Haunts of ancient peace

Crawfordsburn Country Park, Bank Holiday Monday - picture by Andrea Montgomery

Crawfordsburn Country Park, Bank Holiday Monday - picture by Andrea Montgomery

I have always enjoyed forest trails and walks. Some of my fondest childhood scenes are set in the woods.

On blazing summer days at St. Malachy’s Primary School in Coleraine, our headmaster Frank Molloy used to occasionally arrive unannounced in our classrooms and take a couple of dozen of us on a stroll around Mountsandel Forest. He would tell us the names of the trees, talk about the birds and wildlife that lived in the forest, and excite us with fanciful tales of highwaymen riding along the trails to escape capture. For a kid who had caught the bus in from the housing estate that morning, it was an unexpected trip to a leafy world filled with wild noises - with a beautiful high green canopy and a warm, soft floor.

My father and I, Roe Valley Forest Park in the mid-70s. The little pot belly, the steel-framed specs and the binoculars: Just a MAGNET for bullies.

My father and I, Roe Valley Forest Park in the mid-70s. The little pot belly, the steel-framed specs and the binoculars: Just a MAGNET for bullies.

My dad already knew the names of the trees – he had worked for a sawmill as a young man and knew his ash from his chestnut. When I was in my early teens, we got our first car – an Austin 1200, I seem to remember, in a nostalgic royal blue - and as a family we would often head out for Sunday drives to places like the Roe Valley Forest Park, where I would stare through binoculars, looking for anything other than sparrows and jackdaws.

Today Andrea and I went out for a walk around Crawfordsburn Country Park – and had a beautiful stroll along the stream there, with the banks just misted purple by bluebells. It’s a beautiful space – it was lovely to be in under that bright green roof, and then find ourselves skimming stones on the beach ten minutes later.

Both of us felt the oncoming rush of the spring – things starting to come up out of the ground and make themselves seen, the sky seeming to lift a little higher.

I’ve just had a month or two that have felt like a low-level hibernation of the spirit, so it’s good to feel the ground warming up again, the sense of promise renewed. Bring it on.