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If your children are anything at all like my three boys, then leisurely weekend family outdoor time needs to involve multiple points of interest for eager adventurers to explore. Ever since they were small ‘a boring old path’ just did not cut the mustard – there needs to be good climbing trees, opportunity for off-road pursuits, boulders to climb, cliff sides to scale…oh, and rivers are pretty good too, because let’s face it, how many kids don’t love a really good splash around (especially when you haven’t packed a change of clothes or waterproof gear)?
As a family we have spent many years trekking in the Mourne Mountains and with relatives on the North Coast, we are also familiar with many of the stunning coastal walks our beautiful country has to offer. However, over the years we have also come to love some of the wonderful country parks dotted about our land and the exciting opportunities that they present for quality outdoor family time. Now that we are entering the colder, drearier months and with fewer daylight hours to get out and about, country parks in your own locale are a really great way to enjoy some time in nature, let the little people get muddy, make the most of exercising outdoors and still be home in time for Strictly!
One of our absolute favourite places to walk is Scrabo Country Park – well known for the impressive tower built as a memorial to Charles Stewart in 1857 which is situated atop Scrabo Hill and can be seen from miles around. The adjoining Killynether Wood which has plenty of free parking, a toilet block (essential!) and quite often an ice-cream van in the warmer months, is the perfect playground for kids of all ages to spend several hours exploring, filling the lungs with fresh air and getting a tiny bit grubby! The undulating terrain means it is definitely not boring and there are trees, rocks and steps to climb until hearts are contented and energies are well-spent! We have visited the park on many Sunday afternoons and I am not sure if we’ve ever taken the same route twice – there are various pathways to follow all the way to the top of the wood which offers the most spectacular views across the lush surrounding countryside all the way to the Mournes.
What I love about the country park too is that the ascent is fairly hard on the legs, so it is a decent workout if that’s something you enjoy and ensures everyone enjoys a decent night’s sleep too!
There’s even a little lake at the bottom of the hill if you head down what looks like an overgrown lane once you loop around and are heading back towards the carpark and we have been fortunate enough to see majestic swans and ducks here on several occasions. Anything that appears to be off the beaten track is always a big hit with my children because their curiosity has the chance to be unleashed as they saunter into the woods pretending to Steve Backshall on a Deadly 60 mission! Scrabo Country Park for us is a really interesting place, mainly because it’s close to our home in Belfast, isn’t massive and can easily be explored in an afternoon, yet the landscape lends itself perfectly to developing a child’s interest in the natural world.
“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had no childhood in it.” – George Eliot
There is so much to learn about in any natural landscape and a wild playground like Scrabo Country Park easily becomes a classroom abundant with plants, trees and creatures to examine. I know that since having my own children I have learned way more about all sorts of creepy crawlies and nature through their instinctive inquisitiveness about the world around them. What’s also amazing is re-seeing the world through their eyes – their wonder and their ability to fully immerse themselves in the present have been massive life-lessons for me and every second of family time spent in nature is one hundred per cent time well spent!
If you have never visited Scrabo Country Park and fancy going exploring in the woods, I highly recommend that you do, it is such a beautiful setting and I guarantee your children will love it – just remember to pack the wellies, your imagination and of course your sense of humour! Play follow the leader and let the kids take you on a wild excursion into the woods, you never know what you might discover there!
Getting there: If you travel to Newtownards, Scrabo Country Park is very well sign-posted from there.
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