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Top Tips For Walking As A Family In Northern Ireland

Posted on April 9, 2018 @ 5:19 PM in Walking

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to picturesque walking locations in Northern Ireland. In this blog Kelly Hargie, author of 'Every Treasure', shares some of her tops tips for getting your family out exploring.

Family Friendly Walks Northern Ireland

My husband, Trevor, and I, along with our 3 boys aged 7, 9 and 12 go hiking most weekends and enjoy camping during school holidays. We love nothing more than exploring, the rich pickings that Northern Ireland has on offer and never cease to be amazed, by the unspoiled hidden gems and beautiful landscapes we get to savour as the seasons change.

We have been doing this ever since our children were very small, before the youngest could walk he came with us in a baby backpack carrier; and over the years, our out-and-about adventures have become the highlight of our week. With modern life being so busy with the work and school routine, we really look forward to this carved-out family time. There are places that we like to visit time and time again and walks that hold special memories for us.

Some things we have learned along the waybig

Planning an arduous hike up Slieve Bearnagh in the Mourne Mountains mid-winter with toddlers, is always going to be a little bit over-ambitious. It is important to plan-out journeys well in advance, keeping in mind the abilities of everyone in the group. Ultimately, hiking as a family is all about having fun and developing your child's love for walking! Sure, set goals once a bit of experience has been tucked under the belt, but be realistic and make sure everyone has a good time. 

small

While not thinking too big, it's also worth not thinking too small! Kids are way more capable than we sometimes give them credit for. It is our youngest child, or as we like to call him ‘our little mountain goat’ who is always the first to reach the top of a mountain and add his stone to the cairn. Challenges are good, it’s all about being sensible and planning well. 

Money

The joy of walking is that it costs virtually nothing, beyond the price of a pair of walking boots and a small picnic. At the end of a day of hiking in the Mournes, we often talk among ourselves about what a great day out we have had for less than £10. Many family-focused activities can end up costing parents a small fortune. Exploring a nature trail, splashing in muddy puddles and learning about the natural world with kids is satisfying in so many ways and doesn’t require re-mortgaging the house in the process.

Finding The Time

Not all outdoor expeditions need to be time-consuming. There are some quality walks that can be done in just a couple of hours. Again, it often comes down to the planning: put clothes out and prepare a picnic the night before, or go out for a walk in your local area to avoid long travel times. Whatever your time-frame, I guarantee that a journey into the wild is totally achievable!

equipment

As mentioned above, other than a decent pair of walking boots and some waterproof, warm and comfortable clothes, there’s not a whole lot more equipment required to go walking. Most routes around forests and parks are clearly marked out but should you need them maps can be downloaded from the internet too.

ducks

If we only went adventuring during good weather, life would be dull and cabin fever would most certainly ensue. It’s well-known and joked about that Northern Ireland often gets to experience all 4 seasons in a day. It is just as possible to walk in the colder winter months as it is in the bright days of spring and summer. Certainly, the number of daylight hours is fewer, but to be honest, some of the best adventures we have experienced as a family have been in the snow and rain! Is there anything better than arriving home after a strenuous, chilly walk to a warm house and hot chocolate? I think not.

Family Friendly Walks Northern Ireland

The Essentials 

So, you’re ready to get the family out-and-about exploring and savouring some quality time together, the next thing you want to know is what exactly do you need to bring?

Food, and plenty of it! If your kids are anything like mine they like to graze all day long. Bring snack-type foods that can be eaten on the go and that also have a decent amount of nutritional value. We like to bring hard-boiled eggs, lots of fruit and a few treats are usually worth packing for a bit of encouragement when little legs get tired. 

With our erratic weather and the fact that the top of a mountain can be very different from the bottom of a mountain, it is worth wearing layered clothing. Think base-layers, t-shirt, fleece and a waterproof. I would advise popping spare socks in the rucksack and keep a full set of spare clothes in the car. Hats, gloves and snoods are useful to have at hand as the wind can be strong even on a mild day. 

