Ducks at Castle Espie, County Down
With the changing of the season comes a whole new wealth of wildlife.
Witness the awesome sight of Brent Geese soaring into Strangford Lough, visit deer in their natural habitat and keep your eyes peeled for fantastic Mr Fox.
Whatever your age, the natural wonders found on these fantastic walks are sure to keep you fascinated.
Castle Espie, County Down
The only wildlife and wetland centre in Ireland, Castle Espie is definitely geared up for the kids. Pick up a bag of seeds at reception and you’ll have some of the many species of rare and endangered ducks and geese eating from the palm of your hand. In Autumn and Winter hundreds of Brent Geese descend on Strangford Lough, creating a magical spectacle from the birds’ hides dotted along the walks. Den building is a must at the wildwood natural play area, while the Secret Swamp opens up a world of nature with balance beams over a mucky marsh, treehouse and swamp stomp stepping stones. Indoors you’ll find the arctic themed Brent Play Barn soft play room and Loughshore Café.
Gosford Forest Park, County Armagh
Gosford Forest Park is the perfect place to enjoy a slice of countryside, with its 240 hectares of mixed woodland just 10 minutes from Armagh. Get up close to one of the three varieties of red deer found in Ireland, and say hello to other residents in the park, including heritage and rare breed poultry. There are a number of walks to choose from between 1-4 miles within the grounds, passing tree species from around the world, some of which are over 150 years old. After visiting the wildlife, the onsite playpark is sure to be a hit with the kids.
Portmore Lough, County Antrim
Featuring a hidden wetland, lough and meadows the RSPB managed reserve of Portmore Lough is a treasure trove of wildlife. Enjoy panoramic views from the viewing platform or take a stroll down the boardwalk to the hide and watch the winter wildlife including greylag geese, whooper swans and thousands of ducks on this one-mile linear route. The reserve is also home to a herd of Konik ponies, which graze the land and help create perfect conditions for breeding birds like lapwings. Remember to keep an eye out for Irish hares lolloping across the fields too. Picnic areas and a wildlife garden featuring a hedgehog hostel and bug hotel will keep the kids intrigued.
Tollymore Forest Park, County Down
A great place for spotting the elusive red squirrel, get your detective hats on and explore the fascinating Tollymore Forest Park in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains featuring follies, bridges, grottos and caves. Cross the stepping stones on the three-mile River Trail or visit the oldest tree in any arboretum in Ireland on the 0.5 mile Arboretum Path. Exploration over, the ‘Big Deer’ wooden play space is sure to keep the kids entertained.
An Creagan, County Tyrone
Nestled in the foothills of the Sperrins, the tranquil place of An Creagan is home to forest and blanket bogland providing an ideal environment for some of nature’s wonders. Choose between the 0.25 mile Biodiversity Trail or longer 3.5 mile Forest and River Trail with beautiful views of Cashel Mountain. The boardwalk outshot provides a chance to get out into the midst of this soft, peaty landscape without getting your feet wet. Watch out for woodcocks often stirred into noisy flight as you venture along the forest during the short winter evenings as well as traces of Mr Fox and the Irish Hare. The common frog can often be seen hopping about while the occasional tree trunk provides a perch for passing raptors such as buzzards, sparrowhawks and the brown long-eared owl. Cycle hire is available onsite for those who prefer to pedal as well as a natural outdoor play space. If you’re planning on staying there’s a good chance the locals will be about for some traditional singing, dancing and storytelling into the night.
Castle Caldwell, County Fermanagh
Go batty in Castle Caldwell with a range of short walks through a pretty woodland surrounded by Lower Lough Erne. The 18th century ruin is a great place for spotting bats and you can go on a bat safari with special detecting equipment with the Northern Ireland Bat Group and RSPBNI who regularly run events. As well as these mysterious mammals the site is an important conservation forest with bird sanctuaries and visiting red deer. Less than 5 miles away you’ll find the world famous Belleek Pottery originally founded by John Caldwell Bloomfield when he discovered raw materials used in the production of fine china on the Caldwell Forest site.