Lynette Fay: I'm enjoying my 'stayanta saoire' even if that means I've hit peak middle age
Cuilcagh, the Hill of the O'Neill, the Sperrins, the lakes of Fermanagh, the beaches of Donegal – I love how people seem to have re-engaged with Ireland as a holiday destination
THERE have been many times in the last few months when I have said or done something that has convinced me that I have reached peak middle age. From the "great bag" I got free from a well-known supermarket, to realising that I covet a hand-held vacuum cleaner more than a designer handbag, to frequently checking myself for sounding exactly like my mother.
The height of excitement on a week off work last week was a visit to Gortin Glen forest park. We thought that we were going for a dander, chose the ‘moderately difficult’ 2k route, and set off wearing the wrong footwear, with the baby in the buggy.
It was an unforgettable walk and day out for many reasons – the weather was fantastic, I hadn’t been to Gortin Glen in years, and it was the first visit with the baby. I know that she will never remember this trip, but we will – and for more than the blistered feet we have as souvenirs.
Lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic have meant that much of the baby’s first year has been spent in and around the house, or going for a short walk within the local area – in the city.
North Belfast is great. We go the Waterworks regularly, which is well used by the public. However, I wish that, as a public park, it was maintained more meticulously and equally respected by those who use it.
Having the time and space to get beyond the city limits has been much needed. We finally got ‘a good evening’ on which to inhale the breathtaking views from the Hill of the O’Neill in Dungannon, and the unblemished beauty of the Gortin Glens and the Sperrins was fuel for the soul. We drove to Barnes Gap ‘for a nosey’ as we had never been there before, and our jaws dropped at the beauty of the area, which is just outside Plumbridge. People drive to Kerry so that they can rave about this kind of landscape.
While I confess to being a little jealous of the holiday snaps posted on social media from seaside destinations, I love how people seem to have re-engaged with Ireland as a holiday destination. I know that I sound incredibly middle aged when I say that there is so much to see and learn at every turn.
Cuilcagh mountain, the Hill of the O’Neill, the Sperrins, the lakes of Fermanagh, the beaches of Donegal – all have proved to be viable ‘stayanta saoire’ options – beyond the obvious destinations of the Mournes, Newcastle, the Giant’s Causeway and Portrush/Portstewart. While the popular places are great, for the obvious reasons, thinking outside the box is extremely rewarding.
Driving around, marvelling at this beauty all around us, with the baby asleep in the back of the car, reminded me of my youth. Most Sundays were spent going for a drive with my grandparents. Granda would share a story or two about the area, while Granny had a penchant for the local flora and fauna. A ‘slip’ or two of beautiful flowers and shrubs would magically make it into her handbag if we went for a walk.
While I didn’t inherit Granny’s green fingers or passion for plants, I do appreciate them. Granda’s stories have rubbed off. I love local history and finding out more about places I visit. I love a good plaque and always take the time to read them. This might be further evidence that I have reached peak middle age – but I’m happy to accept that on this occasion.
Were these experiences somewhere in the back of my head as we travelled around Tyrone last week? Of course they were. I constantly wonder what will excite her and interest her. I know that’s a little while away; meanwhile, we’re learning together. While the baby is only nine months old, crawling and climbing everything she can, the simple things in life seem to bring the most enjoyment.
A roll around in the grass provided plenty of belly laughs this week, as did watching the dogs, trees, flowers and rivers. Slowing life down and taking time to spend with her seems to be working a treat.
Every week brings with it a different milestone and a few more nursery rhymes to my ever-growing collection, with Five Little Ducks remaining my party-piece for the foreseeable future. While I have embraced middle age in many ways, my inner child is still fighting fit.