“I’ve never heard of you, and I only live down the road” – a refrain we often hear at Breckenhill! We are only half an hour from Belfast, 5 miles from Ballyclare. In a memoir by James Boyle, written in 1835, Breckenhill house is described as “old, though rather spacious and modern, prettily situated in the midst of some planting in a retired district”. It was then owned by John Allen, owner of two beetling mills, and a significant local employer.
When we (David and Henrietta Reade) bought the house, farm buildings and some land in 1988, the planting was long gone and the house was derelict. The farm yard was full of silage, a slurry pit, and falling down buildings. Over the last 30 years we have restored the house and buildings, and planted thousands of trees, finally completing this planting this year with a further 1650 trees. This work has created an oasis of calm and natural beauty, and this environment is much commented on by visitors.
We opened our outdoor activity centre back in 2006, though in a limited way, as we had other businesses and a growing family. Over the years we have extended and improved what we can offer, and we can now offer a great range of activities to suit all ages, and have indoor accommodation in the two barns to be able to seat up to 130 people in the Green Barn, 80 in the Stone Barn. We went into the wedding market when encouraged in 2008 to host a reception, and now we do around 25 weddings a year.
Archery was one of our first activities, and orienteering, plus a lot of teambuilding challenges. We then built a “low ropes” assault course, and a traversing wall – climbing horizontally! David and our neighbour, Paddy, who has years of outdoor activity experience, both have great imaginations, and like to be original! They devised many ingenious and unique activities, such as our Cube – a huge polystyrene cube cut into 15 separate sections which we challenge people to rebuild – not as easy as it looks!
The Earthball is a giant ball, 5 feet in diameter, (we have two) and is a great icebreaking activity for school groups, and an exhausting game! Two-seater trikes and giant catapults fixed to posts to launch tennis balls are two other unique activities.
A few years ago we introduced Splatmaster Paintball – a low-velocity version suitable for kids from age 8, which is also perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to end up with bruises!
We haven’t been sitting on our hands during lockdown either – new introductions for 2021 are sit-on kayaks for our pond, where we also do raft-building, and “proper” paintball!
We have also teamed up with Hawk Walks NI – David Trenier will bring his beautiful birds, from Coco the little owl, to Zeus the golden eagle, to Breckenhill where you can see them fly, hold them on your hand (well, maybe not Zeus!), and learn all about them. The falcon catching the lure is a highlight!
Last but not least, we are introducing bush craft for kids – build a den, make a fire, and more!
We can also offer camping, with a beautiful view. Campers can book in, and bring their own tents, and use our facilities – showers and kitchen – and enjoy some activities.
We were delighted to win Outdoor Venue of the Year at the NI Hospitality Awards in 2017 and 2019.
All activities, camping and experiences must be booked in advance – we are not open on a walk-in basis, but we really want to share what we have created, and let our guests engage with nature, have fun, and relax.
Find out more about Breckenhill here.
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