This summer, I’m travelling back in time – over four decades, to be precise – and returning to the wild west coast of Connemara in Ireland. For the uninitiated, it’s a desolate, wind-swept place of peat bogs and precious wild flowers, strewn with great boulders carved into jagged coastline by millennia of Atlantic fury.
The nearest landmass, the North American shoreline, is 3,000 miles to the West. Described thus, it doesn’t seem the likeliest place to keep two web-surfing, iTunes-addicted youngsters amused for 10 days, but my theory is that the likeliest places are often as easy to forget as they are to enjoy.
There’s nothing like a bit of a challenge or near disaster, on the other hand, for scoring high in a child’s memory bank. A recent Moroccan trek, curtailed when unprecedented snow and hailstorms descended on the Mini Atlas, far from putting the children off seemed only to heighten their interest in battling the elements in the great outdoors. ‘When can we go trekking again?’ my son surprised me by asking, only days after we’d dried out our walking boots and put our waterproofs away.
It got me thinking that perhaps it wasn’t just the accident of inclement weather in a remote wilderness that had made its impact felt, but the absence of that normal staple of our travels nowadays – the tablet or smartphone. Naturally, no sensible parent would dream of heading off on holiday expecting even a modicum of enjoyment for themselves without packing the technology, but I’ve clearly lost my mind, because that’s exactly what I’m contemplating. The more I think about it, the more determined I become.
I’m not normally so masochistic, but are we really such slaves to technology that seven days without is a non-negotiable, not only for sulky offspring but, perhaps more pertinently, for parents? My summers in Connemara in the 1970s were shortlived, but they’re scorched on my memory in minute detail. Hunting down giant crabs with sticks at the ready, picking mussels from the rocks and digging razor clams from the channel that only revealed its treasures during a full moon, evenings round the peat-piled fireside, singing laments and rebel songs until we were almost too bleary to climb the ladder to our loft dormitory… I’m sure there were many long hours of boredom, but I can’t remember them.
Instead, what they frame are moments of intense joy that I’m hoping, like good table manners, will be something I can hand down to my over-stimulated, screen-demanding duo. That is, if they’re speaking to me once I tell them the dogs are coming but the iPads are staying at home. In contrast, next issue I’ll be answering the call of CentreParcs.
Read more of Mariella’s columns, visit familytraveller.com/authors
Mariella Frostrup is the presenter of Open Book on Radio 4