Castlewellan Forest Park, Peace Maze, and Lake, Co.Down, Northern Ireland

Northern Irelands largest forest park, Tollymore (in Newcastle), usually gets most of the interest from our forest hungry visitors, but just a short drive away lies Castlewellan Forest Park, which has a beauty all of its own. In fact the facilities here in Castlewellan easily match its larger brother, and coupled with a huge maze, several lakes, two cafes, and a brilliant bike hire office, make it well worth checking out. Our visit on the 28th December 2014 showed the park to be surprisingly busy, which was great to see in (what was) the depths of Winter. I hope the photos we took entice others to come here too. You’ll love it. 

CASTLEWELLAN CASTLE

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (2) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (1) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (23) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (19)

The dominant feature of the forest park, Castlewellan Castle was built in 1856 by William Richard Annesley, it overlooks the huge lake below and can be seen as soon as you enter the park. Today it is a center for many church, and school organizations. There are signs to say the immediate area around the castle is private, but we had no issues walking around its grounds to take some photos. Theres a little black cat who comes out to say hello too. Miaow.

CASTLEWELLAN LAKE

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (3) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (9) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (12) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (11) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (10) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (5) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (4) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (6)

On this lovely, frost glistening, December morning we had so many great photo opportunities and began snapping away frantically. The largest lake in the park is nearly one mile long, and there’s a fantastic circular path around its shore taking in much of the forest along the way. The route is a big hit with cyclists and there’s even a place to hire bikes if you don’t have one. The distance around the lake is about 2.4miles but its a very easy (and enjoyable) trek. The lake can also be fished. For more info see here: http://www.walkni.com/walks/222/castlewellan-forest-park-lakeside-walk/

ANNESLEY GARDENS (WITHIN THE PARK)

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (14) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (13) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (15) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (16) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (17) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (18) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (8) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (7)

To access Castlewellan Forest Park you pay just £4.50 per car which is pretty good as it doesn’t matter how many are in your car. Once parked your entrance fee includes all the walks and the gardens which are wonderful in Winter but must be even nicer in the other three milder seasons of the year.

The planting of the walled Annesley garden, the focus of the arboretum, began in the 1850s and rare conifers and maples were later imported directly from Japan. Then came the addition of more rich varieties, including Chilean eucryphias, Australian athrotaxis and pittosporum and Chinese rhododendrons. The arboretum holds many trees with record heights in the British Isles (see one of the monsters above!).

THE PEACE MAZE

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (20) CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (22)

CASTLEWELLAN 28.12 (21)

The “Peace Maze” was opened in 2000 and while you may think its nothing more than a quaint curiosity on entering you’re going to be in for a shock. This is one of the worlds largest permanent hedge mazes (it was the largest in the world until 2007 when it was beaten, only slightly, by a maze in Hawaii) and it really will offer a challenge to those without a pigeons sense of direction. The maze covers 3 acres and has 2.18 miles of pathway (the one in Hawaii has 2.46) and upon reaching the center there is a bell you can ring which is said to be the most rung bell in Ireland with half a million rings a year. When you visit the park make sure you go inside and see if you can find your way to the center (on top of the footbridge). Good luck! You’ll need it. The panaoramic picture above shows Castlewellan town, the Mourne Mountains, and a small part of the maze.

For more info on this great forest park see here: http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Castlewellan-Forest-Park-and-Peace-Maze-Castlewellan-P2881

Belfast Christmas Market aka The Continental Market 2014

So, we went back again to Belfast’s Christmas Market for 2014, after the failed attempt at a visit on a Sunday afternoon (just don’t try it) and this time (a Wednesday evening) things were much better. It was cold, but not unbearably so, and while the two main bars were full, the market itself was relatively quiet. Great stuff.

x1

The view from Royal Avenue of the City Hall (where the market is located).

x2

Rice, but no December ice (yet).

x6

Here you can get kangaroo, venison, or wild boar burgers however.

x11

One of the two main bars, most seem to flock to this one as it has the best selection of European beers including strawberry beer, tequila flavoured beer, and huge steins to drink from.

x12

A little merry-go-round for the kids.

x5

Is that Santa?

x13

The other bar, Laverys, which is a long established drinking emporium in Belfast.

x8

Handmade local fudge. Yum.

x3

The hog roast baguettes (with bbq sauce) from here were delicious.

x10

Plenty of teeth rotting fun too.

x9

Belfasts Xmas Market 2014. Now 10yrs old and well worth a visit.

Benone Strand and Magilligan Point.

Pretty much at the end of our trip along Downhill and Binevenagh now with just these last two places to visit before the drive home. We had a great time, and to see an area so lovely within your own country is amazing. So many things to view around here, and a cool November couple of days changed nothing. Who needs the summer? Hopefully this collection of pictures from a designated area of outstanding natural beauty will entice you to visit too.

