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 :
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).
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.
The Canals can be viewed through the yew tunnel
The Massereene Burial Ground from the Long Canal (25)
The Large Parterre (6)
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.
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.
The Castle Outline from the Motte
The Town of Antrim from the Motte
Barbican Gate Lodge (15)
Terrace Garden (19, 20): the re-established French Garden which was neglected since 1922
Her Ladyship’s Pleasure Garden (9)
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 (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.
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.”
The Wolfhound and original bespoke step ladder
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.
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!