The half-term holidays are sadly over and the kids have returned to school rosy-cheeked and refreshed after a week of outdoor adventures and some well-earned rest and PJ days in-between.
We had pre-planned a long weekend on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast to enjoy some hiking and to spend time with relatives and were really looking forward to some time away from city life, because, as much as we love it, sometimes it’s just good to have a change of scenery and a break away from routine.
Outdoor clothing and walking boots stowed in the car, we stopped off at the stunning Antrim Gardens to enjoy nature’s playground in all its Autumnal glory. A relaxing stroll through the beautiful forest trail amid the striking yellow, orange, brown and golden colours of the season eased everyone into our much-anticipated quality family time together.
We kicked the fallen leaves, watched some squirrels busy at work, jumped over a stream climbed over an uprooted tree (who needs climbing frames?!), held hands and slowly wandered. As usual, once immersed in nature, anxieties and the daily stresses and worries begin to flutter away. I feel myself beginning to inhale deeply, taking cleansing breaths and allowing myself to slow-down and enjoy this precious time together. I feel the tension in my shoulders loosen and as freedom beckons me I skip and run to its welcoming call.
The boys run off, making up their own games, picking up sticks to use as wands and swords and as my husband and I enjoy a moment or two walking alone their giggles filter back to us through the trees, bringing smiles to our faces. I watch as the boys navigate their way across a stream using a fallen branch, I don’t offer to help, I let them work it out for themselves, and sure enough they do! It’s amazing how much they have grown, even in the past few months I can see their legs lengthening and it’s a reminder that time hurtles by so quickly. I vow to make this weekend really count, to remember to pause, to savour, to really look and really listen, to feel and to engage.
Later that evening, we arrive at my husband’s parents cosy home where we enjoy dinner and a good catch-up before getting a good night’s sleep. In the morning, we made a picnic and headed out to walk from Fairhead to Murlough Bay. It’s not an especially long walk, only around 4 miles, but it takes in some of the most spectacular views, no doubt part of the reason why it was picked to feature in the hit TV-series, Game of Thrones!
The sky was a brilliant blue, with only a few clouds, and everything seemed to sparkle in the Autumn sunlight. There’s something truly magical about the light at this time of the year that makes everything look so lush and inviting. We told the boys if they were really quiet and tiptoed along they might just be lucky enough to see some dragons, for this was the setting for the encounter of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryn from Game of Thrones.
The attempt to be quiet was soon interrupted when I ended up knee-deep in boggy ground and everyone rolled about with laughter as I not-too-gracefully tried to pull myself out! We trudged on nonetheless, me a little soggily, but undeterred. About halfway around the circular cliff-top route we paused for coffee and snacks and were able to sit-back and enjoy the splendid view.
It was a fine, bright day and we could see for miles along the coast, as well as right across to Rathlin Island and Scotland beyond that. Absolutely gorgeous! On days like that, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be! I warmed my hands with my mug of coffee and listened to the boys chatter as the waves crashed over the rocks far below. In that moment, I realised I didn’t want these times to end. Standing there, in that instant, I experienced a moment of pure perfection. Yes, my hair was a windswept mess and I was muddy from the knees down, but there was something about that view, being together outdoors and experiencing all that nature has to offer that was reminding me gently that this is what it’s all about – that this life is short and the things we sometimes prioritise or think are important aren’t really. I get nervous standing so close to a cliff edge, heights are not my thing. But as I listened to the rush of the waves below, I realised how much of my life is lived in fear. Fear of failure, fear for my children, fear at not meeting other’s expectations, fear of never being enough, achieving enough, having enough. I lifted my arms and let the breeze blow away all these lies. I allowed my thoughts to slow, for stillness to envelope me, for simplicity, purity and meaningfulness to be reaffirmed in my heart. This day was ours. How grateful and privileged I felt to be in that perfect moment.
We marched on, past the shimmering cliff-top lake, saying “hi” to a few sheep along the way. Purple heathers dotted the landscape as we swung around towards Murlough Bay. With the clocks having gone back an hour the previous night, the sun was soon beginning to dip and the remnants of daylight saw us back to our car. Exhausted but simultaneously refreshed we returned to my husband’s parent’s house in time for a delicious home-cooked dinner before snuggling-up to watch the first episode of Blue Planet 2.
The following day, the boys’ little cousin joined us for another coastal walk, this time from Portballintrae to The Giant’s Causeway.
The boys were more than over the moon with joy that Granny and Granda were coming too! So we all set out, this time on a more blustery overcast day. It’s a walk that my husband and I have done before, but never with the kids. So, naturally, having new territory to explore was a massive adventure and getting to take their little cousin by the hand and lead him through the sand dunes and over boulders a huge privilege!
The coastal path was quiet, except for a few other walkers, but on arrival at the Causeway itself it was busy with visitors. We spent time climbing the famous hexagonal basalt columns and taking snapshots before making our way back to Portballintrae along the railway track path.
Sadly our weekend of outdoor fun had come to an end. We toppled into bed that night weary with our exertion but replenished in so many other ways. There’s nothing like a good dose of nature to rekindle dreams, sooth the soul and put life into perspective.
Thinking of planning a hiking adventure of your own in Northern Ireland? Visit Walk Northern Ireland for routes and expert advice. Happy walking!