1

Our car on Benone beach. Winter Sun creating a stark contrast between sky and sand.

2

Looks like a horse trotted along here.

3

If you look really hard you can see Mussenden Temple in the distance back at Downhill.

4

“Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, a feeling in the air, the Summers out of reach…”

1

The Point Bar at Magilligan. You can get the ferry across Lough Foyle from here.

4 5

(From Discover NI Website):

The Martello tower at Magilligan is a well known landmark, built between 1812 and 1817 during the Napoleonic Wars, to guard against possible French invasion.

It was one of 74 constructed in Ireland, 40 or so survive. They were placed at strategic points all around the coast and designed to fire on any invading fleet or withstand lengthy sieges. This tower marks the end of a long tradition in Ireland of defensive buildings stretching back over 3,000 years to Bronze Age forts.

The walls are over 9ft thick and built of imported stone. There are three floors. The top floor housed a twenty-four pound gun able to swivel and shoot in any direction. A small furnace was used to heat the shot in order to set wooden ships on fire. The middle floor was the living quarters for one officer and twelve men. Below is the cellar. This is reached by a spiral staircase. There is a water well and storage rooms for gunpowder and food. The entrance to the tower has been changed. An iron staircase now replaces the original wooden ladder.

Living History events take place here at the Tower during the summer months.

Martello Tower lies within Magilligan Point Nature Reserve which is the tip of Northern Ireland’s largest sand dune system. The ever changing tides and storm events constantly change the profile of the beach, dunes and shape of the ‘Point’ itself. The mature or ‘grey dunes’ have established populations of various mosses, lichens, grasses, herbs and higher flowering plants providing a good nectar source for a variety of bee, butterfly and moth species. The rare Scarce Crimson and Gold moth, which is only found on the North Coast, has been recorded here.

3

Sun sets before our drive home.

2

Throw your TV away and get out and explore. 😉

A Winter Afternoon in Belfast.

I’m going to be honest here, Belfast is far from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You have to look hard to find the (photographic) things of worth in its centre (and many you might not even notice as you walk by). They are there however, likely buried among some awful modern architecture and sadly run down streets. But I guess that happens in many cities, and Belfast has improved more than most since the dreadful days of the 70s and 80s here. We were in Belfast yesterday to do a bit of shopping, hoping for a visit to the Christmas Market (aka the Continental Market)…… more on that later though.

1 4

QUEENS BRIDGE

Queens Bridge in Belfast which opened in 1849. The first picture shows one of the ornate lamps fitted to the bridge (with the Obel Tower in the background – the tallest building in Ireland). It is one of eight bridges in the city, not to be confused with the adjacent Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. The sign on the bridge in the second photo says it was widened in 1885.

6 5 7

THE BIG FISH

The Big Fish – a printed ceramic sculpture by John Kindness, 10 metres long and constructed in 1999. Its at Donegall Quay, Belfast, near the Lagan Lookout and Custom House Square. The outer skin of the fish is a cladding of ceramic tiles decorated with texts and images relating to the history of Belfast. Material from Tudor times to present day newspaper headlines are included along with contributions from Belfast school children. The Ulster Museum provided the primary source of historic images, while local schools/day centres located along the line of the River Farset were approached to provide drawings for the fish. Images were provided by Glenwood Primary School, St Comgalls and Everton Day Centres. The Big Fish also contains a time capsule storing information/images/poetry on the City.

8 9

SEALS

Theres a collection of these bronze seals just across from the Big Fish. Maybe they thought it was dinner 🙂

10 11

FRANCIS ANDERSON CALDER MONUMENT

Across the road from the fish, you might pass this monument by thinking its just some random memorial to a long dead political figure or something, but its actually much more endearing than that.

Erected in 1859 in memory of Francis Anderson Calder, 1787-1855. The monument is sandstone set on a granite plinth and was designed by George Smith, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Chief Engineer. The cast iron lamp on top would have originally been gas-lit.

In 1836 Calder along with other citizens and clergymen founded the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, later to become the USPCA (Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) which was known primarily for installing water troughs for cattle and horses in various Belfast streets. Ten troughs were installed in the 12 years prior to Calder’s death, and another eleven followed in the next eight years.

The inscription reads:

‘Erected by public subscription as a memorial of the labours of Francis Anderson Calder, Commander RN in the cause of humanity, and to whom is mainly to be attributed the erection, between the years 1843 and 1855, of ten water-troughs for the use of cattle in Belfast. A righteous man regarded the life of his beast’.

