Belfast, and Northern Ireland more widely, has its fair share of haunted buildings and areas, all with their own chilling stories. If watching scary movies and telling spooky tales simply won’t cut it this Halloween, why not visit somewhere from this spooky selection of places if you’re brave enough?
1. Crom Estate, Fermanagh
Situated on the shoreline of Upper Lough Erne, Crom is a 2,000 acre demesne with fantastic views and surrounded by woodland. While on the surface, the National Trust area may seem very peaceful, it has had plenty of ghostly tales and sightings along those seemingly tranquil shores.
Take part in the Crom ghost walk which will take you through old castle ruins where you’ll encounter one of the oldest yew trees in Ireland, aged between 400 and 1000 years. Then you’ll continue along the loughside where spectral lights have been witnessed above theatres of Lough Erne. You’ll also pass the walled garden and go through the grounds of Crom Estate. At least if you don’t witness any eerie spectral lights you’ll have some lovely views to take in.
2. Crumlin Rd Gaol, Belfast
Perhaps the most well known haunted place in Northern Ireland, Crumlin Rd Gaol’s history dates back to 1845 and it certainly packed in plenty of harrowing events during its time. 17 men were executed within its walls over its 150 year history. Many people have experienced strange sightings, noises and unexplained happenings. Take part in their paranormal tour that will take you through the execution chamber, the condemned man’s cell, the tunnel and the flogging room. You’ll have the chance to use ghost hunting equipment as part of your very own ghost hunt. Simply not for the faint hearted!
3. Springhill House, Derry-Londonderry
With Derry-Londonderry being named the best Halloween destination in the world, a trip over here this Halloween is well worth it. It also contains the the home of Ireland’s best documented ghost, Olivia at Springhill House. Springhill is a beautiful 17th century ‘Plantation’ home with plenty to explore inside and outside in the surrounding Beech walk and Sawpit hill walk.
Once home to the Lennox-Connyngham family their dark past haunts the walls of the old house. George Lennox-Connyngham, the father of the family, after receiving news that he was to be court marshalled for abandoning his army duties to return home to his sick daughters, one of whom later died, committed suicide in the “blue room.” Olivia, the ghost who haunts the house, is said to be seen repeating her too-late dash to save her husband.
4. Grace Neill’s, Donaghadee
Said to be the oldest pub in Ireland, Grace Neill’s has been around since 1611 although for over 400 years it was known as The Kings Arms. Grace Neill ran the inn for much of the 19th and 20th centuries and she is said to keep a watchful eye over the pub from beyond the grave with glasses and books moving around seemingly by themselves and lights being switched on and off.
Staff assure that Grace is benevolent however… Why not call into this historic pub this Halloween for a spot of lunch? It has had its fair share of famous customers ranging from poet John Keats to Tina Turner!
5. The Giant’s Ring, Belfast
Thought to date back as far as 2700BC, The Giant’s Ring is a seriously old, pre-Christian religious site in the Shaws Bridge area. Northern Ireland’s very own Neolithic graveyards it has been associated with a number of unsettling happenings.
People who have visited this area have reported being surrounded by a thick, impenetrable mist and that when trying to make their tracks away from the area, find themselves back at the Menhir, the small druidic alter that sits in the centre of the Giant’s Ring.
No one dreads the onset of September and the new season quite like kids do. Torn away from their games consoles, bikes and toys - September signals the end of those carefree summer days and the beginning of a new school year. And of course, lots of homework.
Make that back to school transition a little bit easier for your little ones and welcome in the new season with some fun Autumn activities to get up to together.
Put Together a Basket of Autumnal Treasures
This will involve you and your little explorers getting out and scavenging for Autumnal bits and pieces such as pinecones, acorns, conkers and colourful leaves. What better way to get excited about the new season than bringing a bit of it into your home? Read about how to preserve Autumn leaves here.
Your basket of Autumnal treasures will be perfect for decorating the fireplace. Not to mention a memory of a day out exploring the Autumn landscape together!
Knit Some Thick Socks Together
Autumn is all about being cosy and nothing says cosy quite like a pair of thick, knit socks for cosy evenings spent curled up on the sofa. Use an easy to follow knitting guide such as this one and you and your little one could knit together. Or if they’re too young to try their hand at knitting just yet, knit a pair for your little snuggler yourself.
Brew an Autumn Inspired Beverage
No need to trek out to Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte, you can make wonderful Autumn beverages right in the comfort of your own home.
Ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg are all quintessentially Autumn inspired spices that when added to teas and coffees make delicious Autumn-y hot drinks. There’s also plenty of Autumn inspired herbal teas.
