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Travel Articles
Slane Farm Hostel

You've 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.

Situated 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.

The 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.

The 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.

There 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.

Does 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.

The 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.

The 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.

We 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.

I 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.

As we approached the rear entrance to the centre and red-faced man swung open the back door and approached.

'Is that your van in the car park?'

'Yes, it is,' I replied.

'Do you not think that some of us want to go home?'

He wasn't a happy man. I couldn't blame him either.

'Jesus, I'm sorry,' I said, cowering slightly. 'We lost track of time.'

'Where have you been?'

'We went to Newgrange.'

'Why'd you not take the bus?'

'We felt like walking. What time do you close here then?'

'Seven 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.'

It was eight o'clock.

'I'm sorry,' I repeated.

'Where do you work?' he asked.

I 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.

'And do you not have to worry about time in your line of work?'

It seemed that me being a travel writer hadn't made a difference to him.

'Sorry,' I repeated, beginning to grovel now.

I 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.

So 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.

For more information on the Slane Farm Hostel and things to do around it, visit their website:

www.slanefarmhostel.ie

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