Fun for all the Family at Rowallane
When I think about my best loved childhood memories and fun family days out, my thoughts drift to eating ice cream on theharbour wall at Donaghadee, sitting in a floating swan at Pickie Park in Bangor or a picnic in the grounds of Mount Stewart. I have no doubt that when my kids think back to enjoying school-free days, roaming around Rowallane Garden will be one of theirs.
The National Trust property in Saintfield, County Down, offers visitors a range of walks, from a short stroll through the sheltered Walled Garden (not unlike ‘The Secret Garden’ I imagine Frances Hodgson Burnett visualised in her children’s classic novel of the same name) to a longer ramble of about an hour on a magical woodland walk. Often described as a ‘hidden gem’, the 52-acre great green space is just waiting to be discovered by families and children who want to leave the usual daily routine behind and take a journey to a very special place created (with a gentle helping hand) entirely by nature.
As soon as my kids are let loose in the grounds, their imaginations spark up and sticks turn into pirate swords, fallen trees their ship, before becoming a battle camp for ‘Big Sitting Duck’ and his fellow Red Indian chief as they plot to outsmart the invading cowboys. Later we hunt for mini-beasts in holes we find at the bottom of trees, go frogspawn and tadpole spotting in the pond, play traditional games, plant some seeds, make some wild art and then become racing drivers in the courtyard before exploring the pre-loved bookshop.
Phew! After all the excitement it was time for rest, a cuppa and an ice lolly. Chatting outside the cosy on-site café and shop at the back of the visitor centre, I share some of the stories of our exploits and finds with Angela Watson, visitor experience manager for the National Trust’s Belfast properties. She confirms that everyone who visits has their own special places and beloved blooms and explains: “Some of the most remarkable features that Rowallane is celebrated for is the kaleidoscope of colour from the Rhododendrons and our majestic Beech trees, but there really is so much more to explore and you’ll probably find something new each time you visit. At this time of year, mid-spring, the walled garden is just coming back to life and the smells of all the plant life are just incredible. If you think of the house as the middle of a flower, the paths are all the petals that form out from around the centre, all leading to a totally different view or location for families who love, the feel-good factor of connecting to nature and getting outdoors.
The venue is also challenging families to get creative outside with back to basics in play. Gardeners have been encouraged to leave levelled trees around for children to climb and play safely on. The team at Rowallane want visitors to feel at home and ‘get familiar’ with their wildlife, e.g. bring a homemade butterfly feeder to hang on a tree and come back to see how you have helped nature grow.
The café serves up a great selection of well-priced homemade fayre to satisfy explorers of all ages or you are welcome to bring along a picnic and pick your own pet spot for al fresco dining.
But what Angie thinks makes the grounds particularly safe and child-friendly are the wells paced paths that enable parents to see far ahead – great for avoiding any unexpected obstacles as the kids charge on ahead.
Sometimes when you discover somewhere you love, the temptation is to keep it a secret, from the world. Rowallane is certainly unique and deserves to be shared and enjoyed by everyone. The fun part is finding out what makes it special for you.