Lizzie PopeSee other travel guides written by Lizzie Pope
"Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling." It’s one of the most famous tunes across the world – and it comes from Limavady in Northern Ireland. Never heard of the place? It’s a small town in County Londonderry – hence The Londonderry Air, or to give it its more well known title, Danny Boy.
Jane Ross, born in Limavady in 1811, overheard a blind fiddler playing the lyrical melody in the local market and noted it down before sending it to an English collector of Irish music. It was soon published and the tune became synonymous with Ireland across the world. To show her significance to the tune, there’s a sculpture of Jane Ross on Catherine Street within the town.
County Londonderry is one of six counties in Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. The province takes up 15% of the island of Ireland, with County Londonderry in its north west corner. The county is bordered by County Tyrone and County Antrim, both in Northern Ireland, and County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland.
Derry – also known as Londonderry for historical reasons when livery companies from London settled there in the 18th century – is a city of major historical significance and worthy of a visit. Founded in the 6th century by St Columba, it is the only completely walled city in Ireland and the British Isles. Indeed, Derry’s city walls (built in 1618) are the best-preserved city fortifications in Europe having never been breached. At 26 feet tall, it is possible to walk the walls with commanding views across the city.
The Bogside area of Derry is, sadly, also known for Bloody Sunday in 1972. It’s an aspect of The Troubles that is remembered at the Museum of Free Derry and you can also visit Free Derry Corner. The city, regardless of its troubled past, is a very hospitable and friendly city that welcomes visitors with open arms. Designated as the first ever UK City of Culture in 2013, Derry is filled with creativity and cultural activity, enjoying numerous entertaining events every year.
Aside from the city walls, when on your caravan holidays in Derry and around it, take a look at the impressive neo-Gothic Guildhall, with an equally impressive interior and a striking collection of stained glass, and the Peace Bridge, which curves across the River Foyle in front of it. And don't forget the impressive St Columb's Cathedral.
Derry is close to the Causeway Coast, a coastline with both natural and man-made attractions every few yards. Just north east of the city is Ireland’s longest beach known as Magilligan Strand. At seven miles long between Magilligan Point and Benone, and with Blue Flag status, the beach has a wonderful backdrop of mountains, cliffs and lots of sand dunes. It’s a definite hit for a caravan holiday, with a large, award-winning caravan park at Benone.
Virtually connected is the almost-as-long Castlerock Beach and neighbouring Portstewart Strand, its golden sands and domineering sand dunes owned by the National Trust. Portstewart is a popular holiday resort but arguably prettier is the little seaside village of Castlerock, one of the best places for a beach picnic. In between Benone and Castlerock is the out-of-place Mussenden Temple, a very Italianate rotunda preserved by the National Trust that’s perched on a cliff top. The unexpected ruins of Demesne House, an 18th century grand mansion built by the Earl Bishop, are close by.
Slightly inland is the town of Coleraine. Coleraine Woods, less than two kilometres from the town centre, and on either side of the River Bann, is a pleasant place for a wander on your caravan holidays. Mountsandel, a part of Coleraine Woods, is the earliest known site of human habitation in Ireland.
Another forest that’s worthy of a walk is Banagher Forest, one of the oldest ancient oak woodlands in Ireland. The forest is at the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains. A remote area of highlands and lush river valleys, the sparsely populated area is great for walkers with the long distance trail, the Ulster Way passing between the mountains.
East of the Sperrins, County Londonderry runs out as it dips its toe into Lough Neagh, Britain’s largest natural freshwater lake. Only a few miles of the lake’s shoreline is within the county, but of significance for those searching to combine watersports with a caravan holiday is the little village of Ballyronan, which has a renowned marina and a caravan park.
For peace and quiet, however, head just north to Lough Beg, a considerably smaller lough that’s ‘split’ by the county border and its feeder, the River Bann. A great place for watching wildlife, the lake forms part of a National Nature Reserve. Also worthy of a visit on the lough is Church Island. No boats are required to reach it however, for it is only surrounded by water on three sides – except for unfortunate flooding, when it really does become an island again. A church on the island is a Catholic pilgrimage site.
However you wish to spend your caravan holidays in County Londonderry, you will find plenty to see and do in this part of Northern Ireland, with lots of activities from watersports and sunbathing to walking, cycling and visiting historic properties – not forgetting, of course, the occasional pub for some traditional music and a pint or two of the local brew.
Top five things to do in County Londonderry
Head to Ballyarnett Country Park near Culmore, north of Derry, to see the spot where Amelia Earheart unexpectedly landed to claim, in 1932, the record as the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic.
Take the 45-minute railway journey between Coleraine and Derry. It is considered one of the most beautiful railway journeys in the world as it passes along the coast, beside sand dunes and rugged cliffs.
Visit the Museum of Free Derry, a centre that encapsulates the city’s living history of The Troubles and the story of Bloody Sunday.
Enjoy the grounds of Springhill House near Moneymore. A 17th century ‘plantation’ house, home of the Conyngham family for 10 generations, the property now belongs to the National Trust. There is a significant costume collection in the property too.
When to visit County Londonderry
Whenever you choose to pitch your caravan at campsites in County Londonderry, you're sure to be able to find lots of things to do. Of course, St Patrick’s Day, 17 March, is celebrated widely throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – in fact, Derry holds its own St Patrick’s Springtime Carnival and, at the same time, LegenDerry Food Festival. But there are a lot of other events that you could plan a tour of County Londonderry around.
In May it is the internationally renowned City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival that takes centre stage before handing over to sporty types at the beginning of June for the Walled City Marathon. Meanwhile, 12 miles east in Limavady, locals and visitors enjoy the Danny Boy Festival with music, cultural tours and art exhibitions.
July sees the Flavours of the Foyle Seafood Festival celebrating the very best local produce, especially from Lough Foyle. In August, all eyes are on The Walled City Tattoo, providing four nights of entertainment with local, national and international performers.
Finally, the end of October brings the Banks of the Foyle Hallowe'en Carnival for fun and frolics as the nights draw in.
How to get to County Londonderry
Thinking of touring County Londonderry and coming from England, Scotland or Wales? Stena Line operates between Cairnryan and Belfast and Liverpool (Birkenhead) and Belfast. P&O Ferries sail to Larne from Cairnryan and Troon.
From Belfast, it’s then a fast route on the M2, M22 and A6 to Derry. An alternative from Belfast is to take the A2 coastal route through County Antrim, which provides spectacular views of Northern Ireland’s coast, but would require a stopover at some point.
Visitors travelling from south west and southern England for their caravan holidays in Northern Ireland may find it easier to use ferry routes to the Republic of Ireland and use the N2 and A5 to Derry. This is a longer drive, potentially requiring a stopover, but does allow you to see parts of the Republic of Ireland and the beautiful county of Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Stena Line has sailings between Fishguard and Rosslare, Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire, and Holyhead and Dublin. Irish Ferries operates between Holyhead and Dublin, and Pembroke and Rosslare.
Being a part of the UK, passports are not required when travelling to Northern Ireland for your caravan holidays. It is advisable, however, to have passports to hand, along with all vehicle documents, in the unlikely event of being stopped by the police.