My Northern Ireland Adventure

I’ve wanted to see Mount Stewart Garden in Northern Ireland for several years. I finally got there!  It’s said to be one of the ten best gardens in the world. It certainly is lush and perfectly designed. The estate is old but the gardens are largely due to the the work of Lady Edith Londonderry, a strong 20th century woman I’ll write about in a later post.

The house is grand. It’s a National Trust property. That organization has recently spent eight million pounds restoring the property. I took a quick look inside.

A view of the elegant central hall of the mansion house.

The hour was late when I arrived and I really was there to see the garden. The grounds cover many acres and flowers and trees bloom everywhere but the best views are found at the small lake, as you can see here.

Mount Stewart is located at the top of an inlet from the Irish Sea. It’s called Strangford Lough (pronounced “lock,” meaning “lake”). A narrow country road led me south on a peninsula to the village of Portaferry where I boarded a ferry for a ten minute ride across to a village called Strangford. That’s a word credited to Vikings who came here centuries ago. Both these villages are small and a bit isolated but really interesting, surrounded by nature and history.

The castle and a row of homes at the water’s edge in Strangford. An Irish castle is really a “tower house” — built in medieval times in a design to keep attackers out. There are many of them around Strangford Lough, an indication of many invasions.

In the village of Strangford I found a really good pub and restaurant named the Lobster Pot. I ordered the seafood chowder and was surprised to find a fat prawn on top and mussels and smoked haddock and salmon in the very good broth. It was a perfect meal.

Strangford, N.I.

In Ireland at this time of year, nearing the first day of summer, the sun doesn’t set until 10:00 pm so I had daylight for my drive to the hamlet called Kilclief where I had made an AirBnB reservation for a lovely cottage created in the restored schoolhouse. The owner has done a beautiful job of restoring this place, adding a fine kitchen and creating perennial borders around her double patio. It was a perfect place to spend the night.

Shirley’s AirBnB cottage has a beautiful garden.

The next morning I actually looked at my surroundings and discovered the old Irish castle, a lighthouse, the view across to Portaferry, and farmers’ fields along the edge of the water. In Strangford again I found breakfast in a small hotel named Cuan which is managed by nice people. For a few minutes I wandered around the village, taking a few photos. Then I was off.

A view from a place in Kilclief, just steps from the cottage.

Several people had mentioned that I should visit Castle Ward, another estate now managed by National Trust. When I approached it around 9:00 I thought I’d take a quick peak and be on my way.  Castle Ward is enormous, with gardens and woods and a grand mansion house. The old stables have become the tea room, the book store, the gift shop and more. There’s literally an old tiny village where the estate grounds meet the water in Strangford Lough, centered by yet another Irish castle. I walked for three miles around the estate, talked at length with some of the nice women working there, had a bite of lunch, spent a bit of money and didn’t leave until afternoon.

The mansion house at Castle Ward. It’s not the “castle” — that’s an ancient tower house built centuries ago.

I think I made a mistake in choosing my route back to the motorway leading south toward Dublin. On the map it was a neat straight line but in reality it made turns in every village and town. The most interesting part was finding towns built at the top of very steep hills.  It was a beautiful ride through the green Irish countryside but it took a couple of hours to drive the 39 miles to Newry.

A typical Irish country scene. So beautiful!

I really had a perfect couple of days, and despite six hours in the car each way, I’m really glad I found an adventure in Northern Ireland.