Celtic Journeys and Antrim Castle Gardens

Two recent trips followed hot on the heels of each other. I seem to have made several forays into our Celtic fringe so far this year. Two visits to Wales – The Gower and the Ffestiniog Railway and now a couple of weeks in Ireland – North and South – and my second visit to Scotland – Walking The Scottish Borders. I mentioned my forthcoming visit to Ireland last month and referred to the fact that I was opening up My Irish Times again.

Antrim Castle Gardens proved to be the perfect location around which to spend the morning following my early arrival at Belfast Port and my friend’s arrival from Amsterdam at Belfast International (Aldergrove) Airport just 5 miles out of Antrim in the early afternoon. And what a great amenity the whole place is for the locals of the town of Antrim and around. I also met people who regularly stop at the gardens after driving some distance to the airport. The gardens are beautiful and varied; there’s a tea room and an exhibition and a peaceful walk along Six Mile Water to take in the wildlife and views of the huge inland lake – Lough Neagh.

Here’s a plan of the estate :

Antrim CG Plan

I didn’t use the main car park but stopped at a small car park off the Randalstown Road and walked to The Long Canals (24) which I had read about here. Beyond the canals is a yew tree walk and in the far south corner are the remains of the Castle and an ancient Motte  (11,12(small defensive, manmade hill) and an exit gate into the town (15).

Long Canal

The Long Canals

The lower canal was built in the early 18th century and the upper one by the 10th Viscount Massereene in the 19th century.

yew tunnel

The Canals can be viewed through the yew tunnel

Massereene burial ground

The Massereene Burial Ground from the Long Canal (25)

knot garden 2

The Large Parterre (6)

knot garden

The Large Parterre

The Large Parterre was a formal flower garden in the early 19th century. Later in the same century and during the 20th the ground was ploughed up and used as a sports playing field. In the 1990s a team of experts recreated the garden which is now again a formal parterre with clipped miniature box hedges with stalked pyramids and globes. The elevated section at the north end is planted with hornbeams and provides an excellent viewing platform.


The Hornbeams

castle remains

Castle Remains and Motte (11, 12, 13)

The Castle was destroyed by fire in 1922 but the footprint of the building has been outlined and can be seen from the top of the ancient Motte.

castle footprint

The Castle Outline from the Motte


The Town of Antrim from the Motte


Barbican Gate Lodge (15)

terrace garden

Terrace Garden (19, 20): the re-established French Garden which was neglected since 1922

pleasure garden

Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden (9)

Deerpark bridge

Deerpark Bridge (8) and Pleasure Garden Walk

Laid out in about 1840 by the 10th Viscount Massereene for his wife Olivia this is a typical mid-Victorian Pleasure Garden with winding paths, tunnels, arbours, artificial mounds and planting characteristic of the period.

Clotworthy house

Clotworthy House (1)

I finally ended up at Clotworthy House which now houses the Garden Coffee Shop, an exhibition space, shop and other facilities. There is an excellent exhibition telling the story of the castle, the Massereenes, the Massereene Wolf Hound and this exceptional garden.

original house

The Original House


The Massereene Wolf Hound

Lady Marion’s wolf hound carved in c1612 “This hound saved the life of Lady Marion Clotworthy when she was attacked by wolves on the shore of Antrim Bay. The hound also saved the castle from attack by warning the defenders. Sir Hugh had this statue carved and placed on the battlements of the castle where it stayed until the end of the 18th century.”

wolf hound

The Wolfhound and original bespoke step ladder

hedge trimming

The step ladders were made for the team of gardeners to cut and trim the huge yew and lime hedges during the early to mid-20th century. Since the 1990s they have now been superseded by modern lifting equipment.

The formal gardens form one of the most intact late 17th century gardens to survive in Ireland. They were designed and laid out in the formal style synonymous with the period. Interestingly, in this year which celebrates the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, it is thought to be unlikely that the family would have had the resources or inclination to employ Brown, who never took on any work in Ireland as he had a long enough list of clients in mainland Britain. Antrim Castle Gardens remained ‘frozen in time’.


Even after my walks around the gardens and into town and a snack in the Garden Cafe I still found I had time to wander over the Deerpark Bridge and take a stroll beside Six Mile Water River down to Lough Neagh, the largest lake by area in the British Isles, and Lough Shore Park.

6 mile water

Six Mile Water River empties into Lough Neagh

Early in the afternoon I picked Monique up from the Airport and we headed into Ireland. More reports soon!


8 comments on “Celtic Journeys and Antrim Castle Gardens

  1. Fran says:

    Wolfhounds…the gentlest Giants ever! Lived with one for ten years when nannying; she loved nothing better than being around the girls and myself.

  2. dianabirchall says:

    Oh, goodness, Barbara, what an over-the-top gorgeous thrilling post! Such a beautiful place, the Long Canals alone are worth the trip for their dreamy beauty. The amazing yew tree stepladder…and oh, imagine wandering in the “most intact late 17th century gardens in Ireland.” Well, my cup runneth over. More to see, more to see! Thank you for “seeing” and showing it, as by sheer statistical improbability I don’t know if I will! And thank you again, Barbara, for the link to my blog. That Petworth day is marinating deliciously in my memory…and I long to hit the trail with you for another adventure next year, if the fates allow.

  3. Thank you, again, Diana. Northern Ireland has so many almost unknown treasures I’ll be seeking out more on future visits. I really did make the best decision that day. I had other thoughts including a cliff walk and a fine Norman castle but with the weather as it was (drizzly and overcast) the gardens, complete with cafe and exhibition, made Antrim the most suitable destination for me that day.

    • dianabirchall says:

      Definitely you did! Antrim looks charming. And the cliff walk and fine Norman castle – bewitchingly tempting, but for a finer day. I’ve been to Lough Erne, and White Island, and Devenish, and was endlessly surprised by the fresh revelation of an entire land that was new and unknown to me. And there is so much, much more to Northern Ireland than I ever knew. So keep exploring for me, Barbara, this armchair traveling companion is bouncing up and down in her chair with excitement!

      • White Island, Devenish and Marble Arch Caves were all on our programme this year but at the 11th hour we had our accommodation changed and this meant we drove straight into Ireland and Co. Cavan. Those places are still on my list!

  4. […] weekend I made a short trip to Amsterdam. My Dutch friend, Monique, who joined me on my Irish trip last year, had invited me to her 60th party and I joined up with two Swiss friends (also called […]

  5. […] “Big Adventure”. In 2013 I spent a month working at a B&B in Switzerland and last year and the year before I took myself off to Ireland for 4 weeks and 3 weeks successively. This year […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.