Take the kids and go wild at Family Forest Escape

Looking for a family break with a difference? Experience the Family Forest Escape in Wicklow, says Ruth O'Connor.

I REMEMBER that feeling I had as a child — waking up in the quiet of the house in the early morning feeling totally relaxed, nurtured, well-rested and carefree.

The same feeling washed over me after Bev Porrino’s yoga class at the Elbowroom Escape in Wicklow when myself and my children went to stay for three nights at the Family Forest Escape. 

Arriving on a Sunday evening with my two sons, we were instantly struck by the warm welcome we received. The children rushed to our room in the seven-room complex which is built onto the back of a cottage-style building, a former hostel, most recently used to accommodate walkers and hikers.

I was impressed by the standard of accommodation in the room which had an en suite shower, toilet, two single beds and a bunk bed. 

The room was painted a fashionable, soothing grey and was complete with fresh cotton bed linen. Handmade bedside tables and a clothes rail made by a local carpenter added an earthy touch.

 And then it was off to explore. The main areas of the Elbowroom Escape consist of a commercial kitchen (the food, on our camp, was vegetarian and provided for guests) and a yoga studio with built-in stove and giant bean bags.

Visitors have communal meals in a wooden cabin which looks out onto a garden which is in development, but which Lisa Wilkinson, owner of the Elbowroom Escape and the Elbowroom in Dublin’s Stoneybatter, has great plans to create herb and bee-friendly beds.

When we visited, the borders were lined with tomatoes and strawberry plants tumbled from planters along a route which leads to a grassy area, complete with outdoor hot tub and swing.

The hills of the Glen of Imaal stretch up in the background. We were blessed with sunshine and the children, while shy of the others at first, began to make new friends before we all convened together for our evening meal.

Next morning the kids couldn’t wait to get going and, as city apartment dwellers, the freedom of being able to step immediately outside in a safe environment was irresistible.

They were off running up towards the kitchen and yoga studio, doubling back past the cabin for breakfast. Later, bundling into boots, grabbing lunches (provided) and carpooling with other families, they set off to meet Ciara Hinksman of Earthforce Education at Castleruddery Organic Farm where the children began their three-day course — learning how to tie knots, build forts and how to light

and operate safely around a campfire. While kids are away the parents can play and this is the beauty of the Family Forest Escape.

Parents and guardians can relax and take time for themselves in the knowledge that the children are engaging with nature and with other children in a way that promotes freedom and individual expression and learning, but also responsibility for themselves, each other and the natural environment.

While the children were at forest school on the first morning, the parents, led by Bev and Amanda from the Elbowroom, as well our local guide, took a hike up the nearby West Wicklow Sugarloaf with Bev stopping en route to do some of her neuromuscular activation techniques on willing participants. 

Walking through the forest and surveying the view from the top of the mountain lifted our spirits before the children came back “home” from the forest with tales of Y-sticks and rope knot tying, ‘Capture the Flag’ and campfire cookery before taking part in a family yoga class and chilling in the hammocks.

Day two dawned bright and clear again and the murmuring of distant parents and birdsong was a far cry from the insistent jackhammer thuds of the building sites in the city. 

At breakfast the conversation was more free flowing now people were getting to know each other. At the Elbowroom Escape you have to be open to eating communally with the other guests but participation in group activities such as yoga or walking is entirely up to you — you can swing in a hammock all day or read in your room — there is no pressure on anyone to participate in activities, though I’d suggest you’d be missing out if you didn’t take part in one of the yoga classes. 

The second day was my youngest son’s birthday and it’s safe to say that

he hasn’t stopped talking about it since. In fairness, spending the day running around the forest in the sunshine, chilling in an outdoor (warm) hot tub with a bunch of new friends and then having a disco and talent competition isn’t a bad way to celebrate turning six.

B OTH Bev and manager Amanda ensured that the children were happy and my children went home, I think, feeling nurtured from their experience with them as well as with Ciara

. Next morning, with the clouds rolling in, our run of good weather was at an end, but the (fairly torrential) rain wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits as the adults too delved into the woods to see what the children had learned. 

I was impressed by Ciara’s organisational skills and wealth of knowledge and by the respect for the woods and for the group that she had instilled in the children.

These kids now know how to get up and down embankments efficiently and safely, how to behave around a campfire, how to touch a nettle without getting stung and how to stay dry in a downpour. And what child would fail to get a thrill from lighting a fire in a scallop shell with a firesteel or from eating tasty pakoras cooked simply on a campfire — whatever the weather?

Life can be stressful. That’s a fact. And, as parents, many of us fear that our kids, due to busy schedules or where we live or the temptations of technology, are not getting enough fresh air and exercise.

Holidaying or taking mini-breaks with kids doesn’t necessarily provide a break for us adults either as anyone will tell you who’s had two kids bouncing off the walls in a hotel room at midnight. 

But in the Family Forest Escape at the Elbowroom Escape I think I’ve found a solution and I do know that much of my stress was sluiced off me there like the muck off my boots when I got home. And as for the kids?

“Family Forest Escape is really good fun and I loved the freedom, the hammocks and the hot tub. I loved it when it was raining in the forest on the last day when the parents came to see us. 

Bev is really caring and really good fun too,” says my eldest son; while the Birthday Boy says he’s definitely blowing out this year’s candles at the Elbowroom Escape. And you know, I think he might be onto something there.

The Elbowroom Escape offers a variety of activities from yoga to guided hikes, creative workshops to cocktails. They can cater for groups of up to 50 people indoors, outside or in the forest and have hosted corporate days, film shoots, family gatherings and music events.

The Easter Holiday Family Escape 2018 takes place from March 26- 29 with the summer dates running from July 9-12. The escape costs €400 for one adult and one child including three nights accommodation, three vegetarian meals each day, hiking and yoga for the adults and Forest School for the kids.

Forest School takes place from 10am to 3pm for children aged five and older.

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