When my ex-boyfriend and I were first getting to know each other he suggested that we take a walk along the North Down Coastal Path to Bangor, have lunch there, then walk back. We never actually did this together, although in the past year or so I’ve often thought about doing it solo.
It was a beautiful day on Friday and all week I’d thought about taking the train from Belfast to Helen’s Bay, just to go to the beach. I’d missed being beside the sea and also hadn’t left Belfast since the day before the restrictions were announced. So on Friday morning I took the train to the coast. There were very few other people on board, and I had a carriage mostly to myself.
I didn’t start the day with the intention of walking from Helen’s Bay to Bangor, but once I was on the path it seemed like the logical thing to do. I’d brought a packed lunch with me, so I walked along the path until I found a quiet spot where I could eat before starting the main part of my journey.
It’s 4 miles from Helen’s Bay to Bangor; a pleasant walk along the coast, especially on a sunny day. I’ve noticed that people are friendlier now than they were when the restrictions first began; they’re happy to make eye contact, smile and even say hello.
When I arrived in Bangor I saw some people with ice cream cones and briefly considered buying some for myself but then realised I had no real idea where to go so I settled for looking at the boats berthed in the marina before walking back to Helen’s Bay.
You can find more information about the North Down Coastal Path here
On Saturday I decided to go for a long walk. I was feeling really cooped up at home, and needed to get out. A week earlier I’d walked along part of the River Lagan from its source at Belfast Lough to the Ormeau Embankment. This time I decided to explore a little bit further.
I walked along the Annadale Embankment and Stranmillis Embankments until I reached a bar/restaurant called Cutters Wharf, then I found the entrance to the Lagan Towpath quite easily.
The towpath runs for 11 miles between Belfast and Lisburn. It’s popular with both walkers and cyclists, and on Saturday there were many people enjoying a pleasant stroll along the river. I’d walked for just over a mile along the path when I saw a sign to my left for Lagan Meadows. I crossed over a small bridge and found myself in a wooded area. I find being among trees quite soothing, so even though I had originally intended to stick to the main towpath, I was more than happy to make a detour.
I walked through the trees for a while, then came to a stile. I was still only a few miles away from Belfast City Centre, and yet here I was in somewhere that looked like it was firmly in the middle of the countryside. I even saw some cows, which surprised me.
I intend to return to the Lagan Towpath quite soon. I want to explore more of the area, as I’m sure there are more hidden gems to discover.
As regular readers of this blog may know, I travelled quite a lot last year and lived in Spain for a few months. Before I moved back to Belfast at the start of this year I was quite anxious about living here again. I was unsure if I would fit in to my ‘old’ life and didn’t know if there were too many bad memories here for me to feel like the city was a safe space for me. I didn’t think there was anything in particular that made Belfast stand out from any other city; the only two reasons I was moving back was that my house and my job are here (although to be fair, housing and employment are both important things to consider). So I thought I’d give it a go, see how I got on, and if I didn’t like it or the memories were too overwhelming then I’d have to make some difficult decisions.
I’d been here for about two and a half months when quarantine happened. So I’m ‘stuck’ here (for want of a better expression) for the forseeable future. Some days I find this easier than others. I’m used to leading a slightly nomadic lifestyle, whether it’s visiting my family on the north coast or trips away from Northern Ireland, so it’s difficult for me to stay in the same geographical place for a long period of time. I grew up on the coast, so I miss the beach and being beside the sea. A few weeks ago, I was delighted to find some boats on my daily walk, so I’ve started walking more often around the area near Belfast Lough. It makes me feel happy.
I’ve discovered parts of my local area that I didn’t even know were there, or that I’d wanted to visit for a long time and hadn’t taken the opportunity to do so. One day I decided to walk over to the Titanic museum and then carried on walking until I reached HMS Caroline. This former Royal Navy warship is now a museum and is docked in Belfast next to the Titanic’s Pump House.
I was apprehensive about moving back to Belfast, but in general living here has been…alright. I can’t honestly say that everything’s been super-amazing and it’s felt like coming home, but it’s been fine. Nothing’s been overwhelming, and I haven’t felt like I can’t cope with things (whether that’s difficult memories or everyday life) and I’m content with that.
I’m thrilled to have my work (and first ever piece of published poetry!) included in Covidioms, a collaborative pamphlet put together by the lovely people at Poetry NI.
It’s a beautiful project; 107 individual poets each contributing a three line micropoem responding to the challenging times that we find ourselves in. It’s quite an emotional thing for me as I’ve struggled in the past six months or so with expressing my creativity; feeling at times that the creative spark within me was gone forever. It’s a relief to find that it’s still here.
I wrote a poem a few days ago. It’s something I don’t do very often, in fact apart from a very short, crappy haiku I wrote a few weeks ago, the last time I wrote any form of poetry was about a year ago, after a friend of mine passed away. I find that when I do this it’s a way of dealing with emotions and memories that I’m not quite ready to deal with yet. So when I do write poems it’s more of a form of therapy than creativity.
Writing my poem a few days ago was almost by accident; I’d sat down with the intention of writing a piece of prose about the particular period of time the poem refers to, but for whatever reason (I suspect because my brain is still processing those memories and trying to make some kind of sense of them) almost an hour later I’d written a poem.
It’s not something I’m ready to share with the world yet, although I have shared the poem with some trusted friends. It’s something that I believe I will find myself doing a lot more in future as I continue to heal.
There’s probably been hundreds of blog posts and articles written on this topic by now but I thought I’d share what I’m personally doing to protect my mental health at this time.
1. Limiting my media consumption. I don’t have a TV so can’t turn the news on even if I wanted to, but in the early days I was obsessively checking news websites multiple times a day and focusing on all the scary things that were happening. I soon realised this was having a negative impact on my mental wellbeing so I’ve cut it down a lot and set a time limit for how long I can spend reading news websites.
2. Curating my social media feed. I deleted my Twitter account about 6 months ago, so I only have Facebook and Instagram but I’m only following people on Instagram that I find have something positive or helpful to say, and with Facebook I’ve curated my feed so it’s positive and helpful too.
3. Making a list of things that I want to do when quarantine is over. I struggle when I don’t have things to look forward to, so this has been very helpful for me. My list has things like ‘get a massage’, ‘have a flat white’ and ‘visit my mum’ so it’s pretty simple. I’d encourage you to think about making a list if you haven’t already.
4. Exercising regularly. I started taking online yoga classes when the studio I’d been going to closed just over a month ago, and I’m finding it very beneficial physically. I also make sure that I go for a walk once a day to get some fresh air and see the beauty of nature.
5. Connecting with others through WhatsApp, social media, phone calls etc – it’s important to stay in touch with the people we care about.
6. Realising it’s OK to have a bad day. We don’t have to be positive or upbeat all the time and it’s OK to be scared. In times like this it’s important to reach out to someone and talk about how we’re feeling.
During this period of quarantine (I’m not using the l-word because I don’t like it) I’ve been feeling grateful that I live in an area where green spaces can be easily accessed. I’ve been going out for a daily walk and taking a photo when I do as a way of recording what I’m doing. These are some of the photos I’ve taken.
I took this photo in an area called The Hollow, which Van Morrison sang about in his song ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’.
Spring is my favourite season; I love watching everything come back to life.
I love trees; being in a forest or anywhere wooded makes me feel calm.
I feel like I appreciate my time in nature more now because of the restrictions that are in place. I used to take going outside for granted, but now I feel privileged to be able to do it.