The eagerly anticipated Women’s Rugby World Cup is about to land in Belfast and former Ireland international Grace Davitt insists there has never been a better time to enjoy the benefits of training in Northern Ireland’s ‘natural gyms’.
Research has found that exercising in fresh air, rather than behind closed doors is better for your health in terms of improving well-being, self-esteem and Vitamin D levels which is vital to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
Therefore, with two major international sporting events – the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship and Women’s Rugby World Cup – taking place in Northern Ireland this summer, ex-rugby ace Grace, in partnership with DiscoverNorthernIreland.com, has been extolling the virtues of training outdoors.
“When I was a player we used to do a lot of our training outside, especially in the summer,” said Grace, who will be cheering on Ireland throughout the international tournament.
“There are so many different exercises you can do outside which benefit endurance, strength and of course your overall health and so I would encourage everyone to work on their fitness in Northern Ireland’s ‘natural gyms’ this summer. Personally, my favourite exercises and natural gyms include cycling around Strangford Lough and Carrickfergus and climbing Cavehill as well as water sports such as surfing at Portrush.”
Northern Ireland is blessed with a plethora of wonderful locations for outdoor pursuits with the Mourne Mountains, Fermanagh Lakelands and Causeway Coast offering up a variety of different sports and largely for free.
Tourism NI’s Outdoor Development Officer, Sheena Dickson, said. “Northern Ireland is set for a bumper summer of international sport with the Women’s Rugby World Cup taking place at the impressive Kingspan stadium on 22nd and 26th August and the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship between 8th – 20th August across Northern Ireland.
“We are thrilled to team up with Grace to promote the benefits of exercising outdoors and here in Northern Ireland we are blessed with green space, beautiful beaches, picturesque loughs and incredible mountains which are perfect locations for getting fit.”
The six ‘outstanding outdoor gyms’ in Northern Ireland include:
- Mourne Mountains
The Mourne Mountains are ideal for those who get bored running on a treadmill as the stunning, panoramic views stimulate the mind. There are routes for all levels, from first-timers to running fanatics. Make a weekend of it and stay at the 4* Slieve Donard Resort and Spa, which caters for walkers. After a tough workout, relax in the spa with massages tailored to recovery and improving flexibility and joint mobility.
- Slieve Gullion
Hill-walking is a less strenuous way to build endurance and Slieve Gullion in County Armagh is perfect for it. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty features mountain paths, forest trails and country roads where you can see the peaks of Croslieve, Slievebrack and Mullaghbane Mountain. Book a guided tour of Slieve Gullion with Walk The Mournes to maximise your experience. Stay at the walker-friendly 4* townhouse, 14 Chapel Lane, in the heart of Armagh city to explore the county’s offerings over a few days.
- Sperrins Sprint
This scenic, traffic-free route goes through mid-Ulster and takes around 3-4 hours to complete. Eco-adventure company, Far and Wild, offers bike hire as well as a map guide to the route, which includes accommodation, restaurants and historical points of interest. Alternatively, if you’re a thrill-seeking mountain biker, head to Davagh Forest for the 3km green trail, 7.5km blue trail or 16km red trail – which are all full of twists and turns. Rest up at the comfortable 3* Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown and replenish your energy stocks with a meal at the Glenavon House Hotel.
- Causeway Coast
Surfing is known to improve core strength and balance – so take on Atlantic waves at one of the stunning beaches in Portrush, Portstewart or Portballintrae. Lessons are available for beginners at the likes of Troggs Surf School in Portrush, recently voted as one of the top three surf school in the UK. The Causeway Coast is also known for coasteering, which allows you to explore shallow coastal caves and hidden coves. Book in with specialists Causeway Coasteering, who provide sessions on climbing, swimming, scrambling and caving. After all that action, unwind with fantastic ocean views.at Portballintrae’s 3* Bayview Hotel.
If you want strong arms like our rugby team, you could try your hand at kayaking or canoeing. Families can try out fun canoe sessions at Creggan Country Park. Or for more of a challenge, embark on the Foyle Canoe Trail which runs through the centre of Londonderry, giving paddlers a unique perspective of the Walled City’s Gothic buildings, vast bridges and riverside trains. Afterwards, get some shuteye in the central 4* City Hotel Derry which is close to the famous walls, shops and eateries.
- Fermanagh Lakelands
Windsurfing is a physically tough exercise which gives your whole body a workout. Take a trip to the Share Discovery Village in Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh which offers the opportunity to windsurf on the county’s famous lakelands. Share also offers skills courses for kids and adults, teaching the basics of windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. Stay at the contemporary 4* Enniskillen Hotel and enjoy a warm welcome following a day out on the lakes.
Tickets to the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship cost £4. Tickets to the Women’s Rugby World Cup give you access to an entire day’s play – three matches – with prices starting from just £7 for children, £12 for adults and £36 for families. For more information and to plan your short break visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.