situated on a working farm. Its historic coach
house and stables have been refurbished and converted
into a luxury hostel, with three dormitories and three
family rooms; all rooms are en-suite. The owners, Joanne
and Paddy Macken, do their utmost to extend you a warm
welcome. If they are not around then a member of their
family will greet you instead. As well as the rooms
there is also ample space out back for camping. Lots
of room for me to park up the Scooby Van and enjoy the
peace and quiet of the area for a few days. It was also
a useful base from which to take care of business in
Dublin, rather than have to stay in the city.
hostel has only been open since April 2000 yet it has
grown in popularity over the years. So much so that
the Mackens are building an extra wing on the hostel.
This will contain private and double rooms with en-suite
toilet and mini kitchen. So despite the fact that tourism
is down this year, the Slane Farm Hostel is going from
strength to strength. Just goes to show you what a great
place this is.
are many reasons to stay here: the peaceful, tranquil
atmosphere of the countryside - if you don't mind the
sound of cows and sheep - the well equipped kitchen,
laundry, Internet, games room or the selection of reading
material (among which, I'm happy to say, are both my
books) or the incredibly comfy lounge and TV room, in
which I spent many a happy evening. But what is top
of my list of reasons to stay here is, quite simply,
the Breville toaster.
anyone remember the Breville toaster? Well if you don't,
it's simply a little machine that makes toasted sandwiches
quickly and easily. What's special about the Breville
is that you can put anything in it and the toaster squashes
the bread together and seals everything inside. When
I was young I used to delight in using the Breville
for making Baked Bean Toasties. But like many
things from your childhood, as the years passed the
Breville toaster seemed to disappear. I still have no
idea what happened to ours. So imagine my delight when
I discovered one in the kitchen of the Slane Farm Hostel.
For four days I wallowed in a sea of Baked Bean Toasties
- Nika displaying admirable restraint at voicing her
concerns about having to share the Scooby Van with me
at nights after eating all those beans.
immense friendliness of the local people and the rich
historical sites that dot the surrounding landscape
are just an example of why this part of Ireland should
be on everyone's itinerary. The sites in this section
of County Meath span 5000 years of Irish history, including
burial grounds, battlefields and castles. If you stay
at this hostel you may even get the opportunity to participate
in one of the archaeological digs in the area.
principle sites making up the Boyne Valley are the burial
mounds of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. I drove the Scooby
Van out to the visitor's centre and parked in the car
park. We then went through the centre and out the back.
There are tours available but they cost money, and it
was too late in the day to take one. It was nearly six
when we got there.
headed out the back of the centre and made our way across
the river to a bus stop. It was possible to also take
a bus to any of the mounds, but, as it was a nice evening,
we preferred to walk. It was a long walk, broken by
the greetings of the local dogs and cheery waves of
local people. Newgrange was the closest of the three,
so we went there. Even that took us an hour to get to.
It's a huge, flattened, grass covered mound 80 metres
in diameter and 13 metres high. It covers Ireland's
finest Stone Age passage tomb and, being dated at around
3200 BC, is noted as one of Europe's most remarkable
sites. Nearby is also Newgrange farm, a 135-hectare
working farm with a large collection of animals on view,
a picnic area and coffee shop.
was dismayed to see that we could have actually driven
to these sites ourselves by following the road to Drogheda
from Slane. At least that's how it appeared on the little
map printed at the entrance to the mound. But still,
we had wanted to walk (well Nika did actually). The
consequence of this desire to walk became apparent upon
return to the visitor centre.
we approached the rear entrance to the centre and red-faced
man swung open the back door and approached.
that your van in the car park?'
it is,' I replied.
you not think that some of us want to go home?'
wasn't a happy man. I couldn't blame him either.
I'm sorry,' I said, cowering slightly. 'We lost track
have you been?'
went to Newgrange.'
you not take the bus?'
felt like walking. What time do you close here then?'
o'clock. I have to lock the gates, you know. Some of
us like to go home at the end of the day. I was going
to call the police.'
was eight o'clock.
sorry,' I repeated.
do you work?' he asked.
was thrown slightly by this question. 'I'm a travel
writer,' I replied, hoping this news might reduce his
furious onslaught in the hope I might not give the park
a bad write up.
do you not have to worry about time in your line of
seemed that me being a travel writer hadn't made a difference
I repeated, beginning to grovel now.
didn't know what else to say. I couldn't argue with
him because he was right, we had been foolish and inconsiderate.
We should have noted the closing time before setting
off on our trek. So therefore I had nothing to offer
in our defence other than to grovel and apologise, and
thank him for staying back and letting us get back to
our van, when by rights he could well have locked the
centre and park up and left us stranded for the night.
there you go, all the wonderful things there are to
do around Slane and a great place to stay when you are
there. Just make sure that if you visit the park, be
back before seven. You might not be as lucky as we were.
more information on the Slane Farm Hostel and things
to do around it, visit their website: