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Kids Go Wild for Nature Play

Posted on April 30, 2015 @ 3:43 PM in AdventureLocal Outdoors

Adventurous and fun loving mum Gail headed to the brand new Nature Play areas in Tollymore and Castlewellan Forest Park for a fun family day out with the kids.  Here’s how they got on…

Nature Play

Along with hundreds of other families we visited Tollymore and Castlewellan Forest Parks on Easter Sunday as part of a stay in nearby Newcastle, Co. Down.  The play structures in both forest parks certainly added an extra dimension for our little outdoor enthusiasts, Joshua (7) and Adam (5).  Not your typical play parks, made by natural materials they fit in well with the surroundings.

‘Big Deer’ a Big Hit at Tollymore Forest Park

We visited ‘Big Deer’ in Tollymore and the boys were amazed at the size of the structure. After walking through the archway into the park area you see a huge, wooden deer in front of a wooden fairy-tale castle with towers and bridges.  My boys, being the seasoned-tree climbers they are, made straight for the highest points finding different ways to climb up each time.  There are bridges, poles, ropes, stairs and climbing walls inside the towers, a slide and swing along with balancing logs - plenty to keep the kiddies occupied during a picnic at the deer-shaped picnic tables or, as we did, after a walk up the river to the Stepping Stones  .  There are beautiful carvings of animals and plants to decorate the wooden structure and stimulate young imaginations.  The play structure is set in a large, enclosed area making it safe and also providing plenty of space to run around.  Adam loved the fact that it was all made from wood and thought the big deer was ‘awesome’.  Joshua really liked the woodcarvings and the secret door which took him up the tower.

Tollymore Nature Play

Wonderment at ‘Animal Wood’ in Castlewellan

After a fun 30 minutes finding our way through the Maze at Castlewellan we found the play area, ‘Animal Wood’ tucked into the woodland above the Maze.  From this area there are stunning views towards the Mourne Mountains and also towards the sea at Newcastle.  These structures were based on animal homes and habitats and again the boys had a great time climbing over, under and through various tunnels, bridges, ladders, nets and even a large squirrel drey which was set several feet off the ground.  The boys were inquisitive about the names of the animal homes whilst playing on them so this was a great talking point.  There was also a fox den with tunnels to crawl through, a spider and web to climb on, and a badger with a set to climb through.  There is also a fort structure with stairs and a rope-bridge. Both boys had a super time and even had enough energy left to ride the green mountain bike trail around Castlewellan Lake and race each other on the pump track.

Castlewellan Play Park

Castlewellan Play Area

Both play structures are well worth a visit and add to the activities already available at both locations.  With phrases like ‘epic’, ‘so fun’ and ‘so cool’ being uttered there is no doubt the boys will want to return again soon.  

For anyone planning to visit, ‘Animal Wood’ in Castlewellan Forest Park is located beside the Peace Maze and the ‘Big Deer’ can be found beside the lower car park in Tollymore Forest Park. 

Latest comment posted by Aleena on May 1, 2020 @ 5:40 PM

Great brain development requires play. As it leads to children and young people's cognitive, physical, social and emotional health. Many of these children are being raised in an increasingly hurried ... Read more >

Gail Martin
Gail Martin  Primary School Teacher / Mum

Gail is a Primary School teacher and Mum to two active, young boys. She enjoys any activity involving the great outdoors, especially those where the boys can get involved. Gail is a keen runner and cyclist, both road and MTB and likes to push herself to take on new challenges.

Family Days Out for FREE – Get outdoors Weekend 2013

Posted on September 10, 2013 @ 10:37 AM in AdventureLocal Outdoors

You have readed the Get Outdoors Weekend 2013 Blog. But don't worry there are lots of fantastic free family activities happening as part of Get Outdoors Weekend 2014 on Sat 20th and Sun 21st Sept. Click here to be directed to the 2014 Get Outdoors Weekend Blog

We all know family days out can often be expensive however the good news is on Saturday 21st & Sunday 22nd September there are over 70 FREE outdoor events taking place throughout Northern Ireland as part of Get Outdoors Weekend 2013.

Enjoy guided walks spotting red squirrels, rustle up some tasty treats on a wild cookery class, or be a detective for a day and solve the crime on your walk!  The more adventurous can have a go mountain biking, scaling the climbing wall or shooting at archery

With so many events to choose from here our top picks for the weekend.  Make sure to visit the Get Outdoors Weekend Website  for a full list and to register for your free place.

