Meet Martin from Life Adventure

Go further, see more, feel awesome. 

This is what we encourage each of our visitors to do and in many ways, we have taken our own advice. 

When we started the business we primarily focussed on skills, leadership and outward bound types of courses. Back in the late 90s early 2000s there was nowhere in the Mournes offering activity tourism, but then there were very few visitors about back then – it was a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. 

Everyone who works here has a great love for what we are doing. The business is not about one person but instead it has taken on a life of its own and really become part of the community. We are passionate about getting people outdoors, whether that is locals or tourists. 

We want people to have a sense of achievement after visiting us. It may be one person has to be taught to ride a bike while another might want to tackle something more demanding, for us it is a privilege to enable them to do something they couldn’t do before visiting Life Adventure Centre. 

It’s about being totally authentic. The Mournes is an area of outstanding beauty but the giant spirit doesn’t come from the natural asset, it comes from the people and how they interpret it. 

Meeting people is the best way to get under the skin of a place and I believe destination activities are the best way of doing this.  

The giant spirit comes from the people and how visitors experience meeting them. 

I remember taking a group of cyclists from Spain into the Mournes and we came across a sheep farmer driving his herd along a road with a quad bike. I knew the man so stopped for a chat. In the end the group had their photograph taken with the guy and loved the very simple aspect of chatting to a stranger. It was completely natural, and our guests loved the warmth of being able to chat to someone we met along the road.  

There are many beautiful places in the world, but it is this giant spirit which sets Northern Ireland apart from the rest. 

Starting the business, we looked at what we could offer and felt the area had so much potential. We based ourselves in Castlewellan as it gave us access to the lake for water-based sports and we could also use the wider destination for other activities. 

With Northern Ireland’s weather, we quickly realised that we needed a centre for changing and showering facilities, a real hub for us to work from and to help us extend the season.  

Our activities allow people to experience the Mournes with all their senses. There are sights, sounds, smells and tastes which are unique to here and getting people outdoors is the key. 

Learn more about the experience here.

Meet Donal from Lagan Legends

Queen’s Island and the Titanic Quarter of Belfast have played a central role in my working life over the past 30 years and like a lot of people in the city I also have a family connection to the area. 

My great grandfather was a joiner in Harland & Wolff when the Titanic was being built and I worked for 17 years at Shorts Bombardier from 1985 before being made redundant in 2002 as a result of the 9/11 attacks. 

After working as an Outdoors Instructor in the Mournes area for six years I reacquainted myself with Queen’s Island when I joined the Casual Visitor Experience Team at Titanic Belfast in 2012. 

I have followed with much interest and pride the regeneration journey that the Queen’s Island/Titanic Quarter has undertaken in recent years, my memories of the area 30 years ago was of scrap metal yards, coal quays, empty and rundown industrial buildings. 

I started my business, Belfast Mic Tours in 2016, and just before the pandemic struck I developed my ‘Lagan Legends’ experience, the tour can be taken on foot or bicycle. Participants use a radio system to listen to my live commentary enabling every word and story to be heard whilst social distancing. 

‘Lagan Legends’ begins at the Lagan Weir and finishes at the Thompson Dry Dock, the route  now known as the Maritime Mile, thankfully a lot of the built heritage and unique maritime infrastructure has been preserved. 

Visitors can physically touch the concrete on the slipway which launched the Titanic, and stand on the outline of the great ship whilst imagining the launch, witnessed by 100,000 people. 

Some of the existing infrastructure includes the Thompson Dry Dock, Hamilton Dry Dock, the SS Nomadic and of course HMS Caroline. 

Visitors love the authenticity of being able to stand in the place the Titanic was built, of finding out what it was like to work in the shipyard and the cacophony of noise you were met with on a daily basis.  

During my tour I talk about the young Heater Boys whose job it was to heat the rivets red hot in mobile coal-fired braziers in all weather conditions then transferring them quickly to the riveters who hammered them into the steel plates, over three million rivets were used to build Titanic. 

We also play Pitch & Toss, a favourite game in the shipyard, I use real pennies from the era, and reproduce a game on the Titanic slipway. 

When those 100,000 people watched the Titanic launch in Belfast, little did they know what would happen to the great liner less than a year later.  

It was a little similar for me when I launched Lagan Legends, little did I know a pandemic was around the corner. 

But my focus is on welcoming people back in 2021. I’m confident our staycation visitors will return once it is safe to do so and in time international visitors will also return.  

Belfast’s giant welcome will be here when they arrive. 

Learn more about the experience here.

Meet Nikki from the Hidden Huntley experience

Wonder why you’ve never done it before. Dream when you can do it again. 

When I was setting up my Walk It Off NI Hidden Huntley experience in November 2019 I had no idea my slogan would become so profound, but through 2020 I found myself dreaming about when I could welcome groups of visitors once again. 

My life has changed a lot since returning back home to Northern Ireland after 11 years in London.  I was Underwriting in the Llloyds Building and living an intensely pressured life in the city.  

My husband, Tony, who was a banker, re-trained as an airline pilot and we moved to Dublin with his new job. However, when I was pregnant with our daughter it seemed natural to move back home to Northern Ireland. 

Walking has always been something I have loved. In London I would walk for an hour and a half each day as part of my commute and in 2015, after a skiing accident, walking became an important part of my rehabilitation. 

I started to form an idea for a business in my head and from there started doing a lot of research into walking and its benefits. I discovered that its benefits are myriad. For me walking is a super-power – it’s my magic pill. 