Toilet roll, carrier bags / a small spade are essential when trekking with children too. You know for sure that the moment you are deep in the woods or halfway up a mountain trail someone will need the loo! And usually when kids say they need to go, well, they really need to go! It is possible to discretely toilet in the wild like Bear Grylls.

Family Friendly Walks Northern Ireland

Use Your Imagination!

Hiking with the kids is a whole heap of fun, I love it more than anything. The pace can be slow, but there is so much to explore! Spend an entire day looking for fossils on the coast, studying bugs in the forest or foraging for leaves to use in a craft activity when you get home. Life is busy and learning to slow-down, breathe-deep and enjoy our beautiful countryside can be so beneficial. I’ve learned over the years of walking with my kids that it is in their favourite wild spaces that imagination comes alive. Play a made-up game, go off the beaten track, climb a tree, dance in the rain, jump in the mud. There is so much fun to be had if we allow kids to take the lead and set the tone.

As the good weather arrives, I hope that you are inspired to get out and about exploring the multitude of walks on offer in Northern Ireland. The benefits of a walk in the great outdoors cannot be counted or even at times put into words. Go for it; pull on your walking boots, pack up a few sandwiches and get out there and explore! I promise you will not be disappointed at what you discover!

Feeling inspired? Here are some Family Friendly Walks

Family Friendly Walks Northern Ireland

The Giant's LairSlieve Gullion, Co. Armagh (1 mile walk)
Capture the whole families imagination discovering a land with dragons, giants and fairies. At just over a mile with uphill sections there are lots of fairy houses and art features to explore on this very enjoyable and achievable walk.

Cranny Falls, Carnlough, Co. Antrim (2.4 mile walk)
With a fantastic eco-playpark at the beginning of the trail and a gentle incline to the waterfall it is well-worth a visit.

Hen Mountain, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down (5.9 miles walk)
A great little mountain for those wishing to start hiking in the Mournes. This walk is more suited to those with older children or with younger children in a backpack carrier.

Cave Hill, Belfast, Co. Antrim (4.5 mile walk)
A well-known and well-loved walk in the Belfast hills, it's a fun game trying to identify buildings from the top. Those with younger children or off-road buggies can explore the forest section below.

Gortin Lakes, Omagh, Co. Tyrone (0.6 mile walk)
This short off-road walk leads around Gortin Lakes with superb views of the Sperrins landscape. Just under a mile in length spend a couple of hours exploring and enjoy a picnic in the tranquil surroundings.

Tollymore Forest Park (River Trail), Bryansford, Co. Down (3 mile walk)
Journey into deep woods following the trail alongside the River Shimna before hopping over a set of stepping stones. Families with younger kids can explore shorter sections of this walk and the 'Big Deer' play area.

Castlewellan Forest Park, Castlewellan, Co. Down (Various walks of up to 3 miles)
There are lots of walks to enjoy in Castlewellan Forest Park. Families looking a challenge should explore the Slievenaslat Walk while those with buggies and younger children can explore the Lakeside Walk. Finish the day exploring  'Animal Wood' play area & Peace Maze. 

Whitepark Bay, Ballintoy, Co. Antrim (2.8 mile walk)
With archaeological evidence everywhere this is the ideal location to spend a few hours fossil hunting. This beach is also the ideal spot for a quiet picnic lunch. 

Discover more family friendly walks on WalkNI.com

Family Friendly Walks Northern Ireland

*Remember - take all of your rubbish home with you. Take a million and one pictures and wonderful memories home with you and leave behind nothing but footprints. It is also worth checking route descriptions beforehand if you are planning to take your dog. Some routes go through working farmland where dogs are not permitted.

Kelly Hargie
Kelly Hargie  Blogger (Every Treasure)

Kelly Hargie is a Belfast-based Mum of 3 adventurous boys. Her hobbies are reading, walking and eating good food. She blogs over at Every Treasure about the silver-lining moments to be found in the everyday and is passionate about authentic-living, simplicity and will always leave housework undone to go on an outdoor adventure.

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