WILD AND FREE…
It has become something of a family tradition to go camping over the final bank holiday weekend in May to celebrate our youngest son’s birthday. He’s a real wild child and loves nothing more than being outdoors – running, climbing, exploring and getting muddy from head to toe!
So, with a superb weather forecast promising a bright and dry weekend, unlike last year’s very rainy weekend under canvas, as soon as the school bell rang at 3pm on Friday, we loaded up the car with all of our camping essentials and set off for the Mourne Mountains.
For the past few years we have pitched our tent at Meelmore Lodge, which has shower facilities and a little café, and is usually a quiet, uncrowded site. This year, no doubt due to the great weather, it was a lot more crowded than we would have liked, but, we were there, eager to get into the mountains, so we pitched up regardless and decided to make the most of it. Meelmore Lodge campsite is the ideal location for ease of access into the Mournes; situated close to the Trassey Track, it opens up many great trails, and there’s no greater view to unzip a tent to first thing in the morning. I am normally first awake and like to silently creep out of the tent to brew a coffee and enjoy the dewy morning and the sounds of birds chirping the song of a new day dawning.
After we had pitched our tent (a much quicker process now the boys are getting bigger and are able to lend a hand!) we lit a fire in our fire pit and started cooking dinner while the boys ran off to play football with some friends they had met. They popped back for a quick hotdog before racing off once more to play hide and seek in the long grass of the adjoining field and my husband and I were able to read as the light began to dim.
As the evening grew darker and the children could no longer see one another they returned to toast marshmallows and cosy up by the fire for a while before crawling sleepily into their sleeping bags. All the running around and fresh air had no doubt tired them out because they were all fast asleep in minutes and my husband and I were then able to kick back and relax by the fire for a couple of hours until sleepiness got the better of us too – what is it about a camp fire that makes it so mesmerising and relaxing?
The following morning we cooked a ourselves a hearty breakfast outdoors and prepared a picnic for our day of hiking. Once everyone was fed, watered and dressed we set off in the car for the Sandbank Road Car Park near Hilltown, where we parked up and took the trail on the other side of the road which leads to Hen Mountain.
There wasn’t another person in sight and I felt myself gradually begin to unwind. It has been a very busy season for us and I was glad to be getting a break away from work and city life. As I walked on and enjoyed my natural surroundings the more I felt my worries slowly flutter away and my body and mind become freer.
Once over the stile, the kids took off up the side of Hen Mountain, their boundless energy and enthusiasm given free rein to explore. My pace was much slower and I was careful how I tread. I have been dealing with an injury that has caused damage to the nerves in my upper back, neck and right arm and despite having been for a few treks on flat ground, this was my first time on uphill terrain for months.
As we began our ascent and the day warmed up I found the incline tough going. I kept my pace slow and steady and watched as the boys enjoyed the open space to run and climb over boulders like their hero, Steve Backshall. Every now and then they would stop and look back at me and give me a wave or a thumbs up to encourage me to keep going. What sweet, thoughtful guys I am raising! Proud Mum moment!
About halfway up, a huge collection of boulders was the ideal spot to pause for a breather and some snacks. Already, the little bit of height we had gained had opened up to us a great view across to Rocky Mountain, Pigeon Rock and beyond.
Energies renewed, onwards and upwards we rambled, and I enjoyed chatting with my middle child about a story he’s been writing in school about myths and legends – it sounds epic! Honestly, such wild and exciting imagination!
The top of Hen Mountain is made up of lots of rocky torrs – these are super to explore and from the summit, the view in all directions in simply breathtaking. At just over 350 metres, Hen is only an ickle mountain, but what she lacks in stature, she sure makes up for in style!
A picnic lunch leaning against the rocks to keep out of the wind blowing rather forcefully at the top, allowed us all a little time to sit back and savour the view. We could see sheep grazing in the distance, and the river which runs alongside Hen Mountain, was glistening invitingly in the bright May sunshine.
My husband, Trevor, told the boys that he had heard there were insectivorous plants to be found growing in this boggy landscape, so once lunch was eaten, we set about a mission to discover one before the day was done.
As we marched downwards the day grew even hotter and our pace became slower and more leisurely. It was so great to be wading in the long grasses that surround Hen Mountain, just being together outdoors instills so much joy in my life and also has this immense ability to put life into perspective for me. We halted several times to study some mountain frogs which startled us when they leapt across our path as we continued our hunt for insect-eating plants.
We weren’t far from flat ground and the river when a hint of red among the greens suggested we might have found what we were searching for lurking in the long grass. A quick inspection revealed that it was indeed, much to the delight of our nature-mad 10-year old who wants to be a palaeontologist (try saying that after a few gins) when he’s all grown up.
Next stop – the river! On previous trips to this area we have bouldered down the river on the huge rocks and each time the boys have been eager to hop in for a swim. This time I actually remembered to pack towels and trunks, so they stripped off and jumped right in! The water is spotlessly clean, coming straight off the mountainside, but even in the warm afternoon sun was still somewhat chilly and definitely awakens the senses!
Barefoot, I climbed over the rocks, listening as the boys splashed one another and shrieked with glee in the cool water. This foot to rock connection is something I really love and find so therapeutic; it helps me to reconnect with nature and myself. I wandered downstream a little, stepping in and out of little pools of soothing water. It’s these simple, back to basics moments, that I love so much about the outdoors. There’s something so freeing, and even healing, about just being outside in a wild place that helps make sense of the world.
As I returned to my family, I could see my husband and boys were lying back on the flat rocks drying-off in the sun. They had so loved being in the water, splashing around and being free. It was a perfect afternoon everyone agreed.
As we trekked arm in arm back along the trail to the car, our tiredness and contentedness was evident in our slow pace and our silence – some things just don’t need to be said out loud to be understood. In that perfect time and space, all was well with the world.