Northern Ireland and Ireland: A family road trip in a motorhome

Repetition can be hard to tolerate at any time but it's especially grinding when the thing being repeated is a quote from a film as woeful as Love Actually.

"We hate you, Uncle Jamie," say my three cousins in unison, dissolving in laughter at my continued indignation. I'm looking after Isabel, 16, Noah, 14, and Megan, 9, and now that we're a few days into our week-long motorhome adventure in Northern Ireland and the Republic, they evidently feel relaxed enough to tease me.

"I'm not even your uncle," I mutter as we make our way to the new Dark Hedges Experience, half an hour east of Coleraine. Before it lost several plots, Game of Thrones  drove thousands of visitors from all over the world to this strange tunnel of centuries oldbeech trees, despite it only appearing briefly on screen in one of the early seasons. The kids are too young to have seen GOT but between our great guide and the visual oddity of the trees, they seem fully engaged.

If Game of Thrones can be at least partially credited with the recent boom in Northern Irish tourism, our next stop has been pulling in punters for centuries. Rather than simply drive to the Giant's Causeway car park with our Swift Escape 695, we head to the ruins of Dunseverick Castle, then walk eight kilometres along a clifftop path to the famous basalt columns.

Guaranteed sunshine should never be part of your planning in the British Isles, but we are unbelievably lucky today and every day of the trip. The drama of the coast is revealed for 100 kilometres or more in every direction, the shimmering Atlantic slipping in between the satisfyingly craggy coasts of Northern Ireland and Scotland.

A few hours, dozens of photos and all of the snacks later, we're bussing our way back to the motorhome, after which we'll head to Drumaheglis Marina and Caravan Park to park up for the night. Our trip has been arranged by the Caravan and Motorhome Club, which has booked us into these camps where we can use power and top up our water. I manage to convince the kids that it's better to use the site's shower and, more importantly, its toilets, too.

As the trip progresses, the kids may have taken to teasing me, but I realised that at their age, they can also be cajoled into helping with the chores. After this epiphany, my life gets considerably easier. I take charge of the cooking, but threaten to cut off their food supply if they don't do any washing up which proves a successful tactic.

Each person gets a daily duty, with Megan proving to be particularly adept at filling the water and Noah specialising in setting the dinner table. To my embarrassment, Isabel has to step in when I struggle to put a cover on my own duvet.

As times goes by we get better at these little routines needed for a successful life on the road. The space saving tricks inside the motorhome often seem ingenious, but four people in one vehicle is a lot and the week starts with bumped heads and bashed shins, before it becomes a slicker, less painful experience for all of us.

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Of course, the driving can't be shared, and there are times when, as a non-parent, I have to check myself to avoid swearing when turning a narrow country road and seeing an enormous bus coming the other way. The kids, meanwhile, develop what I assume is a jokey malevolence to anyone not driving a motorhome.

Pushing west, we swap Northern Ireland for the Republic, briefly stopping off in Derry before driving through Donegal and eventually getting to Sligo. The kids immediately notice the Gaelic signage, the only real indication that we've swapped countries. There's been a lot of talk about this potentially becoming a hard border again thanks to the bedlam of Brexit, but none of us would want to see the current butter-smooth process change.

It's a long day of driving, but a beautiful one, too, with all of us amazed that the Irish coast has quite so much to offer when, really, we've only seen a short leg of it. County Donegal looks remarkably like my native Scotland, all rolling, heather-bound hills patrolled by itinerant sheep, and has us stopping repeatedly for photos.

Our new campsite is in the quaint coastal town of Easkey, one of Ireland's best surfing locations for anyone who doesn't mind chucking on a thick wetsuit and paddling out into the chilly sea. The kids and I don't have time for that, but instead we head out to the magnificent sea stack that is Downpatrick Head, then double back on ourselves to visit the Caves of Kesh. This 17-strong row of natural caves perforates a limestone cliff above a farm. I tell the kids that we should beware of bears possibly sleeping inside and they shoot me a collective look that says: "Just how old do you think we are?"

With summer approaching, the days are stretching to our benefit, allowing us to return to the campsites after 8pm still with some daylight to spare. Where possible, we eat inside the motorhome, rather than in restaurants. I'd like to say this is because I'm a genius in the kitchen, but the truth is that covering the costs of filling these little mouths makes me wince.

However, financial discomfort is one of the few negatives of the week. I might just be pretending to be a parent on this trip, but I can't help feel I've done pretty well. My role may be that of mr nice guy– buying ice-cream, opting for the scenic coastal routes, letting everyone stay up late – but by the time we leave Galway and head inland for Dublin, there have been no disasters, not even a single tear. The tremendous flexibility of the motorhome has made things pretty simple.

It's interesting to see the reaction travelling with kids gets in this warm and welcoming country. Most people – waiters, cashiers – seem to pitch their response somewhere between admiration and pity, but though I don't want to admit it to the kids after all the teasing, they could hardly have made it easier for me.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/northern-ireland

discovernorthernireland.com

traveller.com.au/Ireland

ireland.com/en-au

FLY

Etihad and Emirates offer daily flights via their regional hubs from Melbourne and Sydney to Britain. See etihad.com, emirates.com

TOUR

A 45-minute guided Dark Hedges day tour costs £11 an adult, £7 a child, £32 for a family. . See darkhedgesexperience.com

DRIVE

Collect motorhomes from Swift Go depots in Manchester (near Manchester Airport) or Edinburgh. For a week's hire of a motorhome, sleeping up to four, it costs from  £945  See swiftgo.co.uk

Jamie Lafferty was a guest of the Caravan and Motorhome Club and Swift Go.

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