Family Days Out Northern Ireland

Co. Derry~Londonderry

World War II Family Fun Day, Beech Hill Country House Hotel, Co. Derry~Londonderry, Sun 22nd Sept
A fun day for all the family to explore the unique, natural and historic trails, where the remnants of Base One Europe can still be found.  Take part in the 1km fun run, learn new cycling skills on the trails, become a flora detective and investigate the various plants and creatures of the forest or learn how to cook up some unusual tasty treats on a wild cookery session. If that isn’t enough there will also be historic talks taking place in the house and onsite.  Turn up on the day.

Family Nature Detective Trail, Banagher Glen Nature Reserve, Co. Derry~Londonderry, Sat 21st Sept
Can you be a Nature Detective and solve the crime at Banagher Glen? Follow the trails through Banagher Glen and collect the clues to solve the whodunnit! Pre-booking required.

Co. Down

Free Entry into Castle Ward, Sat 21st Sept
With more than 34kms of trails in beautiful surroundings this is a great place to discover by bike or on foot.  Traversing  stunning countryside, woodland, shoreline and parkland, all trails are moderate and suitable for families.  Afterwards relax in the courtyard and let the kids enjoy some farmyard fun in the barn. Pre-booking required.

Try Canoeing Day on River Bann, Sat 21st Sept
The perfect opportunity to have a go at canoeing in a safe and fun environment.  Instructors will be on hand to make sure all the family have fun on Gilford’s new flat water slalom course. Turn up on the day.

Family Days Out Northern Ireland

Co. Antrim

Ecos Park Family Fun Day, Sat 21st Sept
Explore the outdoors on a discovery walk, learn the art of nordic walking or fly fishing, take aim and fire in an archery session or enjoy a buggy walk! Ecos Park also has a 5km traffic free waymarked cycle route if you want to bring your bikes along to try it out! Turn up on the day.

Carnmoney Hill Family Walk, Sun 22nd Sept
Explore Carnmoney Hill with a self guided family trail following clues around this beautiful woodland then return to the foot of the hill and try out a pond dipping taster with the experts. Turn Up on the Day

Wildlife CSI Family Trail, Carnfunnock Country Park, Larne, Sun 22nd Sept
Do you have a budding detective in your house? If so then this is right up your street. Take part in Carnfunnock’s specially designed crime investigation trail - will you discover who the culprit is? Turn Up on the Day.

Co. Armagh

Ring of Gullion Get Outdoors Extravaganza, Sunday 22nd September
Survival training, climbing tower, archery, hill walking, cycling…it’s all happening at Slieve Gullion! There will be plenty to keep the kids amused as well as some interesting walks for mum and dad to enjoy around the Hawthorne Woods. If the events haven’t tired the kids out why not let them run around in the award winning adventure play park? With events happening all day be sure to pack a picnic and have a memorable day out all the family will enjoy! Some activities require pre-booking. 

Lurgan Park Family Fun Day, Co. Armagh, Sun 22nd Sept
Round up the family and head to Northern Ireland's largest urban park where there will be activities throughout the afternoon to entertain the whole family.  See who has the best aim at archery, test your sense of direction on the orienteering course and join a wildlife expert for a guided walk through the park. Turn Up on the Day.

Co. Fermanagh

Fermanagh’s Get Outdoors Family Fun Day, Castle Archdale, Saturday 21st Sept
Come along and try some new activities in the beautiful surroundings of Castle Archdale Country Park. Take aim at archery, paddle a canoe on Lough Erne, pedal your way around the forest or go on a guided walk to discover the nature and history of the area. Add into the mix balloon making and face painting and this is sure to be one fun packed family day out. Pre-booking required for some activities.

Family Days Out Northern Ireland


Scavenger Hunt, Clement Wilson Park, Sat 21st Sept
Daring Dragonflies, Darting Damselflies & Mischievous Mayflies. Explore the banks of the Lagan looking for these fabulous creatures & take time out from your exploration to create a dragonfly masterpiece! Turn up on the day.

Baby Grow; Gardening for the Little Ones, Minnowburn, Sat 21st Sept
Come along to Minnowburn with your tiny tots and toddlers for a family morning planting snowdrop, daffodil and bluebell bulbs with a National Trust ranger. Don’t forget to bring a picnic to enjoy in Terrace Hill garden overlooking the beautiful Lagan Valley.  Turn up on the day.

