HIKING WITH KIDS – THE GLENS OF ANTRIM – RONAN’S WAY

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We arrived in the remote little car park located on the McAuley farmland just as it began to drizzle. It is February after all, so we didn’t expect soaring temperatures and sunny blue skies. We had come well equipped with layers upon layers of clothing, gloves, hats and scarves and a flask of hot coffee. We were ready!

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Ronan’s Way is a beautiful memorial trail, with working farmland having been opened up to the public, so fulfilling this local man’s wishes that more folk would come and explore and experience the Glens of Antrim on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. There are 4 walking routes of various lengths to choose from, starting at 0.9 miles with the longest route totalling a distance of 3.4 miles. We set off on that drizzly Sunday afternoon to trek the longest route, the red trail, which took us initially alongside the fast-flowing Glendun River then upwards into farm and peatland. We were welcomed onto the walk by a wide-open field where the boys began to run and jump and enjoy the freedom of the huge space. My youngest son took me by the hand and whispered: ‘Let’s skip, Mum. This is my happy place’. How could I resist those sweet words and that little rosy face beaming with joy? Off we skipped through the grass and uphill to where the track begins to get really interesting. At times the uphills are indeed strenuous and by the end of the 3.4 miles it is safe to say you definitely feel like you have had a decent hike – a great leg workout indeed! The views, well, they are just spectacular! The higher we rose through the lush farmland and peatland and forest, despite the heavy cloud and persistent rain, the more glorious the scene became. Surrounded by hills, a few farms dotted on the landscape in the distance, the sound of the river below and the stillness of the place, we were in our outdoor element, hearts racing with the exertion and the satisfaction of a good hike. It’s honestly one of the most interesting and beautiful walks we have ever done as a family here in Northern Ireland. I nearly didn’t want to blog about it because I want to keep it a precious secret. It is truly that wonderful! I can only imagine how stunning it is on a bright summer’s day. In fact, we might just have to return with a picnic blanket to savour this place at a slower pace once the warmer days arrive.

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There are so many points along the trail where you are forced to stop and drink in the view and your surroundings, every few metres a new perspective is earned and the changing terrain means the walk is never at any point dull or monotonous. Apparently a game of hide and seek isn’t even out of the question as we turned around at one point to discover our 3 minis had disappeared. It was only their giggles and ‘shhhs’ that gave them away! Fascinating how being outdoors with lots of space to explore can ignite imagination and spark-off little games that cement sibling bonds and also give us grown-ups 5 minutes peace and quiet to marvel at our wonderful country, have a chat of our own and pause for a cuppa. Another brilliant benefit of the location was that there was zero phone signal! Yay! So great to be ‘off-grid’, uncontactable and unable to ‘just check my Instagram’ for an entire afternoon. That’s when you truly begin to feel wild and alone and free. It’s liberating!

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The red trail that we walked was very well sign-posted with very visible markers along the entire route. The only place we got a little bit confused was near the very top of the route where we could see the marker in the distance but no clear route to get to it. We spent a hilarious hour traipsing through heather, jumping back and forth over a stream and rolling down hills. It didn’t really matter that we hadn’t reached the summit, we had a good laugh while we tried and in hindsight probably added and extra mile to the length of our walk which is perhaps why it felt a little longer than 3.4 miles!

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When we arrived back at the car park we were still the only visitors parked up on that wet Sunday afternoon so the boys took their football out for a kick about while Mum and Dad were able to relax at the little picnic table by the river for a while just enjoying the time away from the noise of daily life. It was so refreshing to breath in the cool, clean air and listen to the river, the distant rumble of tractors at work and the cheers from the boys as they took turns at scoring goals. It’s in these simple days out where I feel everything that’s been out of sync in my body and mind realign. My limbs stretch-out, my cramped back elongates, my thoughts clarify and our relationships are nurtured. I love it. It’s so joyful to be able to go experience the outdoors together and I’m certain Ronan’s Way will become a walk we trek time and time again.

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To find out more about how to get to the car park for Ronan’s Way please visit Walk NI and please note that dogs are not permitted on the trails due to the fact that this is working farmland. Always be respectful and leave no rubbish behind.

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