I now create bespoke small-group walking tours. My Hidden Huntley experience was born after meeting Antonia Macolm at a Tourism Northern Ireland event and we just clicked. Antonia owns the home and organic walled garden we visit during the experience. 

The walk begins in Belfast’s Lady Dixon Park and we make our way to Antonia’s home at Dunmurray Lane on the outskirts of the city. Along the way we explore the area’s agricultural heritage and the importance of the linen trade in these parts. We then sample that ‘soil to plate’ culture with a lovely organic meal prepared by Antonia using many ingredients from her garden, and then its back to Lady Dixon Park. 

Lagan Valley, the area between Belfast and Lisburn, can seem a little undervalued but there are just acres and acres of beautiful landscapes. The experience provides a really lovely connection with the land and nature and I think after the events of last year that is something which more and more people are craving. 

When the walkers arrive at Huntley, the experience takes on another dimension as Antonia shares her knowledge of the property, which has been in her family for three generations and has historic links to the local linen industry.  

During 2020 we managed to complete around 12 tours by tailoring the experience to social distancing guidelines. We moved the Huntley part of the experience 100% outdoors – we always find ways to showcase our giant spirit in Northern Ireland!   

I love the new pace of my life and my new business has helped me reconnect with Northern Ireland. Meeting new people and welcoming them on my experiences is lovely.  

Daily walking, Pilates and online classes with Belfast Community Circus School during lockdown have kept my strength up for another love of mine, aerial arts such as silks, trapeze and ropes. I can’t wait to hang upside down again!   

Life is good but I am longing for the time when I can welcome visitors with a warm handshake.

 Learn more about the experience here.

Meet Bronagh from Bakehouse NI

Every visitor who comes through my door is treated like a family member.  

We go on a journey together with food and conversation intertwined, when they leave, they take a part of me and in turn I keep a little piece of them. 

When I opened the Bakehouse in 2017, I replicated my granny’s kitchen with a griddle over an open fire, because, for me, that feels homely.  

It takes me back to those feelings of being safe by my granny’s side as she cooked, and I want to transport my guests to a place that conjures up similar feelings for them. I want them to find a haven in my kitchen. 

I offer four classes including, bread making, lunch making, a supper night and a digging for gin experience with guests foraging for berries which are then infused into gin for them to take home. 

As a former theatre and anaesthetic nurse, it’s in my nature to look after people. Since opening the Bakehouse I have been helping people through food.  

The whole process of cooking can be therapeutic and as people enter my classes I assess their needs and cater our time together accordingly. For me cooking and sharing our stories together is a form of mindfulness and healing. 

It is certainly enriching for me having people come to my classes and it feels like we go on a journey – cooking together and getting to know each other helps us form a bond. 

When I think back to my childhood, I have many happy memories of cooking such as using the fresh vegetables from our garden, homemade soup, soda bread from the griddle with butter melting into my fingers and Lough Neagh eels cooked by my daddy on the barbecue. I want to create that sense of feeling at home when guests come into my kitchen. 

The food we cook is simple but nourishing and also celebrates the great produce we have on our doorstep.  

Cooking is a part of who I am, it’s in my DNA. It’s the same for my family, when we meet up food and produce are always high on the list of things we talk about. 

Starting my business has been a dream come true and I’m really excited about what the future may bring. 

For me, Northern Ireland’s giant spirit is about the warmth of the welcome visitors receive. At the Bakehouse we definitely go on a journey together through cooking, stories and talking about our land.  

Come and join us. 

Learn more about the experience here.

Meet Martin from Ritual Landscapes

Northern Ireland`s North West is rich in Bronze Age and Celtic Ritual Sites and full of myths, legends and stories that go hand-in-hand with them. 

With a background in Environmental Science and Paleao Ecology my experiences give visitors unique insights into the ritual landscapes and ancient habitats of the Foyle river system. 

This is not the static stuff of museums but instead gives visitors a new and immersive way to experience our countryside. On one particular experience they can feel the terrain moving under their feet and discover sights and smells that have evolved over centuries.  

I find it fascinating to see the response of visitors from large cities when they explore our boglands. In one of my favourite examples, visitors who were used to the dry conditions of South Western USA and Northern Mexico, where the ground is solid under foot, were completely transfixed with the moving surfaces as they explored our bogs. 

Having worked as a Countryside Officer with a local council for more than 20 years, I became extremely familiar with the geography of this region especially it`s ‘off the beaten track’ locations. I take visitors to primeval bogs, stone circles, pagan wells and fairy trees where I share stories, myths and legends about these places.  

The Halloween events in the North West inspired my interests in our ritual landscapes. Derry’s award-winning and hugely popular Halloween festival which normally attracts visitors from around the world, has its origins in ancient rural traditions and folklore that celebrates the Celtic New Year and much more.  

For me the popularity of the modern Halloween festival is a subliminal thing, I believe that a large portion of the population in these parts are more Celtic than most of the folks along the east coast of Ireland. Until the early 17th Century this was Gaelic O’Neill and O`Donnell territory and connections to the old Halloween ‘Samhain’ celebrations remain in our DNA as a hidden cultural influence. 

It’s remarkable just how many connections and ideas that my guided Halloween experiences have helped me develop for other landscape experiences. When I first put my Halloween landscapes experience online a few years ago my first bookings came from visitors who travelled from Seattle and Utah to take part in the festival and events. 

I’ve used the lockdown period to do more research into the area’s ritual landscapes and it’s clear we’ve only scratched the surface so far. I can’t wait for a time when I can welcome visitors back to explore these sites even further and share the stories associated with them. 

Learn more about the experience here.

Discover even more giant adventures here.