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.

Wild Women of the Woods NI – Day Retreat

I love getting out in nature at this time of year and a bit of foraging. An old friend suggested us doing the Wild Women of the Woods NI day retreat and I loved it.

The Wild Women are a brilliant social enterprise, who’s aim is to encourage women to get out and enjoy nature, but just as important is the social element. Women attending their events come from all walks of life with ages ranges from early 20’s to early 70’s.

They offer day retreats and camping experiences, (and can even lend some camping equipment if you don’t have it). Other events will be held at locations where bedrooms are available) I had a particularly busy and frenetic couple of weeks with work, and this day retreat was the perfect antidote.

Outdoor yoga was fantastic

The event I attended was held at the Red Barn Log Cabin at the foot of Belfast’s Cave Hill Forest Park. (It’s also a available to rent on AirB&B, and is gorgeous). The day was facilitated by the very lovely Rachel and Cathy, who will feed you to within an inch of your life.

When we arrived we were welcomed with coffee and homemade banana bread, and had a chance to meet and chat with the other woman taking part around the cabin’s fire pit. Cathy from Sunflower Massage and Yoga then led us in a really relaxing gentle yoga session before we were fed once again with homemade muffins and mushroom tea (it didn’t taste of mushrooms and was packed with antioxidants).

Mushroom tea with honey and lemon

We then walked up through the Cave Hill led by one of the rangers, Cormac. He was great at showing edible plants and describing the history of the area and was loads of fun.

Cormac, dropping knowledge

When we returned to the cabin, Rachel had made dough and we all fashioned our own flat breads and cooked them over an open fire (to much hilarity, turns out cooking with fire isn’t as easy as it looks). After our flatbreads were ready we enjoyed them with nettle soup, followed by chick pea and butternut squash stew. Dessert was fantastic, we toasted marshmallows and made s’mores, had bananas with chocolate wrapped in foil and cooked on the fire and then pineapple grilled and served with coconut yogurt.

Cooking flat breads over the fire

Did I mention the prosecco and homemade elderflower cordial too?

These women really know how to throw a retreat, After trekking around the Cave Hill you’ll be starving, and Rachel and Cathy really looked after us. The other women were great craic and groups are small enough that you don’t feel lost in a crowd and you get a chance to actually get to know each other.

Nettle soup with creme fraich and tabasco

Some women came with friends and others came on their own. The Wild Women is a great way to meet new people and by the end of the day phone numbers were being exchanged and people were following each other on social media etc. Some of the group had recently moved to Belfast and others liked getting out into nature but none of their existing friends were into it, and the Wild Women provides a chance to do this.

Chickpea and butternut squash stew with feta

I don’t know if I’m ready for a night under canvas just yet, but it was one of the most enjoyable days I’ve spent in a long time. Check out Wlid Women of the Woods NI on Facebook to to learn more about what they do and future events.