My first true ramble of Summer 2020

I am lucky enough to live in the Northern Irish countryside and have been out enjoying nature as much as possible during Covid-19. It has been great for exercise but mostly for my mental health during these stressful and uncertain times.

I have been out a lot on short, local walks but have mostly been focusing on running so I haven’t been on many hikes, so I finally made time for a proper ramble last weekend. It rained all day, of course, what else would you expect during June in Ireland, but there was a break in weather in the late afternoon so I jumped at the opportunity to get outdoors. I headed to Kilbroney Forest Park with the aim of reaching the Trig Point on the summit of Slieve Martin. The weather was fair; mostly dry but windy. I felt the full force of the wind as soon as I reached the Trig Point, and it was one of those experiences of quite literally being knocked back on my feet and taking my breath away. The view was beautiful, no matter the weather and was well worth the sparse rain I had to walk through. The skies were dark and moody over the shores of Carlingford Lough, threatening lightning that never came.

I was overcome with a strong sense of calm, gratitude and curiosity, I knew that I wasn’t ready to head home so I spotted a small trail among the Bog-Cotton filled Heather and began to follow it. I started to spot beautiful wildflowers like Common Cow-Wheat and Heath Speedwell and most exciting of all was the Lichen. I spent a lot of time last Summer collecting Lichen in Canada and it has really sprouted a passion to explore the species we have here. The Cladonia Lichens are the most interesting and my favourite so it was great to spot some Cladonia chlorophaea, Cladonia coniocraea and Cladonia floerkeana on tree stumps along the path. I followed this path, not knowing where it would lead and it was beautiful but after a while, I realized that it was a mountain biking trail so I shouldn’t have been walking on it but couldn’t find away off without heading back the whole way. Luckily it was late in the evening and there were no bikers using the path so I had it all to myself. The dark clouds cleared up and the wind died down a little as I carefully continued on. I watched the birds flying high above me and the ones that flew out of the heather close to my feet. I finally found myself on a forestry road, which took me through a sea of tall Pine trees and eventually led me back to where I had parked my car. I must admit, I wish I was brave enough to be a mountain biker because they have some of the best trails in Kilbroney Forest Park.

My own definition of a ramble is going out for a walk or a hike and just letting your curiosity control your destination. I like the feeling of not knowing exactly where I will end up and what I will find.

Get outdoors. Get a little lost. Find your path. Repeat.

The most beautiful morning to spread the beautiful message of strength, togetherness and love.

carlingfordlough panorama

In the little hours of Saturday morning, I like many others walked the 5km route in aid of Pieta House and The Samaritans. I was surrounded by so many people who have been affected directly or indirectly by mental health including those who have sadly lost their loved ones. The sea of yellow t-shirts could only put a smile on your face encouraging love and hope to all.

At 4.15am in Kilbroney Park in Rostrevor, speeches were made by the organisers, the ribbon was cut by a young fundraiser and we were off, into the pitch-black forest. We followed the pathway marked out by candlelight which led us along the Fairy Glen Trail and as instructed by the organisers, this first part of the journey was to be done in silence, for a time to reflect. This was filled with raw emotion as the people around me focused their thoughts on the true reason that brought all of us out that morning. Whether your reason to be there was for yourself or another, everyone stood together in grief and pain and it was in that moment that the birds started to sing.

It was like nothing I had experienced before, although I have never been in the forest that early in the morning. Maybe the birds sing that loudly every morning, but it truly felt like they were filling our silence with the only way they knew how. After a few minutes of the chirping, the trees started to thin out and light started to pour in and the next thing we were out of the forest and into the town. At this point of the journey, the silence broke and it was quickly replaced with laughter and chit chat between the walkers.

This was the first time that I had attended the Darkness into Light event and I am so glad that I decided to join this year and I hope to continue to be a supporter in the future. The words that kept being read out by the organisers focused on working together for the prevention of self-harm and suicide but more importantly to break the stigma of mental health. Without this stigma, conversations would develop and these vulnerable people may have the courage to talk to others and get the help that they need before it is too late for them.