SAVING OUR SANITY…
September has been a real whirlwind for us…I cannot quite get my head around the fact that we are into October next week and hurtling rapidly towards the end of another year. I sometimes wish I could press the ‘Pause’ button just to catch my breath and savour the moment.
I cannot deny that September has been a testing month for me personally, and I feel like I have been juggling a whole lot of balls and I have simply not managed to keep them all up in the air all of the time! There have been tears and tantrums, tiredness and tensions as we ease back into a new and busy school year. Our middle child has transfer exams in just over a month’s time, I am embarking on my final year of my English Literature degree with the Open University, our work schedules have been maxed to the limit, there have been tummy bugs, sore throats, and all the usual family life details to manage. I am not for a moment moaning or suggesting that we are in any way unique. I know lots of families deal with similar scenarios, but as a normally positive person, I have felt really stretched as we transition from the chilled out, leisurely vibes of the summer months into the shorter, colder and busier days of Autumn and have really struggled to find space in the schedule for outdoor time as well as space for reflection and mental downtime.
So, in a bid to reclaim some of our much-loved connection with nature and restore my sanity a touch, we planned a trip to one of our favourite mountains in the Mournes this past weekend. Standing proud at 747 metres, Slieve Binnian, is the 3rd highest in the Mourne mountain range, and in our opinion has the most interesting climb and some of the most stunning views. When Sunday morning arrived, we were delighted to see that the sky was blue and the sun shining for our day of adventure. After several weeks of grey skies and rain we knew we were in for a real treat! Previous hikes up Binnian had taught us however that it can indeed be extremely blustery on top so despite the illusion that it was a summer’s day out hats and scarves were added to our rucksacks before leaving home, as we all enthused about escaping the confines of bricks and mortar as well as feeling glad to be getting away from the city for a few hours.
Normally we trek from Carrick Little Carpark and follow the Mourne Wall straight up Binnian, but on this occasion, we decided to walk right along the trail past Blue Lough, tackling the mountain via Buzzard’s Roost. It’s nice to see things from a new perspective after all, especially when the humdrum of daily family routine has been weighing down on us.
We started the day off at a brisk pace to keep warm. Despite the bright sunshine, there was a definite nip in the air, as the Autumn chill sets in. Thankfully, now that our boys are all a little older, we can walk fairly quickly without anyone moaning or being left behind. As we warmed up, the chit chat commenced, the excitement at being free and in that beautiful wild space energising us and enabling us to connect a little more deeply and meaningfully than hurried weekdays permit.
We gradually settled into a comfortable stride as we aimed for the Blue Lough, our snack-time destination. It was pretty wonderful to watch the boys lead the way now that they have trekked this route on previous days out in the mountains and feel confident on it. They were totally comfortable in the terrain yet still taking time out to appreciate its magnificence, stopping to point out cool-shaped rock formations, admire a very hairy caterpillar or marvel at how the light made sheer rock faces appear like shimmering glass on the mountainside.
We walked into a headwind all the way to the Blue Lough and when I caught up with my boys, who had by then run on ahead in anticipation of a food break, I paused a moment to watch my youngest son standing peacefully by the water as ripples whipped across its surface. It was precious to see my energetic wild child caught up in the moment.
We ate quickly and set off again as the winds continued to pick up force. Admittedly, I was at this point a little anxious that we weren’t well enough prepared for what the summit of Binnian held on such a blustery day! Our previous hike had been just a month ago and we had been in t-shirts and shorts then and had even enjoyed a dip in a river. Even with our layers and hats and scarves, I was worried we were going to freeze atop the mountain due to the wind-chill factor. We rallied together to make a decision and chose to continue onwards and upwards, eager for the views we knew were waiting for us. As we ascended towards Buzzard’s Roost a slight rain shower resulted in a rainbow dipping down into Ben Crom Reservoir, causing us to pause and stand in awe of the surrounding scenery. How lucky to live in such a spectacular place!
Sure enough, as we reached Buzzard’s Roost the winds were stronger still, threatening to lift us off our feet. Strangely though it was no longer cold! We found a little sweet spot among the torrs to shelter awhile and have lunch, passing around a flask of coffee and talking about an exciting adventure we are planning for 2019.
After eating, we packed up and headed on to make our final climb towards the summit of Binnian. A change in direction meant that the wind was now at our heels, propelling us on. We spread our arms out like birds’ wings and laughed so hard as the wind pushed us along as though we weighed little more than a feather. It was the most free I have felt in a long time, the child within relishing the space to spin and dance and jump about! Ahhhhh…it felt so invigorating.
Once at the summit of Slieve Binnian, we enjoyed a chat with some other hikers, before my husband and I shared a can of Guinness by way of celebration at a successful trip (remembering of course to take our rubbish home, respecting the Leave No Trace principles).
The descent in the direction we had picked is fairly steep, with some very rocky ground needing careful treading. Once past that, we kept close to the Mourne Wall for the remainder of the way down, pausing a while as the two older boys dashed off to quickly jog up the small hill adjoining Binnian on their own while we waited to rest a sore ankle acquired by our youngest boy on the rocky terrain – a few sweets naturally helped the healing process!
It was great to watch the two boys run off together to trek up the gentle slope, their yellow rucksack ensuring they were always within view. I have such high hopes that in a few years time that these mountains will continue to be a place of joy and freedom for them as they take on the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. When it is no longer cool to hang out with Mum and Dad at the weekends, it is my heart’s desire that the many days we have spent together exploring in the mountains will inspire them to return with their friends and maybe, someday, their own kids.
Once reunited, we made the final trek back to the carpark together, the chatter having dwindled into a satisfied and comfortable silence as tiredness set into our bodies and our minds enjoyed the peace that had settled on us all.
There’s no denying that September has been crazy and has at times sucked a little bit as we are pulled in so many directions at once. I try so hard not to over-schedule my kids’ lives, but sometimes things just get busy. I have missed spending as much time with them as I normally do due to my own work commitments, and I have felt guilt hovering on the fringes of my mind as I leave the house each morning. Our hike in the Mournes without shadow of a doubt massively reduced my anxiety levels, helped us to reconnect with one another, revitalised us, blew away a month worth of stresses and has enabled us to enter this final week of September with energy, positivity and grace at the forefront of our lives and minds. Hurrah for windy-day treks!