A Look Back At Our Summer Visit to Portstewart Strand & Details of Their Free Half-Term Scavenger Hunt!

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A week into school and summer already feels like months ago, but in July we were jumping down the sand dunes on the North Coast at one of the National Trust’s beach properties, Portstewart Strand

 

We stay in Portstewart for a week every summer in a house there, quite close to the beach. The beach is free to walk down on to, so you can park on any of the surrounding streets and carry your beach supplies down with you, or you can pay £6.50 to drive your car down on to the sand and along as far as you want in front of the dunes to find a space to make your own. 

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 The beach is really popular for surfers,  and there’s always lots going on. The sand dunes are another great attraction, especially for kids who love to explore and jump down the slopes.

 

 

Even though the summer has ended, the beach is still great for autumn walks, and during half term there will be a whole week of free scavenger hunts, more details on the National Trust website here. 

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The Two New Loves of My Life: Bob & Bert

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Bob & Bert's is a Northern Irish artisan coffee chain I first became aware of when we spent our week up in Portstewart last month. Because we know and love Ground Espresso, we were already set for coffee while we were up there, and didn't venture into a Bob & Bert's. Now we are back in Bangor, with our nearest Ground Espresso in Belfast, we decided to give Bob & Bert's new Bangor store a try. It's located above Tempest in Main Street, and you can access it via the escalator in Menary's.

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We weren't expecting to fall in love with the place, but we did. The interior is very quirky, and the cakes are to die for. They do food too, baked potatoes, ciabattas etc. as well as big, American milkshakes and Ben & Jerry's sundaes. 

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We went for coffee, pancakes and rainbow cake. There's also a huge Belfast sink with rows & rows of sparklingly clean glasses for you to have free, fresh tap water. We will definitely be back. Check where your local Bob & Bert's is on their website.

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Espresso topped with fresh cream is my current favourite £1.90

Espresso topped with fresh cream is my current favourite £1.90

Short stack, I couldn't even finish it all! £4.25

Short stack, I couldn't even finish it all! £4.25

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Luxury Glamping in Northern Ireland : Tepee Valley

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The past few summers I've been dying to review a glamping site, but they are few & far between in Northern Ireland. So we were terribly excited when the opportunity to stay at  

TepeeValley Campsite came around.

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The very exclusive site is just outside Markethill, near Armagh, in a rural location. If you are trying to find it, make sure you type the name of the road into your Satnav, not the postcode, or like us you'll end up in a farm's courtyard a bit lost!

The family-run campsite features some large yurts, a couple of vintage gypsy caravans, and a namesake teepee, as well as a handful of spots for Caravan Club member touring caravans. The site is open all year round, but the canvas structures are only available in spring & summer. 

There are communal campfire & game areas, as well as two locations with toilets and showers, all kept exceptionally clean.

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We stayed in the Shepherd's Hut, the ideal choice for a couple staying on the site, or a parent & child getaway weekend. The caravan has one electric socket, with a lamp, so you can still charge your phone or tablet. There is an old fashioned stove, but no running water, so it's a little bit back to nature, but glamping style! The bottom bunk is a double bed, with a single bunk above. Tepee Valley asks all guests to bring their own bedding, pillows and towels, so we brought sleeping bags & cushions. The Shepherd's Hut has pillows however, so we just had to stick pillow cases on and we were all set. 

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Given it's exclusive nature, the site is very peaceful and quiet as you'd imagine. My son quickly made friends with a little boy from the other caravan, and because of the enclosed, safe environment I was quite happy to let him run around the site & explore by himself. 

Another fun feature that sets Tepee Valley apart from any other campsite, are the rare breed animals you share the space with. In the enclosure near our hut there were goats and two adorable little black sheep, who were very friendly and loved being fed handfuls of grass. 

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The owners' daughter kindly picked us some roses, and left us three eggs from the chickens on the site, which my son loved. You are also given logs for your stove, or outside fire.

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We really enjoyed our stay in Tepee Valley, it's luxury camping in an absolutely beautiful, rural location. We hope to maybe travel down again before the end of this year and stay a night in the actual teepee.  

You can connect with Tepee Valley on their  Facebook page.

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Another Day Trip Destination: Kilbroney Park Narnia Trail

Two weeks ago I shared with you the new family forest trail at Slieve-Gullion . My friend Karen tipped us off about a similar destination, The-Narnia-Trail at Kilbroney Forest Park. We hadn't been to Kilbroney before, but we had driven past the entrance to it several times whilst staying down in that direction. It's situated right outside Rostrevor, near Warrenpoint, which means if you are Bangor or Belfast based, like us, it is a bit of a hike, but given that it's summer you can take a day and maybe fit in Slieve Gullion too. We were staying not too far away, in Teepee Valley one night and Hanna's Close the next, but I shall tell you about them shortly.

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Kilbroney Park has a large carpark which is free. The set up is a bit like Carnfunnock in that there's a good sized, free play park, and a multi-level restaurant/cafe. Plenty of free to use toilets too, and by the looks of things mountain bike trails and rentals. The day we were there there was a guy doing horse drawn carriage rides, I think it was about £3 an adult, £1 a child.

As for the Narnia Trail itself, it's great. I love any sort of sculpture walk, so these trails are right up my street. It's worth asking directions, as there are signs all over the place, but to actually get to the trail from the carpark you have to go down through the building and then down to your left, past where the outdoor gym equipment is. 