Co. Tyrone

Red Squirrel Family Fun Day, Gortin Glen Forest Park, Sun 22nd Sept
A great day out for families, you can drop into the park between 2pm and 4pm to take part in the guided red squirrel walk, go nuts about the autumn activities and take part in the art competition. Turn up on the day.

To find out more information on all these great activity events and how you can take part in a FREE event near you visit Get Outdoors Weekend


Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

Ramble On - Top Accessible Walks in Northern Ireland

Posted on July 2, 2012 @ 1:25 PM in Local Outdoors

Getting out and about to enjoy the outdoors is for everyone!  The good news is there are plenty of enjoyable and accessible walks across Northern Ireland, suitable for people with reduced mobility and those with disabilities.  Venture Outdoors has handpicked some of the most accessible walks below:


Botanic Gardens: located in central Belfast beside the Ulster Museum, this circular walk is beautiful, scenic and less than 1 mile long.  The area features a Rose Garden, Tropical Ravine and Palm House.

Divis Mountain Lough Trail: Get some mountain air in your lungs! The Divis Mountain Lough Trail was specifically designed for people with limited mobility and is a gentle circular route that leads you across the open hill on a wide, flat and gently sloping path. Lough Neagh, the Sperrins and further a field can be viewed on a clear day.


Craigavon Lakes: An extensive network of walking and cycling paths are set within the Parkland around the Craigavon Lakes and are suitable for disabled users and families

Oxford Island: This trail takes in the Oxford Island National Nature Reserve and is a haven for wildlife. Visitors can explore a range of habitats from woodlands to reedbeds. There are 2 Shop Mobility scooters available for free use to those with limited mobility capable of using them. Booking is advised. 


  Crawsfordsburn Country Park Coastal Rambles: Beautiful rambles in a superb setting overlooking Belfast Lough.  Allow a whole morning or afternoon.


Florencecourt Forest Park, Lady’s Well Walk:  A short gentle walk skirting the parkland in front of the mansion house, passing the Lady's Well and meandering through varying ages of broadleaved woodland before returning to the car park. This walk is suitable for the elderly and less able visitors.


Dungannon Park: The Park Trail is set amongst the beautiful backdrop of Dungannon Park - a 70 acre oasis 


Springhill House Walk: A circular walk through Springhill Estate visits the gardens, Springhill House, estate walk and Demesne. 

For more walks across Northern Ireland visit Walk NI


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Claire Overend
Claire Overend  Venture Outdoor Development Officer

Claire has been has been in the Outdoor Recreation NI team since 2010. As Development Officer for the Venture Outdoors Project she is responsible for creating opportunities for those from disabled, minority ethnic and socially disadvantaged communities to enjoy Northern Ireland's outdoors.

Claire is a keen mountain biker and snow sports enthusiast.

Disabled Surfing Festival at Benone Beach

Posted on July 2, 2012 @ 1:21 PM in Local Outdoors

Northern Irelands first ever Disabled Surf Festival took place this summer at Benone Beach organised by Long Line Surf School based in the area of outstanding natural beauty, 

The Long Line Disabled Surf Festival was created in order for young people with a disability aged 8-25 from all over the country to come down and take part in a free surfing experience which has never been offered to them before. With the great help and sponsorship from Disability Sports Northern Ireland, Coastal Core Lifeguard Trainers, Treasure Trails Northern Ireland and Fruice Drinks this festival brought over 30 people with disabilities together for the day where the family could take part with surfing, a treasure trail through the sand dunes and inclusive games.

Organiser Dan Lavery and owner of Long Line Surf School explained “This festival was created to give everyone the experience of surfing. We want the child or young person with the disability to take the driver’s seat but we also wanted it to be one of those rare events where the whole family is allowed as parents, guardians and siblings jumped in the water as well.”

When it comes to safety Long Line Surf School thought of everything with every person surfing with a disability they had their own personal lifeguard beside them at all times.  Long Line also created custom surfboards for wheelchair users, allowing them to lie on the front whilst holding onto handles, with the instructor holding on the back and steering the board so the person with disabilities could get the experience of surfing without having to use any physical demand.

To find out more about disabled surfing and for more photos on the Disabled Surf Festival, check out Long Line Surf School on Facebook or email Dan at

Claire Overend
Claire Overend  Venture Outdoor Development Officer

Claire has been has been in the Outdoor Recreation NI team since 2010. As Development Officer for the Venture Outdoors Project she is responsible for creating opportunities for those from disabled, minority ethnic and socially disadvantaged communities to enjoy Northern Ireland's outdoors.

Claire is a keen mountain biker and snow sports enthusiast.

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