Castle Ward, Mt. Stewart, Castlewellan, Hillsborough
The ideal places to spend a day in nature and at the same time learn something about the history of the estate are the local historic mansions with adjacent parks. Northern Ireland has many such estates in its territory, but only some are open to the public. In a single visit, you can see the interiors of the mansion, or if you only need a view from the outside, but you can also stretch your legs on several of the pedestrian circuits through which the surrounding parks are interwoven. There is also no shortage of picnic places.
Castle Ward is located at the mouth of Strangford Lough, less than an hour's drive south from Belfast. Upon entering the estate, you will be the first to be greeted by an 18th-century chateau, which you can also see from the inside. There is also a souvenir shop and a café on the ground floor.
A favorite destination for Game of Thrones fans
The estate also includes a historic courtyard with a granary, which is, however, probably known to all fans of the Game of Thrones series as Zimohrad (Winterfall) – the seat of the Starks. Here you can see the historic tower itself, which was once inhabited, or take a look at how flour was processed and stored in the mill in the past. You will also find a visitor center, where you can arrange training in archery or Stark costumes, or rent bikes to go on a detour around the park.
Walking circuits through the park
The park and gardens of Castle Ward are interwoven with several walking, cycling and horse riding trails. You can choose the route according to your possibilities, from a 20-minute walk through a 3-hour walking circuit to a 2.5-hour ride in a horse saddle. The beginning of the routes runs along the bay, so you have a view of the sailing sailboats, or with a little luck, you may have the opportunity to see seals.
After less than half an hour's walk along the bay, the path will take you to the ruins of Audley's Castle, of which only the main tower remains. Even so, it is worth a short stop while walking, because its location on a hill provides a beautiful view of the bay and the opposite side of the peninsula. And this tower is somehow familiar to you and try it, so believe me, the Games of Thrones were filmed here as well (Jaime threw the young Stark Bandon from this tower, who then became paralyzed).
Another estate worth visiting is Mount Stewart. You can find it again near Belfast at Strangford Lough, but on its peninsula. Nobles from the Stewart family built a home here as early as 1744, and another important inhabitant was the Marquis Edith of Londondarry, who led the seat and especially its gardens to a tropical paradise.
Interiors of Mount Stewart mansion
The current appearance of the seat, which we have the opportunity to admire today, was mostly formed by the Marquis Edith. We have the opportunity to look into the aristocratic residence of the 19th century in full beauty and luxury. There are several rooms to see from the dining room, living room, reading room, bedrooms, etc. The interiors also offer a view of the countless valuables that the family has accumulated.
Gardens and park with Mount Stewart Lake
The estate is set in a magical garden, which is full of tropical flowers and trees thanks to the traveled owner. The gardens, which are directly adjacent to the seat itself, are inspired by the style of many parts of the country (Japanese garden, English garden, …), yet as a whole it looks very comprehensive. Behind the gates of the gardens is a forest park with a central lake, around which visitors can go for a walk and get lost for a while in a flood of cabbage. A visit to the gardens and park is, at least for me, the best in the whole place, especially in the summer months, when the weather comes out.
Castlewellan forest park
After another estate hidden in the surrounding forest park, we head to the south of Northern Ireland to the vicinity of the Morne Mountains, which form a mountainous frame throughout the scenery. The estate itself, the picturesque Castlewellan chateau serves as a holiday accommodation for visitors, so it is unfortunately not freely accessible for inspection unless you are staying here.
Castlewellan Forest Park
The central element of the forest park that surrounds the castle is a large lake on which visitors can go kayaking. There are several hiking or cycling trails around the lake, which will take you to all corners of this park. The difficulty and length can be chosen by everyone. You can choose from easy walks for less than an hour to a 3-hour trek that leads to a view of the entire Morne Mountains.
The park provides many activities from activities such as hiking, cycling, canoeing, horseback riding, but also a large playground where children can enjoy themselves. Last but not least, the park also includes a natural maze, where small and large visitors can get lost for a while.
Hillsborough Castle can be visited as a half-day trip from Belfast, as it is located 30 minutes. towards Lisburn. Here you will find a period chateau, adjoining ornamental gardens with fountains and landscaped walks in the surrounding forest park, where you will find many picturesque lakes.
Visit to the chateau grounds
Entrance to the chateau is charged, but you can choose whether you want to visit only the gardens (cheaper entrance) or see the interiors with a guide. Probably the best time to visit are the summer months, when the gardens are teeming with the colors of blooming flowers.
Walk through the park
The surrounding landscaped gardens invite you to take long walks and discover nooks and crannies, such as the Lady Alice Chapel reflected in the surface of the lake. It is no wonder that the British Queen Elizabeth herself, who spent her summer moments with her sister Princess Margaret and her aunt Lady Rose Bowes-Lyon, will not miss this garden during her visits.
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