Indulge in the great outdoors
Published 18/12/2010 | 05:00
So what's on the agenda today? Mad dash to buy tree, followed by frazzled afternoon traipsing round crowded shops, topped off with guilty conscience for wearing out plastic on festive frivolity?
Silly you. Haven't you learned that frugality is the buzzword of the season?
If you're sensible, you could just let the most stressful weekend of the year pass right over you and head for the hills or the coast for an exhilarating winter hike and a blast of fresh air in your lungs.
Christmas is a time for hibernation -- for family reunions around crackling fires, lazing around watching feel-good movies, and over-indulging on mince pies and sherry trifle.
The freezing weather of the season so far has engendered a collective battening down of the hatches, which is only natural but it's also a shame because we're missing out on one of the loveliest times of the year in our gorgeous great outdoors.
The crisp, blue-skied days of winter, when nature is laid bare and the frost-rimmed trees reveal new sights amid their stark branches, are perfect for exploring the stark beauty of our countryside. We're blessed to live on an island where the rural landscape is in such easy reach and you never need to go far to discover a magical mountain trail or a sleepy riverside walk.
There's nothing like an afternoon spent rambling over hills, climbing stiles and crossing streams to warm the heart and the muscles, and bring a glowing sense of achievement that your weekend has not been in vain.
And at this time of year, nature is abuzz with anticipation, furiously preparing for spring which is just weeks away now. Soon, we'll get a glance of the first snowdrops of the new year.
And if you look carefully, you'll spot newborn baby seals swimming close to the shore in their creamy fur coats, and winter visitors such as the whooper swan and white-fronted goose, who travel south from Iceland to wallow in our warm wetlands at this time of year.
So, over the next few frenzied weeks, pencil in some down-time with nature, away from the tinsel and the tantrums. Pile on the thermals. Pack a picnic of hot tea and crusty sandwiches. Set out early. Tell someone sensible where you're going. And take a tried and tested route -- our walking guru Christopher Somerville has some great suggestions overleaf.
You could even check into a mountain hostel for the night. At this time of year, you'll have the dorms all to yourself and the kids will start the new year with a winter adventure to tell their pals about when they get back to school.
And even if you don't know your Sliabh na mBans from your Sugarloafs, there's no end of harbour walks and city tours you could manage even in a pair of Uggs and leggings.
Best of all, you'll start 2011 having burnt off all the excess calories of the season and just think of the extra cash you'll have for the New Year sales. Happy walking!