I can't believe I'm writing this at the end of April while it snows outside - eek - but I know the longer warmer days of summer are ahead of us and what better thing to do on a bitterly cold day than to plan some great days out with the kids for the next month.
For us, May is the first month that we really start making plans at the weekends to get out and about. It coincides with lots of great events as well as two bank holidays so here are my picks for great family days out:
The Ballance House Spring Fair is an annual event held in Glenavy, just outside Lisburn, in the restored birth place of the 14th Premier of New Zealand, John Ballance. This year, the fun kicks off at 1pm on the 7th May and you'll find something for everyone including a great selection of craft, plant and produce stalls. There are also activities for children and delicious fare for everyone to sample.
Also on the 7th of May, The Hillmount Kids Club is a free gardening club that runs on the first Saturday of every month between 10am - 11am. It's perfect for kids aged between 4 - 11 who don't mind getting their hands dirty and want to learn about plants, wildlife and the environment. Oh and the coffee shop and restaurant is excellent here too so us grown ups have that to look forward to!
For more information Tel: 028 9044 8213 or visit www.hillmount.co.uk
Keeping with a gardening theme, A particular favourite of ours is the Alliance Garden Show Ireland which takes place in the beautiful Antrim Castle Gardens from 6th - 8th May 2016. As well as a visit from Show Patron Monty Don, this year’s event has plant & artisan food stalls, local craft and show gardens, live music, a dedicated kids zone with kite making, insect hotels and fairy houses, a tea dance, flower arranging competitions and much more. My kids had a great time last year and we even brought granny too! Incidentally, if you can't make it to the Garden Show, the Antrim Castle Gardens are a great place to take the kids on a day out - they have had a stunning restoration and there's so much to do and see.
It wouldn't be May without The Balmoral Show and this year sees the 148th event in Balmoral Park between the 11th-13th May 2016. If you've never been before, it's a feast of food, farming, family and fun with lots going on to keep the Family entertained. It's perfect for farm animal and machinery mad kids but I love to go along to watch the equestrian events...and check out the hundreds of trade stands (shopping opportunities!)
Staying in the Lisburn area and the 14th May sees the Mayor's Carnival Parade and this year the theme is 'Crowns & Coronets' in honour of the Queen's 90th birthday. The Carnival parade leaves Island Arts Centre at 1pm and makes its way around the town centre.
Running alongside, there's a family fun day in Wallace park, where following in the theme of the Parade, six magical Princes & Princesses will meet and greet the public. Attractions include a Fun Fair, Punch and Judy Magic Show, Crafts, Face painting, Bouncy Castle, arena acts by Trialstar, Boxing and the ever popular Dog Show.
Also on the 14th May, you can join a National Trust warden and a Lagan Valley Regional Park ranger for a walk around the picturesque Minnowburn area in Belfast. Learn about the wildlife, botany and history of this outstanding location. Children and dogs (on leads...the dogs, not the kids!) are welcome between 11:00 - 12:30. Further details on the Northern Ireland National Trust page.
Moving to the weekend of the 28th May when the 35th Portrush Raft Race Weekend takes place at the Harbour in Portrush. The full programme will be launched in early May, but the lineup includes The Wild Geese Skydiving Team landing on the beach, live music throughout the day, on-board tours of historic lifeboats, a rookie life-guard challenge for kids aged 10-15 and much more. A jam-packed bank holiday weekend of harbour-side family mayhem and fun!
This is one of the largest free charity events held annually in NI but it’s also an important annual event for the RNLI and the town of Portrush with all funds raised going directly to the local branch.
Finishing with a few events that run throughout the month of May (and beyond) and every Saturday and Sunday from 2pm-4pm, you can enjoy free family fun at Cockle Row Cottages in the quaint seaside village of Groomsport.
These lovingly restored fisherman's cottages open their doors each year from Easter to September and children will have the opportunity to join in on a range of activities including face painting, children's crafts, balloon modelling and much more. While you wait, you can enjoy live music and crafts.
Meanwhile, just outside Belfast in Colin Glen Forest Park, the kids can follow the popular story of the Gruffalo any day of the week. Each character from the story has been magically recreated by sculptor Andrew McIntyre and set against the backdrop of a stunning forest park this is one of the best family attractions in Belfast. From entering through the Gruffalo Archway, through the forest park to a beautiful Gruffalo themed seating area next to the cascading Colin river, your children will be completely amazed at meeting their favourite Gruffalo characters, whilst getting out in the fresh air - all for free! What more could you ask for. And I have it on good authority that even the older kids enjoy this one so I'm definitely taking the 12 year old with me!
Phew - I think that should keep us all entertained this month. Don't forget your raincoat!