Lynette Fay: My two-year-old is helping me re-discover local attractions...
I find myself in new territory: I now plan most of my free time around my two-year-old. I have a very curious, energetic little person to entertain. Seeing the world through her eyes is hilarious and exciting...
HALF-term is over: parents rejoice, teachers look forward to their next couple of days off for St Patrick's Day. It's looking like St Patrick's Day might even be celebrated in the familiar way this year. We should start praying for good weather now.
The easing of restrictions coincided with the half-term break last week, so I found myself making a list of places to go, things to do and experience – reminding myself that we can dare to plan things again, for now.
I know that the 'Rona' is still with us, but it feels like we are re-surfacing after a two-year hibernation. It will take time to wake up properly from such slumber.
I find myself in new territory: I now plan most of my free time around my two-year-old. I have a very curious, energetic little person to entertain. Seeing the world through her eyes is hilarious and exciting.
I now want to know where all the good playparks are, what can I do with her that will entertain her, and if I'm being honest, what will use up some of her endless supply of energy so that bedtime isn't a struggle.
A trip around the supermarket is entertaining for her at the moment. She loves a good spin in the trolley. So far, it's been wonderful to see her react to the Gruffalo trail in Colin Glen Forest Park, to bird watching at Castle Espie, to the epic playpark at Montalto Estate.
If a handy list of these places already exists, I am all ears.
I find myself almost naively gob-smacked by what is on offer – there's a lot available if you seek it out, it's all on the doorstep, or within an hour's drive.
In my previous life, I was a very spontaneous person. So far, spontaneity and parenthood don't seem to be good bedfellows. Last week, I took a notion to go to W5, packed the toddler up in the pouring rain, only to discover when I was in the queue that pre-booking was required. That will teach me to be spontaneous during half-term.
These days, I need a very well organised schedule. I ended up with exactly that last November. Discover NI did all the hard work for me, and off we went on a mini adventure – to South Armagh and Co Down.
We stayed in the newly refurbished Killeavy Castle hotel, a beautifully finished family friendly space, tucked into the side of the majestic Slieve Gullion. It's cosy, the food is designed around the bounty of the mountain and the farms on the estate, and the staff are very friendly. The peacocks strutting their stuff around the grounds kept adults and children entertained.
The phone signal was very poor, which forces you to stay in the moment and really get closer to what's important. It's difficult to describe, but even though we were only an hour down the road, it felt like a place apart.
Back in the summer, I visited the Fairy Village at Slieve Gullion for the first time. What a magical experience for children, and for the adults watching as they make their way through this land of wonder. Knocking on the doors of the fairy houses and discovering the Giant's Lair were sources of pure joy and magic in the woods of this mythical mountain.
As for Slieve Gullion itself, making it to the summit is not for the toddler. I just about made it up there a couple of months ago too, but the weather was not on our side. We saw nothing but mist and fog, so I will have to climb it again – perhaps on December 21, the shortest day of the year. There is a neolithic passage tomb at the summit which is aligned with the setting sun of the winter solstice.
The landscape of South Armagh has inspired some of the most beautiful poetry and songs that have ever been written and sung. I am a big fan of the #CovidPoetry collective who have been proudly banging the drum for their native area and celebrating its beauty and rich heritage on Twitter during the pandemic.
For those fellow Tyrone natives thinking that I may have lost the plot – never. It's enriching and exciting to discover what other areas have to offer and I am passionate about celebrating what we have available to us on our doorstep.