There’s a universal drive that exists within most outdoorsy type people to run away and live off grid – even for a day or two. This drive took myself and my partner to Glenravel on the Antrim coast to the stunning Willow and Lore Wild Glamping.
We started out our journey (on the recommendation of our amazing hosts: Sabrina and Declan) at Cargan Dam, where we parked up and began following the signs for the Dungonnell Way Trail, hugging the reservoir for a while until taking a swift left into Glenariff Forest Park where we were able to take in the serenity of the soft green blanket of moss and sentinels of trees.
Eventually, our secluded woodland walk diverged onto the main road (Glenariffe Road), before looping us back onto a proper, quiet country road known as the East Skerry Road. Here, we stopped for a cuppa at a river, before following the trail onto the Woodland Trust owned ‘The Drum’ – searching for remnants of the rich history of iron ore mining that the area of Cargan is known for.
After looping back to the reservoir car park, we made our way onto our accommodation for the night: Willow and Lore. As soon as we pulled into the car park and our eyes were greeted with the sign ‘Stress Free Zone’ I knew it was going to be a stay that screamed tranquility. After borrowing some wheels to transport our luggage, we walked in the direction of the bell-tents where we were greeted by Declan, who told us a little bit about the area and the history of Willow and Lore as a company.
We were shown to our bell-tent. Unzipping the canvas was like stepping into another world. Softly furnished with well chosen antique furniture, floral carpets and a sturdy desk adorned with books, this bell tent was how I imagine a Victorian safari would look. Nestled right inside the entrance of our bell tent was a wicker basket filled with giant marshmallows for roasting by the fire pit, crisps, biscuits and chocolate. What more could you need on a cold September evening?
After settling in, we made our way to the communal tent to check it out. Let me tell you, it wasn’t hard to imagine the notes of someone strumming the guitar as people milled about, relaxed and chatted. I can easily see this being the perfect venue for a birthday, a couple’s retreat or even a hen party – especially if the boho aesthetic is your vibe.
Absolutely famished from our trek, we went back to the tent to grab the camping cooker from the trunk in our bell tent and made our way to the picturesque little tin roof building with vibrant blue doors. It was clear to see that Sabrina and Declan have thought of everything in their meticulous designing of their glamping site.
The tin building is decked out with a long trestle table, hessian coffee sacks and navy oil lamps. For maximum comfort, blankets are draped delicately over the back of the chairs and books adorn the shelves along with candelabras. It really was like something out of a storybook. Again, it was easy to imagine how this communal space could be transformed into a lively creative zone for an arts and crafts group. Something like a candle painting workshop or wreath making.
It was clear even before meeting Sabrina, that the venture they have created here is one with virtue. One with community at the heart of it. You only need to look at the slate signage stating that Willow and Lore is part of the Tenth Glen Heritage Farm programme to know that the glamping side of things is one small facet of Willow and Lore’s identity.
It’s allure is added to with the knowledge that the owners are devoted to preserving local heritage and traditional skills; that they strive to create a space to improve the wellbeing of the local community; and are huge advocates of sustainable agriculture.
This is the building I parked myself in for most of the night; snuggled into a blanket and reading whilst my partner cooked up a storm, as what felt like a literal storm raged on outside; with us narrowly missing the miserable rain on our hike, it was now coming down with force. The sound of the rain on the tin roof just added to the atmosphere and made the cup of tea I was sipping all the more satisfying.
A short walk from the tin building are several converted horse boxes. One is fitted with a sink and is a gorgeous little kitchenette, perfect for cooking in. Beside it, a blue horse box with horseshoe door handles on wooden-panelling, behind which the two bathrooms are located. Finally, the third horse box, containing the surprisingly powerful (and delightful after the chill of hiking on a cold September makes its way into your bones) shower area.
After dinner, we went for a walk around the bell-tents and into the little wooded area, where we sat in a sweetheart chair and looked out onto the view of the bell tents as dusk settled over the area and the fairy lights twinkled bright against the night sky.
You could be forgiven for thinking that considering the rain and cold, that sleeping in a bell tent would mean a restless night’s sleep. However, let me assure you that you are indeed, VERY wrong. The mattress provided was comfortable and the tent was surprisingly toasty (I had prepared with many layers, hot water bottles and a fluffy Oodie) – I was not prepared for not needing all the layers I had packed but it was a pleasant surprise.
Before long, I was out like a light, the book I had brought with me with the best of intentions lying at the side of the bed, entirely forgotten.
Our alarm clock the next morning was a symphony of gentle bird chirps. Unzipping the canvas to be greeted with the morning dew sparkling in the grass was quite the spectacle: coating the entire place in a picture perfect, snapshot ready filter.
It was at this point, that we bumped into Sabrina, trying to sneak into the tin house to leave a breakfast basket with fresh produce to greet us with. If we were impressed with the accommodation before speaking to Sabrina, that only increased tenfold after. She warmly encouraged us to walk up the lane to the stunning stone cottage that she and Declan have lovingly restored.
Even more impressive though, is their plans to restore many other derelict cottages in the local area, injecting life and vitality back into the countryside with their Historic Glens project. She talked avidly about their plans for flax planting, foraging sessions and dyeing workshops as she showed us around the little museum, a testament to the commitment of both her and Declan to give back to the community.
Her passion was contagious as she spoke openly of a desire to foster a spirit of reciprocity with upcoming hedgelaying workshops: resurrecting dying skills and ensuring they live on in future generations. Sabrina spoke at great length on the Lughnasa festival already hosted, the furnace festivals to come and her desire to make Willow and Lore a business that brings people together: whether it is through writer’s retreats or hosting wicker wreath making classes.
I was hanging on every word, fascinated by her commitment to showing off the beauty of the local area, preserve history and create a community space that brings people together. It is clear that Willow and Lore is a business with integrity at the heart of their operation and I cannot wait to see how they flourish.
If you’re looking somewhere quirky, relaxing and off-grid, check out Willow and Lore. I can guarantee you won’t regret it.