While rainy days are often perfect for cosying up with blankets and a movie, with a little preparation they are also ideal for escaping to the forest for an afternoon of adventure.
This past weekend our boys’ little 5-year old cousin had come for a sleepover and we had promised him a big adventure out in the wild. Having an extra family member meant we would need to take two cars so we decided that closer to home would be the best option for our day out. Thankfully, here in Belfast we are surrounded by lush country parks and forests with some fantastic walks and views so after a brief discussion we settled on Crawfordsburn Country Park, which is situated on the coast between Bangor and Holywood. It really is the perfect location for a family day out no matter what the weather, what with two great beaches, an extensive forest with different walking routes, a waterfall, café and free parking and toilets it ticks all the boxes for an easy day out but still delivers on stunning scenery and a sense of being away from it all.
I wakened early on Sunday morning, the sound of torrential rain and howling winds rattling my bedroom window. I burrowed down into my warm bed thinking that the day was going to be a total washout and that we wouldn’t be able to keep our promise to our young adventurers. In the snugness of my bed I gave myself a motivational pep-talk, reminding myself that there was no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothes and the wrong outlook. I got up and made coffee, packed up a picnic, camping stove, tarpaulins and set out extra layers of clothing for everyone. Waterproofs were stashed in the car and soon we were on our way for an afternoon of fun in the forest.
When we arrived there were no other cars in the usually busy carpark and we were excited to have the place all to ourselves. The rain was still pouring down heavily but once suited and booted our eager young explorers took off to explore the various specially-built natural play areas and the very cool geology garden and the many many puddles along the way. The main walking route is only about 5-kilometres long so is very easy to do with little ones but is strenuous enough in places with some good uphill stretches to make you feel like you are still getting some decent exercise! We walked slow, enjoying the stillness of the deserted forest. My husband and I chatted about his upcoming work trip and our plans for the Easter holidays while the kids made up games. It was so great to be able to meander slowly and connect and just enjoy one another’s company while the boys all entertained each other. There are lots of opportunities for kids to go and explore among the trees and some beautiful wood-carvings along the trail were of great interest to our party. Among the trees the rainfall didn’t really touch us and we were sheltered for the majority of the walk, although all the splashing in muddy puddles meant that soggy socks were inevitable! All part of the fun…just don’t complain if your feet get cold! We did get a bit of a soaking when we got close-up to the waterfall which was rushing loudly as a result of all the rain – the kids were enthralled by the power of the water and stood for an age watching it, loving the cold spray on their faces.
When lunchtime approached, we climbed the 74/75/76 steps (we couldn’t agree how many there are!) to the high section of the walking route and we laid out the tarpaulins to sit on so that we were overlooking the forest below – a fine place to dine indeed! The boys played human dominoes as they tucked into their sandwiches and hot chocolate and my heart did a little flip as I watched them laugh and mess about. I was talking to my 12-year old the previous night about how quick his childhood is whizzing by and it was lovely to watch him interact with and entertain the littler ones while enjoying being young and free himself. I am so grateful for these days spent out together in wild spaces, where kids just get to be kids, unplugged, hands and clothes muddy, eager to roam and explore and be carefree.
Once everyone was refuelled we packed up the rucksack and headed off walking once more. This time, my oldest boy volunteered to carry the rucksack and as I watched him trek down the hill it struck me how tall he had grown, even in the past few weeks. I took a snapshot of him, wanting to savour the moment forever.
Our youngest adventurer was running on ahead, climbing up the steep banks at the side of the trail and calling to his cousins to see if they could go as high as him. He too was enjoying the freedom and his little rosy red cheeks beamed with joy as he crawled over fallen tree trunks and squeezed through spots through which no-one else could fit! He was the King of the forest and loving every second of it. Soon the path looped around and we were almost back to where we begun. My husband and I stopped for coffee while the boys ran off to play in the maze and chase one another in some made-up drama. The light was beginning to dim as evening approached, the rain was still falling, but still we were sheltered beneath the trees.