Perhaps your little one would prefer something sweeter? If so why not make non-alcoholic hot apple cider? Find the perfect Autumn inspired beverage for you and all the family to cuddle up on the couch with when the evenings are cold.
Go Berry Picking
Autumn is the season when berries are ripe and out in abundance. It's also the perfect excuse to get outside exploring with your little adventurer. Take a tupperware box to store your berries in until your home. Don’t forget to admire the Autumnal colours out in force! How many conkers can you spot together?
Bake Ginger Bread Cookies
When the weather starts to get chilly, the gentle spice of ginger is the perfect treat to warm yourself up with. Baking ginger bread cookies is a fun activity for you and your child to do together, and one that won’t take too much convincing no doubt! Why not add an extra Autumnal flair by making the cookies leaf shaped like these ones?
We are over a full week into August now and the end of summer is in sight. For many I am sure it passed by so quickly you barely feel like you had a chance to properly enjoy it! The very typically British lack of sunshine no doubt had a lot to do with that.
Well, sun or no sun, we’ve put together a few tips to help you make the most of summer’s final month and perhaps it won’t feel like you’re waving goodbye to summer far too soon…
Start a Summer Scrapbook
In our technology driven culture, print photos are very much beginning to feel like a thing of the past. As long as the photos are up on Facebook or Instagram that’s all that seems to matter nowadays.
However, there is no denying that having physical copies of your memories to treasure still holds a charm that doesn’t quite match a few likes on Instagram. What better way to preserve summer 2015 than through a scrapbook of your favourite days out, holiday photos ad time spent with loved ones? Keep all the small trinkets, receipts and tickets collected over summer especially to stick into it.
A Day Out Somewhere New
If you feel like this summer has passed by you in a blur and you haven’t got to do half the things you had planned, remember that it isn’t too late. Make the most of the last days of summer by making new memories. Why not have a day out somewhere you’ve always wanted to go with your loved ones? All you have to do is make time for it…
Whether those good intentions of sitting out in your garden reading in the sun all summer long worked out for you or not, you can still make your garden into your own little retreat.
If you can get a rare dry day, make the most of it by getting out into the garden and making it sorted for the final days of summer and start of Autumn? Soon enough it will be too cold to even entertain the idea of stepping into the garden.
Try planting flowers such as poppies, cornflowers and Larkspur as they will provide earlier flowers for next year. There are also plenty of hardy fruit and veg you can plant such as radishes, salad leaves and fast maturing carrots.
A Long Evening Walk
A very simple but effective way of making time for yourself to unwind after a long day but also to enjoy the final summer days no matter how un-summery they might be.
How will you be making the most of the final days of summer? Tweet us!
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!
After more storms with their own names brought such an array of unpredictable weather, there's no doubt that most of us are glad to see the end of February looming.
The beginning of Spring is so close you can almost feel it in the air. Well, maybe if the pesky frost stopped making its appearance in the morning.
Nonetheless, to get you through the last of February we've put together this list of reminders about why you should get excited for Spring!
1. Longer Evenings, Brighter Mornings
Quite simply, more daylight. Yes, after a long winter of dark mornings and dark evenings, a bit more daylight is more than welcome in our books. You've probably started to notice it already.
Getting up in the morning with a hint more light in the sky that definitely wasn't there yesterday and wondering if you really even need your headlights on for your drive home from work (you probably still do though, sorry).
The days of leaving work when it's dark and returning home in the dark are on their way out and we are on the home stretch towards summer!
2. Chocolate Eggs
Mini eggs, creme eggs, Lindt bunnies... We've all been eyeing them up in the supermarkets and whether they make you fear for your fitness and nutrition regime or not, they definitely aren't going anywhere... for a while yet anyway.
Just one creme egg surely couldn't hurt? Chocolate has endorphins that make you feel good after all...
3. Spring Fashion Trends
It might still be cold outside (unfortunately) but that's no reason to stop you from donning some of Spring 2017's trends.
Bright colours, statement stripes and of course, florals, are all on the cards for Spring style. So while you might not be able to leave your waterproof coat behind just yet you can start to get creative by injecting a bit of SS17 into your in-between seasons look!
4. Snowdrops and Daffodils
Seeing flowers and growth again generally will be nice but is there a more welcome sight after a long winter than the heads of snowdrops and daffodils bobbing in the breeze? They serve as a firm reminder that the end of winter is in sight and warmer days (hopefully!) lie ahead.
5. Baby Animals
Everyone knows that Spring is baby animal season. However, do you actually get to see baby animals in Spring? Unless you live in a rural area probably not.
So why not make a point of venturing on a countryside walk and seeing if you can spot some cute lambs? Or heading to an open farm? Guaranteed it will improve your day. Maybe even your week.