Friday 21 September 2018

So, you think you know Wexford? Try this fab family trip to the Sunny south East

Revisit the Sunny South East for a family holiday that (almost) doesn't involve the beach

The National Heritage Park
The National Heritage Park
Selfie satisfied: Kids dress up as vikings at the National Heritage Park
Hood Head Lighthouse

Fiona Ness

Why did rich Vikings build their houses at the top of the hill? So they could roll down to the bottom, of course.

At least, that's the answer given by four-year-old Fionn the Terrible, as he takes Viking 101 with Ben, our guide at the Irish National Heritage Park (irishheritage.ie) in Ferrycarrig.

Getting a guide around the park is a good idea - for us, at any rate. Fionn, who has never walked anywhere when it was possible to run (or roll), is now trotting around at the heel of Ben like an expectant puppy. Along the way he joins his sisters in a bit of stone-bashing art at the megalithic tomb, plays houses at the early medieval ring fort, and entices robins to nibble cheese from his hand at the early Christian monastery. To finish up, he tucks into toasted sandwiches at the 21st-century playground.

Result.

Still, Fionn wants to clear things up: when exactly is it that the Vikings will be here?

Unfortunately for him, the Vikings have been and gone, but at least they left us Wexford, one of the first Irish towns, as their legacy. We travelled by car from Dublin, and the girls fill their time fantasising about hotel breakfasts. They say it's the best part of any holiday - and our destination, the Ferrycarrig Hotel does not disappoint (ferrycarrighotel.ie). Homemade breads and fresh, warm, gooey energy bars are a hit the next morning, and the children divide their time between the pancake machine and revisiting the buffet for just one more sausage.

Hood Head Lighthouse
Hood Head Lighthouse

From the breakfast room, the adults can down a pot of coffee each, while keeping an eye on the kids running around on sausage power in the outside playground. Set along the wide firth of the river Slaney, the Ferrycarrig is also an ornithologist's dream. For us, however, the great excitement comes with the arrival of the lesser-spotted Wexford commuter train, whizzing past along the far bank.

From our fourth-floor balcony we have a bird's eye view of the train and outside our door, we find our very own staircase leading down to the other best-thing-ever about the hotel: its swimming pool.

Sauna, steamroom, jacuzzi, spa - yes the hotel has these too, but I can't vouch for these adult pleasures. My only brush with relaxation was when the spa manager let me rush in and paint my toenails after I realised I'd forgotten to pack my own polish amongst all the little people paraphernalia I had packed for the trip.

The nail polish was the one thing that would help me scrub up enough to attend the hotel's award-winning fine dining restaurant, Reeds, in the evening. The night previously, we had munched heartily on upmarket pub grub on the outside terrace beside the playground, but on our second night we tentatively book the grown-up restaurant for dinner.

I check with the waiter if children are an intrusion for other diners. "Don't worry madam," he says, "we have two rooms!"

Reeds is set out in an L shape with a connecting alcove, and we are settled comfortably between two sets of new parents and their snoozing babies with - crucially - a view of the Wexford rail line. Fionn trainspots while we choose from a menu that is almost entirely locally sourced, making it almost as enticing to read as it is to taste. Think 'Meadowfield Farm Goats Cheese Parfait with toasted hazelnuts, sugar-cured Enniscorthy rhubarb and Tom Cleary's beetroot with Banyuls vinegar dressing', or '3 Ways with Salmon', a dish including Jameson Irish Whiskey with Gravlax, Hot House Smoked Blackwater Gin & Elderberry Tonic Tartar. You can't make a bad choice here.

Selfie satisfied: Kids dress up as vikings at the National Heritage Park
Selfie satisfied: Kids dress up as vikings at the National Heritage Park

The children choose crispy chicken and twice-baked chips and pronounce it "even better than McDonald's!" After dinner, they run like marauding Vikings down to the hotel's kids' club for a free Lego-building session with Bricks 4 Kidz.

If you must go to the beach, Rosslare Strand is just 20 minutes down the road. Here, Fionn and I stock up on digging equipment while the girls go on with daddy to the International Scouts Adventure Centre in Tagoat (adventurecamp.ie).

It promises adrenaline galore as the trio try shooting, archery and a high ropes course. The archery requires some upper body strength, but the girls are given full instruction and are soon hitting the bullseye. Run by husband and wife team (and scouters) Adrian and Carmel Tennant, the newly built centre caters for adults and children, families and groups, and operates teambuilding courses involving 'battlezone archery', and raft-building on a purpose-built lake. It includes a campsite and a glampsite (glampout.ie) for those who like some smooth while roughing it.

Yes, yes, you say, glampsites by the seaside are all very well, but back to the rich Vikings - why did they prefer their dwellings to be at the top of a hill? Well, the real answer is more banal, but also more terrible: sewage, it seems, was their main concern - and possibly securing a bird's eye view of the Wexford train.

What to pack

Bring: Binoculars to scan for pirates from Hook Lighthouse (hookheritage.ie); a picnic basket for lunch by the lake before exploring the gardens at Johnstown Castle (johnstowncastle.ie).

Buy: Sturdy buckets and spades in Rosslare; Strawberries Three Ways from the Ferrycarrig dessert menu.

Getting there

Ferrycarrig is 10 minutes outside Wexford town; an hour-and-a-half by car from Dublin on the N11; two-and-a-half hours from Cork, or an hour from Waterford, taking the N25.

See also visitwexford.ie and irelandsancienteast.com.

Where to stay

Where: Fiona and family stayed as guests of the Ferrycarrig Hotel, Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford.

Why: Its plush-not-pushy refurb; a family-friendly feel that has grown-up appeal; its award-winning menu, leisure facilities and location near the Irish National Heritage Park.

How much? Two nights' B&B from Sunday to Thursday in a family room costs from €345 for four people. Full use of the supervised kids' club and leisure facilities are included.

Read more:

10 great reasons to visit Wexford

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