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By Kelly Hargie
With the better weather now upon us and hopefully here to stay, there’s really no better time to get outdoors and go adventuring as a family! We really are spoilt for choice here in Northern Ireland when it comes to beautiful landscapes to explore; with stunning beaches, glorious mountains and impressive forests all right on our doorstep. For the price of a picnic it’s super easy to spend an entire day making precious memories while enjoying some quality time in nature and as the saying goes, there’s certainly no time like the present, so get ready to dust off your walking boots and get outdoors!
No matter what your age or ability there’s a walk to suit you and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any time spent outdoors in our wild spaces here in Northern Ireland. As a Mum of 3 I am all too aware that it takes a lot of effort to organise a family for a day out hiking – from what clothes to wear, what food to bring, where to go, how to keep everyone motivated when the inevitable weariness leads to moaning – it can seem like a daunting task sometimes! But in the end, it’s always well worth it and the benefit of family time spent in nature always far outweighs the task of getting everyone out the door with everything needed! I promise!
A really great place for all the family to enjoy is Tollymore Forest, located just outside Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, it’s an ideal spot to explore if you’re new to trekking but also has some more strenuous walks on offer too if you’re keep to increase your stamina. The trails found here are really interesting and so pretty, especially at this time of year when the bluebells are blanketing the forest floor in a spectacular sea of purple. It really is something special and should not be missed.
There are walks to suit children of all ages and if you’re after something a little more challenging, the Drinns and Mountain trail, taking in Luke’s Mountain too if you’re feeling super energetic, is sure to get your heart racing and your legs working hard.
Follow the signposted route from the car park (£5 entry fee) and enjoy walking through woodland while listening to the rush of the Shimna River, letting the kids run ahead pretending to be intrepid explorers while on the safe trail. If you stick to the pathways, you will eventually emerge alongside the boundary wall where you will have wonderful views across to the Mournes. Following the wall upwards, you will eventually come to a stile which allows you to safely cross and climb Luke’s Mountain, before rejoining the trail which leads to the highest viewpoints in Tollymore and then loops around to begin the downwards trek.
This is a trail that can easily be enjoyed all year round and is always so interesting as the colours change throughout the seasons. It is easy to follow the marked route and there is lots for little ones to explore and discover – trees to climb, sticks to collect, streams to hop across and lots of wildlife to look out for. If you’re super silent you might even spot a red squirrel or a deer!
The longest trail is an excellent workout and the breath-taking views are well worth the exertion, but do allow plenty of time if you plan to do this route so that you can pause along the way to appreciate your surroundings – some things in life should not be rushed and this is one of them. Pack plenty of snacks and don’t forget a flask of coffee because even on a mild day the summit of Luke’s Mountain can be extremely blustery and you’ll be grateful for something hot to drink.
The downwards trail will bring you through woodland once again, then alongside the river and past Foley’s Bridge with a final uphill climb to the car park where you can enjoy a great view up to the Drinns as you rest your feet and marvel at what you’ve just undertaken.
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