A BIRTHDAY SURPRISE

I celebrated my birthday last week. Not a milestone birthday or anything like that, just another year older. Having a birthday so soon after Christmas has always made me conscious of the fact that people are all spent out and because I have decided upon a more minimal, clutter-free approach to living, I asked this year that my family didn’t buy me anything.

I honestly did not want or need anything so it made sense to declare my birthday a gift-free day. All I truly wanted was a day spent outdoors with my family, having a good hike and some quality time together. Unfortunately, I had to work on my actual birthday, so I asked my husband to organise a simple picnic and set out our hiking gear so that we could take off to the Mourne Mountains first thing on Sunday morning. The weather forecast looked promising and after being cooped up over the festive break I was itching to let loose and get some good walking done.

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On my birthday I received some lovely cards, with sweet handwritten messages. My phone beeped all day long as people texted or posted on Facebook to wish me a special day. It was lovely to know that people were thinking of me and sending me their well-wishes. It was enough. I felt loved.

On the morning we were due to head off to the mountains I got up super early, it was still dark out and I drank a cup of tea downstairs in the silence while looking out at the stars. It was so nice to just stand in the stillness, to feel unhurried, to take a deep breath and slow down my mind. Soon, the sound of footsteps thundered on the stairs announcing that it was time to get dressed and load up the rucksacks.

On the way to the Mournes we listened to the radio and watched as the sun rose – it was a spectacular display of orange and red and yellow. I drank it in and listened to the chorus of ‘wows’ from the backseat as the boys also took in the sight. That moment right there was perfect. It was enough. Just to be there together in that moment. It was all I needed. It set the tone for the day, the mood was light and everyone was eager to get walking.

Once the laces were tied and layers put on we were ready. We had decided to tackle Slieve Commedagh, the second highest mountain in the Mournes. It has a well-worn trail and isn’t too soggy during the winter months. The fog was low though and visibility was slightly obscured. Undeterred, we took off, working our way up alongside the Glen River at a brisk pace, stopping for lunch at the saddle (the gap between Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard).

After fuelling-up we made for the summit. The fog still hadn’t lifted and the usual spectacular view was hidden from sight. I was a little disappointed by this but still we trudged onwards and upwards alongside the Mourne Wall until we reached the top. Here we paused to take a few family snaps and let the kids run around. As we stood there the clouds parted momentarily and we could see across the mountain range, the rivers down below glistened like silver. It was beautiful. The boys laughed as they leapt about atop Commedagh, doing star jumps and making up a game where each of them pretended to be a ‘wilderness person’. I was joined by David Attenborough, Bear Grylls and Steve Backshall as we made our way back down the mountainside. I watched as they rolled down the slope and played at ‘survival’. It was fun! It was enough. I had all I needed right there. I was surrounded by breathtaking scenery, I was with my husband and my kids. What more could I have needed? That was THE PERFECT GIFT!

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Now, I was blessed enough to receive some lovely presents. A new cosy dressing gown. A beautiful necklace from a friend at work as well as a few other things. My ever-generous Mum sent me some money because she had overheard me saying I needed some new pants! I appreciate it all.

However, I loved that my birthday was low-key. Simple, yet meaningful. I got to spend time with the ones I love doing something I love and it was enough. I didn’t need fancy gifts or a huge tiered cake. I celebrated in the best possible way and I can truly say it was the best birthday I’ve had in years.

At the end of our hike we had a paddle in the freezing cold river. We slipped and slid on the rocks, holding onto one another for balance, and my toes turned numb in a matter of seconds once in the water. It was invigorating!

That night we drove home as the sun set on a great day out together. We were exhausted and filthy but full of joy. Being out on the mountains with my family reinforced my passion to live enthusiastically, to live simply and honestly and to enjoy the gifts that I have in my every day – my family and this amazing planet.

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