Autumn around County Down

I’m a bit late putting these up as Winter is well and truly upon us but having found them on my camera I thought Id stick them here as a reminder of Autumn 2016 which has left us for ever.

Picture 1: Queens University Belfast, Picture 2: The Ulster Museum (Botanic Gardens), Picture 3: Palm House (Botanic Gardens).

 

Picture 1: Tree shadows in Botanic Gardens, Picture 2: Yellow tree at Queens University Belfast.

 

Holywood, County Down. Looking over Belfast Lough just after an Autumn sunset.

 

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A burst of yellow @ Ballymenoch Park, Holywood, Autumn 2016

Belfast Castle, Belfast, County Antrim. March 2015

I initially intended to have a joint post between Belfast Castle & Cave Hill (given they’re effectively joined at the hip) but we took just too many great photos that day so I’m putting them up on separate posts instead (Cave hill next).

Belfast Castle is set 400 feet above sea level on the slopes of Cave Hill overlooking the city of Belfast, in many ways its more of a grand house than an actual castle in my opinion. It was built in a Scottish baronial style with the main part of the building set over two floors and having semi circular round towers at the corners. Outside the castle has a sweeping stone staircase overlooking the formal gardens and park.

Belfast Castle is open to the public daily with a visitor centre, antiques shop and restaurant, for families the castle even has its own adventure playground. The castle can host both wedding receptions and civil ceremonies in one of its private rooms (we saw a young couple getting their instructions on the day we were there).

The original Belfast Castle was built in the city centre by the Normans in the 12th century and was home to the Baron of Belfast, Sir Arthur Chichester, who later became the Marquess of Donegal. The castle was burned down in 1708 and rather than rebuild it on the same site it was decided to build a new castle within the deer park on Cave Hill many years later.

The new castle was almost completed in 1870 but due to the rising costs of the building and the loss of the family fortune it was unfinished. It was the Marquess’ son in law, Lord Ashley 8th Earl of Shaftsbury, who paid for the castle to be completed and inherited it in 1884.

There are amazing views from the front of the castle across the entirety of Belfast Lough and the city. And on a clear day, Scotland can clearly be seen to the east.

 

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A magnificent March morning at Belfast Castle. You can see the lough in the distance.

 

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Maybe it should be renamed “Belfast Cats-le” as there are many cats dotted around the grounds. See how many you can find.

 

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You can see the lovely outdoor spiral staircase of the building on the second pic here.

 

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More cats (I think my focus went off target for the little brass guy oops).

 

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And even more cats! Make sure you look under your feet too as there are mosaic pictures on the floor. The little cat at the red door has been placed in remembrance for  Audrey Beggs “A Cat Lover” and the plaque here tells the tale of the good luck of the white Castle Cat. Miaow!

 

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Relections on a castle window, and…. do you see the cloud haha? Its not been doctored in any way, and given the castle is used very regularly for weddings, imagine capturing THAT behind you in your wedding photos? 🙂

Glenariff Forest Park, County Antrim, February 21st 2015

Glenariff Forest Park covers over 1000 hectares and is within Glenariff, one of the nine Antrim glens. We stopped off from a cold (and actually a little bit dangerous) drive through fresh and falling snow on our way to Cushendall. The roads hadn’t been gritted, and a few times our car started to slide ever so slightly away from us. We thought it best to pull into the park in the hope the weather would improve. Which, given the slowly rising temperatures it eventually did. Sadly the park was closed that day, so we had to leave the car across the road and walk in (a few other local explorers had done the same). We then took the few pictures you see below, but chose not to go too far into the park as the weather was changing every 15 minutes from sunshine to snow. You can get a few more details on Glenariff here: http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/glenariff-forest-park and (as ever), the fantastic WalksNi site gives details of walking routes around the park here:  http://www.walkni.com/walks/234/glenariff-forest-park-scenic-trail/

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Sadly the park was closed, but there’s no issues walking around inside if you can find a place to leave your car (space is limited as you shouldn’t block the access gate).

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I’m not actually sure what this building is. It sits down in a valley beside the river as you walk in, so I expect it was a mill in the distant past.

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On so many of our adventures we see no one, which we both kinda like. During the Summer, so many of these places would be a hive of activity, but out of season you can regularly find yourself feeling like you’re the last person on Earth haha. On the second picture here you can see the next wave of snow coming at the bottom of the valley…

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Now the sky is getting very dark….

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A little wooden cabin that was built in the 70s (with funding from a local childrens school). A good place to shelter given the ever-so-changable Northern Ireland weather!

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After the snow had stopped the Sun appeared again, not picnic weather just yet, but Glenariff looked amazing.

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I know Ive said it before, but the North of Ireland hides so much beauty, not often recognized given our past. But things are now changing for us in terms of visitor numbers, and sights like this will soon be a draw all year round (one hopes) for those people looking a holiday somewhere different. I know NI is seen as having quite limited access time (based on its weather), but I started this blog at the end of Summer 2014, and its never been an issue getting out and enjoying the countryside all through the Autumn and Winter.

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Just 40 minutes after the dark, snowy sky on the earlier pics above, this was the scene before us. I guess our weather changes just as quickly from bad to good then, as it does the other way around :-))

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

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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

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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)

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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

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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