MyNI A day out in Nature

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Tips and tricks to making the most of a day out in nature

WalkNI have teamed up with MyNI to share some useful tips and tricks to making the most of a walk in nature. In this blog Leanne McGrath a Scout Leader, keen hiker and all-round nature-lover shares some great tips if you are planning a hiking adventure in the hills or mountains. 

I first started walking in the Mournes when I was 13 years old, as part of my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and today I am still going up (albeit not as often as I would like to).  As a Scout Leader I enjoy passing on the life skills of map reading and navigation to young people with the added benefit of getting outdoors and appreciating nature and the local environment. 

This year I decided that I will make more of an effort to get outdoors and back into the mountains. COVID19 has a lot of us looking for a day out locally.  In Northern Ireland, we are extremely lucky to have so many beautiful places right on our doorstep. As much as I want to encourage you all to get outdoors and to enjoy what Northern Ireland has to offer, I also want to make sure that you enjoy it safely. 

Planning

Many will say that an unplanned day is the best day out, but this cannot be the case if you are spending a day in the hills. It needs to be planned….so my top tip for you is to make sure that you plan well! 

Before you leave, make sure you plan your route, know how far you are going to walk, and therefore how long you plan to be in the hills….this part is essential for you to properly plan the food you will need. 

Don’t forget to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be out of the mountains, and if you change your route please make sure you update the person with the new details…just in case things go wrong. Pack your bag with all your essentials for the day and you are set to go. 

The day out

Before we all headed off on our walk, we each packed our backpacks – essentials including plenty of water, lunch, snacks (lots off!), waterproofs (coat and trousers), extra layers and a full change of clothes (inside a plastic bag). On top of that I also carry a small first aid kit, map, compass, torch, whistle, and an emergency shelter (just in case). 

When we arrived in the Mournes it was great to see so many people out and about enjoying the beautiful scenery. Remember to respect the local residents in the area by parking sensibly and not blocking access to property or even roads themselves. The local roads are narrow even without parked cars so please use car parks, or even consider using the Mourne Rambler bus service. 

For this walk I used the facilities at Meelmore Lodge Campsite and Hare’s Gap Cafe, which for a full days parking cost £4, with the added bonus that we could all get a treat when we came down from the hills! One of the benefits of Meelmore Lodge is that you don’t have to go too far before you really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere! In just over 30mins you are surrounded with only the sound of nature. 

Our plan for the day was to go to Hare’s Gap and then to Slieve Bernagh, before returning to the cap park. Top-tip….if you plan to go out with the kids make sure you have an answer for “how long” or “are we nearly home yet”! The answer is normally “just over the hill” or “just around the corner”! 

If they are old enough let them see the route that you have planned, and always remember to have a Plan B and Plan C just in case the weather changes unexpectedly. 

Safety tips

  • REMEMBER….just because you said you were going to the top does not mean that you have to. 
  • Before I left the first thing I checked was the hourly weather forecast for the mountains. It is surprising just how quickly it can change and just because the sun is shining when you leave the car park doesn’t mean that conditions won’t change quickly. Just look at the clouds coming in as we reached Hare’s Gap. 
  • Keep watch and make sure that you are prepared for all eventualities if the weather turns. If you are not, turn around and go back as soon as you see it changing! 
  • When planning your route, especially with kids, work on the basis that it will take you 1 hour to walk 3km, you won’t be too far off. 
  • There are many paths and tracks throughout the Mournes. Importantly, if there is a path please stick to it and don’t just go off the beaten track. 

And finally….remember the Countryside Code…what goes in must come out. Don’t forget, Leave No Trace and only take with you pictures and happy memories. 

You can find this blog along with other useful hints and tips over on MyNI