16 17 18

THE ALBERT CLOCK

The sandstone memorial was constructed between 1865 and 1869 by Fitzpatrick Brothers builders and stands 113 feet tall. The base of the tower features flying buttresses with heraldic lions. A statue of the Prince in the robes of a Knight of the Garter stands on the western side of the tower and was sculpted by SF Lynn. A two tonne bell is housed in the tower and the clock was made by Francis Moore of High Street, Belfast.

As a result of being built on wooden piles on marshy, reclaimed land around the River Farset, the top of the tower leans four feet off the perpendicular. Due to this movement, some ornamental work on the belfry was removed in 1924 along with a stone canopy over the statue of the Prince.

Being situated close to the docks, the tower was once infamous for being frequented by prostitutes plying their trade with visiting sailors. However, in recent years regeneration has turned the surrounding Queen’s Square and Custom’s House Square into attractive, modern public spaces with trees, fountains and sculptures.

In 1947, the film Odd Man Out was filmed partly in Belfast, with the Albert Clock as a central location, although neither the town nor the clock is explicitly identified.

12 13 14 15

CUSTOM HOUSE SQUARE

On this bright, and final day of November 2014, there weren’t too many people around in the square (which is always fantastic when taking photos). The Customs House is an imposing Victorian building, designed by the architect Charles Lanyon, made possible and necessary as Belfast became one of the great industrial and trading centres of the Victorian United Kingdom. Only London and Liverpool collected more duty from their port than Belfast did. Belfast’s Custom House, situated on the very edge of Cathedral Quarter by the city’s central Laganside bank, was a popular site for public speakers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In those times, in the vein of London’s Speakers’ Corner, the city’s citizens often participated in the art of lively and spontaneous debate on any given subject. Today, in the site’s reincarnation as Custom House Square, activities can be widely varied, from more pedestrian and family-orientated performances and activities to large-scale music concerts (eg. Belsonic), D.J. performances and circus-style performance events for both adults and children. Feel free to go and shout on the steps again if the notion takes you however, as we all love a laugh here lol.

30 31 32

FAMOUS DRINKING EMPORIUMS

The first picture above is of Robinsons Bar (aka as “Robbies”) on Belfasts Great Victoria Street (across the road from The Europa Hotel). Its next door to the quite famous Crown Bar which draws many tourists and its history is below (thanks to Wiki)..

Originally opened by Felix O’Hanlon and known as The Railway Tavern, the pub was then bought by Michael Flanagan. Flanagan’s son Patrick renamed and renovated the pub in 1885.

The Crown owes its elaborate tiling, stained glass and woodwork to the Italian craftsmen whom Flanagan persuaded to work on the pub after hours. These craftsmen were brought to Ireland to work on the many new churches being built in Belfast at the time. It was this high standard of work that gave the Crown the reputation of being one of the finest Victorian Gin Palaces of its time.

In 1978 the National Trust, following persuasion by people including Sir John Betjeman, purchased the property and three years later completed a £400,000 renovation to restore the bar to its original Victorian state. Further restoration by the National Trust was done in 2007 at a cost of £500,000.

A recognisable landmark of Belfast, the pub has featured as a location in numerous film and television productions, such as David Caffrey’s Divorcing Jack (1998) and as far back as Carol Reed’s 1947 film Odd Man Out.

The Crown has been given a Grade A Listed Building status by the Environment and Heritage Service. The exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance. The interior is also decorated with complex mosaics of tiles. The red granite topped bar is of an altar style, with a heated footrest underneath and is lit by gas lamps on the highly decorative carved ceilings. The Crown has ten booths, or snugs. Built to accommodate the pub’s more reserved customers during the austere Victorian period, the snugs feature the original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for alerting staff. Extra privacy was then afforded by the pub’s etched and stained glass windows which feature painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns.

29

GRAND OPERA HOUSE

The Grand Opera House is a theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, designed by the most prolific theatre architect of the period, Frank Matcham. It opened on 23 December 1895. According to the Theatres Trust, the “magnificent auditorium is probably the best surviving example in the United Kingdom of the oriental style applied to theatre architecture” The place is a huge hit all year round with both locals and tourists. With the Christmas period upon us there are many shows on now and coming soon. See here: http://www.goh.co.uk/

26 25

ROBINSON CLEAVER BUILDING

Without doubt, there are many ornate and beautiful buildings in Belfast if you just look upwards. This is one of them. On a wonderfully clear day like today the Robinson and Cleaver building could easily fit around New Yorks Central Park area and not look out of place.

