A Week of Fairs, Workshops & Rock Painting

This week has been busy; so much so that I haven’t had time to record anything on here. I always find my blog posts dwindle on the days my kids are at school since that leaves less time for adventures 🙂

Today, we went to Frock Around the Clock at Belfast Castle. It’s a vintage/handmade market that is held in different venues in Northern Ireland. I think Belfast Castle is my favourite spot for it because it feels grand and regal inside and goes with the feel of the market. There are also lots of little side rooms to sip your coffee in when you want to escape the crowds.
It was a day that couldn’t really decide what weather it wanted to have. We arrived in mist, got caught in a rain shower and left in sunshine, but the views were spectacular and it made me realise I need to make more effort to visit the Cavehill and walk the trails with the girls.

I had a non-thrifty day and made a few too many purchases today, but when items are handmade and unique, I find it hard to resist 🙂 There was a lady that made her own preserves and I got some apple butter and tried some of her pumpkin marmalade. It sounds a strange combination but worked really well 🙂 I find that markets are bearable with kids as long as you intersperse shopping with snack breaks and find food stalls/crafts that interest them. 

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There was a lady who had made miniature book necklaces. They had pages that turn and little pressed flowers stuck between the leaves. I bought one that was a poetry collection from Whitman. It has tiny print inside and even gold edged pages 🙂

The girls were happy to find some homemade, heart-shaped Jammie Dodgers. Food always saves the day when they are getting restless. There were so many stalls and interesting people to talk to that we spent hours there. My kids discovered their distaste for dark chocolate (but everything is an experience:)) I wanted to buy everything at this stall.

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After having coffee and a final look around, we went outside to explore the grounds. The girls were taken by the water fountain and insisted on dropping coins in it and making wishes. There were tiled pictures of cats and little cat statues that gave a friendly feel to the place. I didn’t remember seeing them before. I love the views from the castle. It feels like you’re on your own special floor above the city. Watching the palm trees in the breeze really soothes my mind. I’ve been noticing lately I get much more irritable if I haven’t had fresh air. I can’t seem to spend an entire day cooped up in the house without feeling like my head is getting unhealthy. So, I’m going to make a point to get outside for a walk every day. It does the girls as much good as it does me. This gothic staircase provided more entertainment for my kids than any other kid-oriented activity could 🙂

At the fair, we ended up joining the Woodland Trust. I hadn’t thought to visit any of the forests before, but I’m always happy to uncover less frequented places to walk. They send out activity packs for kids based on their age and I’m going to make the effort this year to visit places we’ve never been to before. I want to spend some time teaching my kids about nature so they can recognise types of trees, flowers etc (and so I can too!)

Yesterday, I took the girls to the cinema for the free screening of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I brought my own coffee and sweets for the kids to save on the expense of snacks. I booked the workshop for after the film which is £3 per child. I expected it to be a bit thrown together but it was well organised and hilarious 🙂 It was run by an actor who does workshops with kids and he joked around and got everyone in the room involved in pretending props were different objects, mime, freeze frames and creating scenes. Usually that type of thing would be my worst nightmare but it was done humorously and was well worth the money 🙂

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This week, we also had one sick day where both kids stayed at home. They were that level of sick that still requires busyness! So, we spent the day painting and cooking. We painted the rocks the girls had collected on our “holiday” last weekend. I just use a big piece of paper as a paint palette when we are using lots of different colours and separate paintbrushes for each colour. I find it results in less mixing and muddy colour combinations 🙂

We’ve had a busy week, between our outings, artistic endeavours and my new book being published, but it has been inspiring too and has given me plenty of ideas for future blog posts 🙂

 

A Holiday Weekend without the Expense

I felt the urge to get out of Belfast last week, so I decided to book a nearby trip for myself and the kids to the countryside. Sometimes I just need to remove myself from my current environment, even if it’s only twenty miles away. I felt like everything was becoming too frantic and we needed some time in nature. So, I booked a little cottage in the middle of nowhere and we went there on Friday.

The drive there was along one of those windy roads that gives you the best views over the hills. We passed the Mournes and they looked blue against the misty sky. I love the evershifting skies in that area. They look like they’re painted in watercolours and even when they’re grey they aren’t just bleak, heavy grey; they are swirled with every shade of it. I think fields in south Down have a special shade of green too, and looking at them calms my mind.

When we got to the cottage, it was already growing dark and the hosts had lit the fire in the wood burning stove for us. One benefit to being a single parent is being able to rent tiny one bedroom places to stay and space not being an issue 🙂 (apart from when hyperactivity takes hold of my kids.)

