30 January by Eleanor McGillie
Live It Experience It Picnic Places is a new monthly series of features which will run throughout 2017. Our bloggers will be out and about exploring Northern Ireland’s hidden gems where families and friends can get lost in the countryside and enjoy a good old fashioned picnic. First to be featured on ‘Picnic Places’ is somewhere not too far from home – Benburb Valley Park Eco Trail. Eleanor McGillie packed a picnic basket and travelled cross country to the Co Tyrone village of Benburb.
When I was a little girl ‘Benburb Sunday’ was an annual gathering where families could enjoy activities, picnics, games and rolling down hills. Years later and I am naturally drawn back to this expansive County Tyrone landscape which is peaceful, old, welcoming and steeped in history.
On your approach, you will admire the huge red brick Servite Priory – an old manor house built in the 1880s which is deemed by many as a haven where people can go and feel welcome. It overlooks acres of woodland, forests and is the main gateway to Benburb Valley Park, the historic Benburb Castle and Bawn.
Once here, you can look down over the valleys and you will truly appreciate that you are standing in the middle of an Area of Outstanding Natural and Scenic Beauty.
The views of lush green countryside and rolling hills in the distance makes you feel at peace.
But before we got to enjoy the picnic basket we had to work up an appetite so off we went down the eco trails which surround the Manor House.
These valleys are fantastic to explore. As soon as you leave the fenced off field in front of the Manor House the paths are rough and ready to say the least so it’s vital you wear appropriate footwear. It is easy to lose your footing and the gradients are steep so be careful. But this is only the case on some of the paths and we did find ourselves going off course a little. There are also over hanging branches, roots growing up through the paths and loose gravel.
It’s so natural here and the Blackwater River, which separates County Tyrone and County Armagh, has carved a beautiful gorge through the countryside. We have a Springer Spaniel called Murphy and she was loving every minute of it.
For those of you who have dogs, Benburb Valley Park Eco Trail is somewhere where you can take your dog but it is advised you keep dogs under control. There weren’t too many about so we were able to let Murphy roam the gradients, throw herself into the river and generally get mucked to the neck.
A steep climb back up the valley brought us to the entrance of Benburb Castle – a fortified bawn built by Sir Richard Wingfield during the Plantation in 1611 on a limestone cliff overlooking the River Blackwater. It’s being restored beautifully and now is a private residence.
But after roaming for around an hour, we decided it was time to venture back towards the big old Manor House for our much anticipated picnic. We were greeted, quite unexpectedly, by two very large St Bernard dogs which apparently live at the Priory. They roam freely so if you are afraid of dogs, these big fellas bounding round the corner is not what you would want I would imagine. But if you stand your ground they are actually two big harmless bundles.
So we chose our picnic table looking down over the valley, escorted to the table by the two big fellas, and it was time to get some winter warmers out.
In Our Picnic Basket:
A flask of homemade barley soup
Freshly baked bread from Eglish Bakery
A homemade avocado and egg salad accompanied with our homemade Broighter Gold Rapeseed Oil Lime Dressing
Crackers with some Sperrin Blue cheese
Yoghurt coated raisins
Two bottles of Mac Ivor Cider Co Plum and Ginger Cider
Not many people picnic in January but the sky was blue, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and the air was fresh. So, that’s picnic number one done for 2017 and we are home, the fire is roaring and we are talking about how beautiful it was to enjoy such a day in a place so naturally stunning. #liveitexperienceit
Live It Experience It’ is a cluster of tourism businesses working together to promote our region through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. If you would like to become a member business in our ‘Live It Experience It’ cluster please submit your information through our online form. Pitch your business and meet like minded tourism businesses who you could cluster with. #liveitexperienceit