By Nóirín O’Neill
16 June 2020
With the announcement yesterday of further relaxations to the Coronavirus regulations in Northern Ireland for the tourism and hospitality industries, it is time to start planning your staycation! Caravan parks, camping sites and self-catering tourist accommodation are permitted to re-open on 26 June and hotels are scheduled to re-open on 3 July.
We all have our part to play in encouraging domestic tourism to help recovery. Over the coming months, I will continue to round up as much information as I can, to help you plan activities for your staycation.
The Discover Northern Ireland website has a useful tool which will also help you to find a giant experience on your next short break. I also downloaded the National Trust – Days Out App and permitted access to my location so that the app syncs all the places I have visited and places I want to visit on my device.
For busy people, this App is invaluable as it provides “the basics” which include mileage from your location, directions on a map by car, bus and a cycle route. It also sets out the price for non members and details of the facilities and access at the National Trust properties. Most importantly, if you wish to visit a National Trust property, you should check to see if it is open on the App or the website and then pre- book your tickets for an allocated time slot to avoid disappointment.
We pay £10.50 monthly for our family National Trust Membership and it is worth its weight in gold. There are three National Trust properties in Fermanagh – Crom, Florencecourt and Castle Coole. It seems that Florencecourt and Castle Coole were re-opened by National Trust Fermanagh on 3 June 2020 as part of the phased re-opening of their parklands and gardens.
The parkland and toilets are open at Castle Coole but the house, café, shop and play area are currently closed. It is amazing how quickly children adapt to the new normal. Before COVID-19, our trips to a National Trust property revolved around the play area and treats in the café. Now, during COVID-19, we bring a small picnic in the backpack, water bottles, hand sanitisers, wellies, waterproofs, sun cream and our phones fully charged for long walks.
Our eight year old also loves to use the Picture This- Plant identifier App which is described as “Botanist in your pocket” to identify plants. This App uses revolutionary artificial intelligence technology to help with identification of plants and flowers. We also play Bug Detective using the Picture Insect: Bug Identifier which is great fun especially for identifying butterflies.
This App has been the secret to keeping our child interested in the world around her as we clock up the kilometres. Our gallery of photographs is growing larger and we are amazed at how our knowledge of plants and trees is increasing with every walk. The National Trust highlight the importance for everyone to have “fresh air, birdsong, big skies and open spaces to enjoy” and Castle Coole does not disappoint!
What to Expect?
We arrived at Castle Coole by car and were met by two staff who were very pleasant and adhered to social distancing guidelines. As National Trust members, we had pre-booked our free tickets on the website. I was asked for my name and I was able to show our family National Trust membership card out through the window of the car. The staff member did a quick headcount and provided us with information relating to the one way system and directions to the car- park.
Castle Coole is located off the A4 road to Belfast and the car park is located beside the reception and tea-room area. As expected, the house, shop and tea-room are closed at Castle Coole as COVID-19 restrictions are in place.
After a quick vote, we decided to do a circular walk starting at the back of the historic house on the Beech Walk. After a few hundred metres, we noticed a detour path to the left up to the 18th century Ice House into Beech Wood. The Gortgonnell path is a pleasant gentle circular 3 km walk which our eight year old completed at ease, whilst chasing butterflies and skipping along listening to the birds.
The highlight of the walk for our eight year old child was spotting three elegant blue damselflies dancing on the shore of Lake Coole. Apart from damselfly spotting, our eight year old had a great sense of achievement that she had completed a 3km trail. The NHS recommends that children aged between 5 and 18 should be aiming for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day across the week to strengthen muscles and bones.
Castle Coole is definitely worth a visit and I am looking forward to more outings to complete the easy 30 minute 1.8 km Lake Walk Trail around Coole Lake and the paths on the 1.9km Castle Coole Beech Trail through Beech Wood. Bring it on!