Forest Bathing at Montalto Estate

I had been trying to arrange a meet up with a friend for ages and she invited me to a forest bathing event in Montalto estate about 30-40 minutes outside Belfast.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was assured there would be no naked running through woodlands beating each other with birch twigs (I have to say I was a little disappointed by this, but went anyway).

Forest bathing is based on the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku. This a mindfulness practice, were you immerse yourself in nature. Exercises can include lying down the forest and allowing all your senses to take in what is going on around you. Other exercises can help you connect with others, while some are completed in silence to help you be present in the moment and contemplate your surroundings. We were led in this by the brilliant Gillian Calhoun,, who made the entire experience accessible for everyone including people in our group who admitted they had previously found it difficult to switch off and rest. I finished the morning feeling a tremendous sense of peace, and one the my favourite things I took away from it is that rest is a verb, sometimes our minds and our bodies need to be allowed to rest and rest is an activity in itself.

I had driven past the Montalto estate many times before and but never visited. The original demesne dates back to the 1600s. Patrick McCartan one of the earliest owners had his lands confiscated due his involvement in the 1641 rebellion by the United Irishmen against the crown forces. The site was eventually passed down to the Earl of Moira in 1765 who built the grand mansion house and who’s grandson developed the impressive gardens.

Today the estate is privately owned by the Wilson family and the mansion house as well as other buildings can be rented out as wedding and events venues. Entrance to the grounds (not the house) is £7.50 for adults, but annual membership is £37.50. The estate also has a café, serving delicious lunches, pastries or even afternoon tea if you feel like really treating yourself.

The estate has beautiful paths and walks with a small lake, mature trees and some really interesting and exotic planting and was the perfect location for our forest bathing as we could take in different elements the estate had to offer. They also run events like kids bush craft, floristry and gardening events and yoga.

Go get out into some nature, and then just chill out and let it all wash over you. We’re all in too much of a hurry these days to appreciate the little miracles we are surrounded by. Your physical health will improve, and your mental health will benefit, so get your lazy arse of the sofa and go commune with nature.

Dollys Farm and Seaweed Baths in Newcastle Co. Down

Who doesn’t love sometime away with your besties. It was one of my oldest friend’s birthday, so we decided to get out of the city and treat ourselves.

About a 30 minute drive from Belfast, we stayed at Dolly’s Farm, just outside the village of Seafordepq. The farm has beautifully converted old farm buildings into luxurious self catering accommodation. The Hay Loft sleeps up to four and the Farm House sleeps up to seven people.

Both have their own wood fired hot tubs and sitting relaxing looking over gorgeous lush farmland listening to the cows moo was heaven.

William, the owner was great and arrived with snacks just after we arrived and the package we booked also included a fantastic 3 course dinner from a French’s restaurant in Clough that evening. We also had breakfast delivered to us the next morning including hot croissants, breads and fresh fruit and juice. If you want to get away from it all and not have to worry about a thing this the break for you.

The next day we drove about another 20 minutes to the seaside town of Newcastle at the foot of the Mourne mountains. Tollymore Forest Park can be accessed here to and if you haven’t visited before, you’ll be a convert.

We decided to treat ourselves to a little bit of self care at Soak. They specialise in seaweed baths but also offer beauty treatments and self-catering accommodation.

The ritual for the baths starts with a good 10 minute steam to open your pores. You can opt for the original Victoria steam boxes, or other rooms have more modern steam rooms. You can choose to have rooms with 2 baths (popular with couples) or single rooms.

Victorian Steam Box

After steaming, you step into an original Victorian roll top bath with local seaweed and soak for around 40 minutes. If you haven’t done it before, lying down in a bath full of seaweed might feel a bit strange at first, but you’ll soon realise it actually feels great. The seaweed has all manner of health benefits and helps detox your skin and leaves it incredibly soft.

The seaweed baths are one of my guilt free pleasures. A great way to just bliss out, the staff even let you pick an album you want to listen too and pipe the music into your room.