A quick Google search for keeping kids entertained shows just how tricky it really is. Millions of articles claim to have the answers, but in Ireland, we have one sure-fire recipe for happy children: walking
Where kids are concerned, tougher isn’t always better. So unless they’re hardy hikers already, its best to side step any tough trails up steep mountainsides and instead opt for places the whole family can enjoy.
Take Lough Key Forest Park in County Roscommon. Underground tunnels, high towers and a nine-meter high tree canopy walk. Perfect. The walk there is a self-guided tour, too, so the kids will be able to lead the way. TripAdvisor fans rate it five stars and say it’s “Excellent all-round” and has “something to challenge the entire family”.
West Cork beauty
As well as being in charge, kids always enjoy something out of the ordinary. Glengarriff in West Cork could be right up their street, then: mum of two, Emily O’Sullivan took her two tots there for a week-long vacation and was hard pressed to fit everything in.
“This area is one of the best I’ve been to with the kids,” Emily says. “Glengarriff has a stunning nature reserve with a great range of walks that can be enjoyed no matter what the weather. We also explored Gougane Barra, a beautiful and remote part of West Cork, with a huge forest park… You can also join parts of the Beara Way walking route here, hiking up into the deserted hills with sheep scrambling away in front of you.
“One that the kids really got a kick out of, though, was the Ewe Sculpture Garden just outside Glengarriff. The walk is less than a mile, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before with amazing sculptures, waterfalls, little bridges, and games along the way.”
Across the island on the east coast, Wicklow’s mountains lend themselves to dip-in-dip-out trots. The Sally Gap is filled with specific walking routes winding through coniferous forests and heather-packed mounds. The stroll beside Lough Tay benefits from little or no inclines and isolated stone-skimming at its end is great craic (fun).
Just over the mountain is Glendalough or as reviewers on TripAdvisor say: “like something you would see in a movie.” St Kevin settled himself here for a period of soul-searching in the 6th century. The paths here are short, with boardwalks over the marshy grounds, and well-trodden.
Keep an eye out for the monsters, though. Kevin is said to have seen great fire-breathing beasts when he lived here alone.
Giants and jumping
No monsters along the Causeway Coast in Antrim, though. Just giants, as Emily and her two kids discovered: “The kids were quite small when we went to the Giant’s Causeway, but what an incredible area. The walk down to the Causeway itself is a long one for very young children, but once you get there you can have great fun jumping from stone to stone while firing their imagination with tales of giants!”
As Sarah Nelson of Outdoor Recreation NI tells us, though, there’s more to walking Northern Ireland than giants: “The stroll around Castle Ward [overlooking Strangford Lough] is gorgeous and there are loads of spaces for kids to run wild. Also, there’s plenty to stoke the imagination at Carnfunnock Country Park.
“Kids also love winding their way around the world's largest permanent hedge maze at Castlewellan Forest Park. And you can’t beat the beach at Benone, with over seven miles of sandy shore there’s plenty of space for paddling.”
There you have it. If keeping kids happy tops your “to do” list, just walk this way…