Robinson and Cleaver, at the corner of Donegall Place and Donegall Square North, became a top department store in Belfast after opening in the late 19th century, and bore such connotations of grandeur that it was known as ‘The Old Lady’. It was a classy place to visit, where staff knew their usually wealthy clientele. Its most famous feature was a marble staircase, auctioned in 1984. Robinson and Cleaver prided itself for being the most famous store in the world for Irish Linens. In 1921, it also advertised…. “We are making a Special Show of our New Season’s Models in all the latest shapes in Fur Coats, Wraps, Stoles and Collars in Skunk, Skunk Oppossum, Beaver, Beaver Coney and Real Moleskin. Animal Ties in White, Black, Grey, and Blue Foxes; also in Mongolian Fox and Blue Wolf. Only the most reliable quality of Furs are stocked (dont expect to find too many of those in Belfast now haha). Despite extensive renovations in 1963, Robinson and Cleaver closed down in 1984 and its famous staircase was auctioned. Today, having reopened with several shops inside, it has a marvelous cafe upstairs with outdoor seating looking directly across to the City Hall. Well worth checking out. You can just about see the parasols of the cafe in the second picture here.

19 20

NATIONAL BANK BUILDING & MAYFAIR BUILDING

Another two lovely buildings you really might not notice unless you lifted your head a little above the pavements of the shopping areas of Belfast. The first is the National Bank Building (looking quite impressive in the Winter sun here)…

A five-storey painted terracotta and red-brick building built 1893 – 1897 by William Batt for the National Bank. The National Bank operated from the concrete and steel framed building until being taken over by the Bank of Ireland in 1966. The buildings exterior survived largely intact until the ground floor was re-clad and a small central balcony was removed in the 1980’s. In June 2013 a £700,000 project began to redevelop the ground floor for use as a a cafe / bar. The ‘National Grande Café Bar’ opened in September 2013 alongside a new “artisan” bakery and patisserie in the adjacent building. In February 2014 a planning application submitted by Cathedral Leisure Ltd (Beannchor Group) proposed fit-out works to upper floors of the building to provide additional accommodation for the existing ground floor public bar.

Hmm….. I’m not sure about you but it always seems a shame to me when I see these old buildings reduced to the levels of a cafe etc, but I suppose if it saves the building by giving it a new purpose then that has to be good.

The second picture is of the Mayfair Building in Arthur Square, Cornmarket. This is right bang in the city centre. I havent been able to find out much about it online (feel free to update me here) with the following all thats apparent….

The Mayfair Building: At 5-11 Arthur Square is a four storey red brick building designed by Blackwood & Jury with gingery sandstone detailing including banded quoins. Art noveau detailing at the capitals of pilasters divide the shop units.
The upper floors of the building remain vacant some years after the Belfast Gas Company moved out.

This information is likely quite old, but the building sits overlooking the square at Cornmarket with the (ugly) metal structure sitting in front of it. I have to say, the old Cornmarket with the red bandstand and clock looked better than that monstrosity they have there now. See here:  http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/images/photos/belfast/cornmarket2.htm

23 27 28

BELFAST CHRISTMAS MARKET 2014

Ok, getting to the market, or should I say NOT getting to the market. We arrived into Belfast pretty early on Sunday the 30th November at about 11am where I took all the photographs above. Like I said at the start of this post, the idea was to visit the Christmas market (and get some pix inside). But heres a tip, while the market is busy everyday on the run up to Xmas, it looks as if Sundays are the absolute worst day to go. Why? Because due to our ridiculous opening laws (don’t get me started on this nonsense) nothing here (larger than a certain size) is allowed to open until 1pm on a Sunday (if you didn’t know this already you can pick your jaw up off the floor now) so what happens is, everyone starts queuing to get into the market about 1215 and rather than a steady stream of visitors spread over the day, everyone tries to get in at once. The result? A queue that starts at one side of City Hall and loops three-quarters of the way around it. Hundreds and hundreds of people lining up to get in. Like I said, I don’t want to start spouting off about these Dark Age, faith created laws, but it certainly looks as if the general public couldn’t care less about them and want them changed. Even if a Sunday falls a day or two before Xmas the shops still aren’t allowed to open until 1pm. Would this happen in any other European and modern, city? No way.

Anyway, I hope to get a few more pictures of inside the market before it closes for the Xmas season of 2014, but for now, picture one shows Belfast City Hall (with the tops of the Xmas market kiosks) on Nov 30th 2014, picture two is a little shot of the red wrapping for the market around the hall railings. And picture three is a panoramic shot of the queue to get in before 1pm on Nov 30th 2014 (believe me, this doesn’t show it all and there just wasn’t any way we were standing in that). The gate staff only allowed a certain number in at a time, and given our stupid Sunday laws everything must also close at 6pm so I imagine many didn’t get in that day at all. So remember folks, God says thou shalt not eat German spicy sausage or drink mulled wine outside the hours of 1-6pm while in Northern Ireland on a Sunday. I think its the 11th Commandment or something 🙂