For fun and freedom, there’s nothing better.
A new three-part observational documentary series, from BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster By The Sea, explores caravanning life on the north, east and west coasts of Ulster and meets the people who love to escape to their ‘home from home’ by the seaside.
From simply enjoying getting away from it all, to relishing being able to do what you want, when you want, to finding comfort after bereavement, or help coping with illness, Ulster by The Sea travels to caravan parks in Millisle, Bundoran, Portrush, Rosguill and Portballintrae and meets people of all ages, from all walks of life, who couldn’t imagine life without their ‘van’.
In episode one (BBC One Northern Ireland, Monday November 15, 10.35pm), we discover that caravanning is no longer the preserve of the older generation, young people love it too. And it often transcends sectarian divisions.
Sally and her daughters, Orlaith and Gráinne from Belfast’s mostly Catholic New Lodge area and their long-time friends, sisters Karen and Angela from the mostly Protestant Tiger’s Bay, have travelled to Bundoran for a fun weekend in Sally’s caravan.
We also meet partners John and Brian, who have been together for 33 years and after a lifetime of working hard have found their “happy place” - a luxury caravan on ‘millionaire’s row’ in Portrush.
And Julie, a proud loyalist, who heads to her caravan in Millisle most weekends where she is often joined by her grandchildren in whom she is instilling the values of remembrance.
However, it’s not just the caravanners who feature in the series. We also hear from park owners and workers such as Andy who part owns a caravan park in Millisle and worker Farai, from Zimbabwe, who has been living in Northern Ireland for two years and who has made a great friend in Andy (and the caravanners) as he works at the park in order to support his family back home.
In the following two episodes, more stories of ‘park life’ are revealed. Olga and Neil have been running a caravan park in Bundoran since the 1980s, having taken over from Olga’s parents who started the business in the 1960s.
Olga talks about how her late daughter Grace, who had Rett Syndrome, was integral to the running of the park and how the caravanners and sea swimming are helping her come to terms with Grace’s death in 2019, at the age of only 23.
In Rosguill, Mairead, who was diagnosed with MS, explains how the freedom of her caravan helps her cope with her condition, while in Portballintrae, Nichole, Neil and their two young boys regularly visit their caravan by the sea, and try to help Nichole overcome her lifelong fear of water.
And three childhood friends – Jane, Vanessa and Charlene – from the Ballymena area reconnect through caravan fun in Portrush.
Back in Millisle, George and Paul, who have been best friends for 60 years, reminisce about the town’s heyday when they worked at the funfair on the beach and show how they’ve kept a little bit of that magic alive outside their caravan – much to the delight of the park’s children.
Ulster by The Sea begins on Monday, November 15 on BBC One Northern Ireland (10.35pm) and iPlayer.