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The trail then begins with a giant wardrobe, of course, and it's well signposted throughout. It's a lot shorter in length than the Giant's Lair walk; I'd say the Narnia one is only 1/4 mile in a small loop. You do go off road so to speak, down through wooded areas & over lawns. It's definitely worth a day trip however, with the added bonus of one of the citadels looking a little like Elsa's castle! 

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Target Dry, Your One Stop Shop For Your Family's Rainwear.

The lovely folks at TargetDry , a local company with a world wide product, sent Michael and I a raincoat each from their 2015 collection. It was just in time for us heading off to the North Coast of NIreland, a holiday which always requires a rain coat, even in mid summer.

I chose the Elle mac in a pac, which is in the sale at the moment for just £19.99 There a half a dozen prints to choose from and a wide range of sizes. I love bright colours so picked the turquoise with white polka dots, very me!

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Also in Navy

Also in Navy

It's very lightweight, and dries out really quickly after a downpour. That means you can pack it away in its bag quickly, you aren't left carrying it when the rain goes off. I'm pleased to report that it's easy to get back in it's bag too! The lightweight fabric means it's not horribly sweaty like raincoats used to be. The hood is fold away and it's a great size, I hate getting a hood that doesn't cover your full head and you're left with tell tale fizzy hair at the front. 

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Michael was sent the Oscar rocket print jacket. Again it was lightweight, so I just threw it on him to wear most of the time we left the house. Lots of pockets for change or a camera and easy to fold up and stick in my handbag with my raincoat. 

I found it's actually handier to stuff some raincoats in your bag than carry a big, family sized umbrella round all day.

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Even in the sun the fabric is breathable

Even in the sun the fabric is breathable

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Target Dry has a wide range of designs of coats to choose from. You will find something that suits you, and now is a great time to visit, as the whole site has 20% off, including summer sale items. 

I've my eye on the Layla as I've wanted a good, yellow, classic raincoat for a few years now. 

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And boy did we need our Target Dry jackets during last week's stay! This is us during a downpour in Portrush!  

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Visit The Fairy Village at the Giant's Lair, Slieve Gullion

Just outside Newry is Slieve Gullion Forest Park. The carpark is free and they've a giant playpark, also all free. There's a cafe and ice cream vans or you can bring your own picnic.  

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What we had visited for however is the new sculpture walk, complete with magical fairy village. I would have gone wild for this sort of place as a child. The walk is around a mile through the forest, and again it's totally free. It's definitely work the drive down if you're from near Belfast like us. 

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Eddie Rockets, Dundalk Shopping & The Armagh Planetarium

So I shared with you our lovely accommodation at Dan White's, but what did we get up to during our stay? The next few days I'll share with you what you can do down in the Kingdom of Mourne & surrounding area. Of course there are the outdoor pursuits like mountain hikes, biking trails etc. but if you've young children there are plenty of family activities too.  

Here is a good day's worth of fun should you have rainy weather during your stay. Newry is about a half hour drive from Dan White's and the drive comprises the Mourne Coastal Route which is outstandingly beautiful. You pass through picturesque towns like Warrenpoint where you can stop for fish & chips or an icecream.

Reaching Newry & following the signs to Dublin will bring you to The Quays and Buttercrane, the city's main shopping centres which are side by side. Both centres parking is paid, but it's about a pound for an hour, so it's not terribly steep. 

The Quays has Eddie Rockets, the first of the 1950s' themed restaurant chain to open North of the border. We hit it up for breakfast AND dinner. Their milkshakes are famously amazing, and I highly recommend the bacon and cheese fries. 

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The Quays has stores like Topshop, Lush, H&M and Debenhams. Crossing over to Buttercrane you'll find Mark & Spencer and an absolutely massive Primark. Buttercrane also has some kids' fun going on during the summer months, plus an igloo where you can get your photo taken with Elsa from Frozen for £6. 

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Leaving Newry & following the motorway to Dublin will lead you over the border to Dundalk, about a further half an hour drive. For those who aren't from Northern Ireland and might be planning a visit, crossing the border is simple. There's no passport check or anything, in fact you only know you've crossed over when the road signage changes from miles to kilometres.

Keep an eye on your phone network too. It may be worth switch off data unless your contract allows roaming, as your phone will switch to an Irish carrier even around Newry. 

Our destination in Dundalk was Marshes, their huge shopping mall. I didn't have a sat nav or map, I just winged it, and found it easily enough. Again you pay for parking, €1 an hour or so. The highlight of Marshes for us was Tiger, which I mentioned before. A really cool home ware store. You'll also find a huge Dunnes, a big Primark (called Penney's in the south) and lots more fashion stores. 

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We left Dundalk to cross the border again and head toward Armagh. A good tip here is to NOT follow the signs to Armagh you see round Dundalk town. We followed that route and it was a twisty country road that took about an hour. I think you'd be quicker to fly up the motorway to Newry again & through to Armagh that way, on roads where you can do 70 mph rather than twisting through tiny towns doing 45 mph most of the way. Michael got really car sick that route too.

But eventually we got to Armagh & the planetarium. It's free to come in and walk about the displays, but you must be over age six to enter the dome shows. They run on the hour and we arrived in time to catch the 2pm show. Each programme runs for about 35 minutes, so we ended up staying and watching the 3pm & 4pm shows too, making rockets in the crafting room in between.

The shows cost around £5 per person & are well worth catching. We had a lot of fun that afternoon, and have decided we will call back again when we are down again in a few weeks' time. 

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