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Intrepid walkers, hikers, and explorers don’t need to hang up their hats once the children come along. There are plenty of child-friendly trails to choose from across the vast, beautiful hills, fields, forests, and mountains of Northern Ireland. The following are a just few chosen highlights to whet your appetite.
This forest is 630 hectares at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne, which do of course reach down to the sea, the sea of Newcastle. The river Shimna flows through the forest and is crossed by an incredible sixteen bridges. There are four walking trails, the longest being 8 miles. There is no shortage of natural beauty on display, as the forest is home to follies, artificial and natural features, grottos, and caves. You will be sharing your walk with fallow deer, red squirrels, kingfishers, and if you are lucky the great spotted woodpecker. The Blue trail along the arboretum path, at ½ mile with trees from around the world, is highly recommended as a good starting point with your little ones.
This lowland forest is 520 hectares. Access is through the Castle Archdale Country Park; the car park is alongside the ruins of Castle Archdale. At 1.8 miles this is a great starter leisure cycling trail, although the path is a mix of gravel tracks, so just be careful. There are three Islands, from Tom’s Island you can see the shores of Lough Erne, Davy’s Island, and White Island. You might also be lucky enough to spot hedgehogs, foxes, and red squirrels. You can enjoy all of this in one of the many picnic and seating areas.
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This is a real treat for the little ones, a perfect introduction to the delights of walking for pleasure. And it is completely FREE. The journey begins as you pass through the Gruffalo archway, the words, ‘a mouse took a stroll through a deep dark wood’ welcome you in. There is a trail lined with character sculptures, and a themed seating area next to Colin river. Guided tours are available (booked in advance) which include storytelling, and Arts & Crafts. Birthday parties are also catered for.
This trail can last either 30 minutes or one hour depending on whether you extend it by taking Gortgonnell path, which takes you to the main drive of the castle. This walk is buggy friendly and the 0.5 – 1.2 mile trail takes you past a second hand bookshop, and an 18th century ice House.
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This is a moderate walk, 1.5 – 2 miles. It is suitable for prams, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, and walking with small children. There are accessibility signs along the route, and it will be made clear when the trail consists of wooden styles so you may stop before the Runkery trail. The views are breathtaking, of course you will see the infamous stones, as well as Scotland on a clear day, Portcoon Cave, and if you are lucky you might spot many of the dolphins and porpoises who enjoy swimming in the bay.
There are differing trails in length and difficulty. The map clearly highlights areas with an incline. Depending on the time of year you might need your wellies for this one as it can get very muddy. As well as the natural habit, including buzzards flying overhead, there are monuments, a potential sighting of a great spotted woodpecker, and you can take in, and enjoy, the drumlin landscape of East Down.
This trail is for little legs, not buggies or wheelchairs. The trail starts from the entrance of Portstewart’s blue flag beach. The dunes here are an area of special scientific interest, if that’s not enough to pique your curiosity the view of the Victorian seaside town of Castlerock across the River Bann, and the large collection of birds, should get you walking on.
This trail is a cycle and play adventure. A short circular trail in a felled forest it has three panoramic view points. And, a natural play trail for children between 4 – 11 years. It is only a 1.2 mile walk where you will be taking in views of the castle, churches, and mountains.
This destination is an introduction to more of a first hike, than a trail. The mountain is 354m high in the Western Mournes. With a grassy path and short uphill hike, it is surprisingly suitable for all walking children. There are some rocky Tors when you reach the top, they might be fun for playing on, but be careful there are drops on two sides.
There is no doubt, there is plenty of fun to be had for the whole family in the great outdoors. There are also a few things to remember to keep you and your family safe. Pay attention to all signs, and abide by them. Being prepared is the most important thing you can do, especially with the unpredictable weather. Take spare clothes and wear layers, also plenty of water and snacks to keep the children’s energy levels up. Plan your route. WalkNI has some great routes, and the ViewRanger mobile App is also very good. Most importantly enjoy yourselves and stay safe.
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