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There were fields surrounding the cottage and the only sound outside was the bleating of sheep. My kids went to befriend the sheep and lambs and ran around in the grass. Afterwards, they watched a film and I had brought pizza so they could have their pizza and a movie Friday tradition 🙂 When they went to sleep, I had some wine and wrote for hours in pure peace. A fire is on my wish list now; I think it was my favourite thing about the whole trip 🙂

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The next day, we went into Newcastle and the kids collected rocks to paint at home. I want to start rock painting with them and hiding them for people to find 🙂 They played in the playground and had ice cream. It was strangely quiet for a Saturday. Maybe the cold weather put people off, or we just get up earlier than sensible people do, but it was the best time of the year for a holiday there.

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Afterwards, we went to Tollymore forest park. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid and the girls enjoyed doing the trail and “map reading.” 🙂 We brought a picnic so we didn’t have to buy food. The kids were building their own dens with branches, climbing on fallen trees and making “wishes” by throwing pine cones into the river 🙂 The stepping stones arrived at just the right moment, when everyone was starting to complain. Climbing across them was interesting since I had to carry one child whilst helping the other one across 😀 Surprisingly, we didn’t fall in, which is something that typically happens to me in such situations.

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I love how tranquil it is there and how you can just get lost in the woods. Those tall, lean trees really remind me of Northern Michigan too 🙂 The girls went to the adventure playground and played with their new friends, climbed trees and chatted about their lives. The day felt the same as it did the last time I was there in the nineties 🙂

When it was getting dark, I took the girls back into Newcastle and we went to a chip shop. When we eat out, I try not to order more than I know the kids will eat. You can always order more if you need to and it cuts back on the expense of eating out. Afterwards, we went to the old fashioned sweet shop where they measure out sweets in paper bags. The girls discovered their love for midget gems and slept the soundest that night that they had in a long time. I think the miles we walked and the sea air cured their insomniac tendencies 🙂

On Sunday, we to Castlewellan Forest Park. They charge five pounds to park in the car park, but you could spend the whole day there if you wanted to. They have lots of outdoor activities you can do if you are that way inclined. We went to the peace maze and got lost in it. (I have a terrible sense of direction even on non-mazelike trails.) The kids enjoyed trying to find their way out. Apparently if you make it to the centre of it, there is a bell to ring, but we were in it for half an hour and ended up back at the entrance 😀 There is a wooden playground next to it where the girls climbed and burned off some energy. The grounds seem to be very expansive. There are mountain bike trails and different long walks you can follow. We walked part of the way around the lake, before we surrendered to the cold and had our picnic back at the car 🙂

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On the way home, we stopped for a Brennan’s ice cream. I’m not even a fan of vanilla ice-cream, but it might be my favourite ice-cream in Northern Ireland. They sell it in a couple of service stations near Newcastle and it is better value than most ice-cream shops in the town. We used to go there when I was a kid so the nostalgia probably makes it taste better too 🙂

It’s strange how a couple of days in a different place can reset your brain and make everything at home look fresh again. I’m almost not even dreading tackling the laundry.

Cheap Places To Go With Kids In Northern Ireland

Cheap Places To Go With Kids In Northern Ireland Part One

All of these ideas are going to be centred around Belfast and the East side of Northern Ireland, due to my ignorance of what lies in Fermanagh and Derry! So if you live in that area or are planning a trip near Belfast hopefully this will provide you with a few ideas.

The Ulster Museum and Botanic Gardens

If you’re lucky enough to find a parking space within walking distance (!) this is a great place to go with kids. They have an art room, a nature room and a room of antique toys. The cafe is good for a parental coffee reward and the gift shop for window shopping. The gardens are right outside and have a palm house, tropical ravine (it’s closed at the moment for restoration) and I always liked playing on the bandstand and the rose garden as a kid. Note: the museum is closed on Mondays. Entry is free.

Seapark in Holywood

I still don’t understand why Holywood is pronounced Hollywood but it has a well-placed playground with a sea view anyway. The grassy expanse is good for picnics in better weather and you can walk along the seafront after letting your kids play. The playground was recently redone so there is lots to do.

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Greyabbey village and the Abbey

Greybbey is great for kids. My kids call it “the rocks” because they like to climb on the ruins. There is something about letting them do this that feels a bit sacrilegious, but at least they’re enjoying themselves. There is a herb garden to walk around and smell the scents with your children, teaching them names of herbs. Morbid as it may be, my kids like exploring the neighbouring graveyard too. You can follow it with a look in the antique shops if you’re feeling brave around breakables and you can an ice-cream from the shop/coffee or treats in Alchemy or one of the other cafes. (Or have a picnic if your kids are particularly wound-up that day.)

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Portaferry/Strangford Ferry

If you’re lacking funds, the ferry might be preferable to the aquarium in Portaferry (fun as it is.) I took my kids to both and the ferry was much more popular with them. It was £2 return for all of us on foot. You can leave the car on one side, go for a walk or get fish and chips and sit at the harbour. It’s a novelty for the kids and a day out that won’t put you into your overdraft.

Hope these ideas were useful. I will follow this post with others as part of a Northern Ireland series of things to do with kids 🙂