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Saturday, 31 March 2012

Happy Birthday, Debo!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Portglenone Forest

As with many of our trips, this trip to Portglenone Forest happened on the spur of the moment. Mark directed me through Randalstown along the country roads which had stunning views of the Lough, to the ancient woodland, it was quite a drive but worth it, that is, if trees are your thing.

I know nothing about Portglenone Forest, except that I've never been there..."Portglenone Forest continues a history of mature woodland cover since ancient times, which protects the woodland flora and fauna. As such, the 26 hectare main area contains extensive colonies of ancient woodland flower species - Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Wild Garlic and many broadleaves and riverside walks. The swathes of bluebells in spring are especially remarkable, as is the Grove dedicated to Dr. Augustine Henry." More at Discover N.I.

We walked through the forest, taking the path which led over a wooden bridge along to the River Bann. Lola was her usual charming self and tried to attack any dog which passed us, which can be quite tricky when we're out for the day, we hate to leave her at home but we also hate having to restrain her. And, because of this, we had to have a look at the Bann and then walk away, people were fishing with their dogs next to them and we didn't want to disturb them.

The sunny weather has gone, (just my luck, I've been at work all week) and it was getting chilly in the forest. Mark told me the forest has a waterfall but we couldn't find it, I think he is getting it mixed up with another forest. Well, the forest itself is quite like Randalstown Forest, just trees upon trees, but it is better laid out with a lovely winding path, views of the fields, and a nice pond.

Tomorrow we are going to Botanic Gardens to visit the Victorian Palm House which grows all kinds of weird and wonderful plants, and then we'll stop off at the museum.

Sunday, 25 March 2012


It seems Spring is upon us. I rushed home from work today, changed into my old clothes and headed to Holestone with Mark. We've tried to find it a few times and were unsuccessful but finally we navigated our way to the ancient site. It involved a lot of twists and turns, and a few false starts, until we finally reached the stone. We had to pull over on the side of a country lane and climb over the farmer's gate. The stone is much tinier than I expected, and it is also perched on top of a rocky mound, yes, it involved more climbing!

I am guessing that the stone is also used for pagan rituals because there were wilted roses and holly wreaths laying at its base. I wonder why?

Here is some info about the stone itself: "Near Parkgate is a holestone with the hole being about 5 cm in diameter at its narrowest and situated around waist height in the stone. It is associated with marriages, where the bride and groom would hold hands through the hole during the ceremony. There is an old legend regarding a black horse that inhabits the field in which the holestone is situated. According to this legend a young couple were married at the stone, but the groom committed an act of adultery on their wedding night. For this act he was cursed by the stone to spend eternity as a horse, never dying, and never able to leave that field unless the gate is left open."

But according to local history, in the early 1800s the holestone became a cesspit of society where numerous shanties were built and were used as brothels. Hmmm. I also read that many paupers are buried around the stone, also. It is a very interesting place.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Downhill House & Mussenden Temple

Today we decided to visit Downhill House & Mussenden Temple, it was a spur of the moment trip and we left around 2pm for our 120 round mile journey. I visited the vast estate over ten years ago when I was on a school trip, and often I've wondered if I imagined those brilliant ruins...until I realized, the ruins of the house lie behind the temple. When we were little our grandparents always brought us to Downhill Beach which runs onto Benone Beach (same place, really) and we'd look up at the cliff and see Mussenden Temple perched on the edge. So, after much mental planning and dwelling over what day we'd all be free to take the trip we decided to pack into the car and set off for Co. Londonderry.

Luckily for us it wasn't too windy, just the regular winds which come off the Atlantic, and although the weather was quite cool, the rains stayed off and there was a mist in the air, it all felt very Daphne du Maurier.

We parked the car at Bishop's Gate and walked through the restored gardens. It is a lovely walkway, showcasing original stone seats (albeit covered in moss) and the infamous headless statue (see photographs), a lower path leads you to the pond, and the higher path leads up to Downhill House. If walking isn't your forte then don't despair, you can park the car at the direct entrance to Downhill House and walk up a small hill. We enjoy discovering quirky things, so the longer walk was perfect for us.

Finally we reached Downhill House, the field had some friendly sheep grazing in it, no worries, just remember to keep your dog on a leash, Lola can be a little terror but she more or less ignored the sheep and they ignored her. We reached the ruins of the house which are closed off by a little gate, just remember to close it to keep the sheep out, and when you reach another gate (with a padlock on top) don't worry, just push it open, (remember to close it again), I think the chains and padlock are on it for closing it up at night. You can explore the inside of the ruins of the house and the National Trust have placed helpful signs on the walls such as 'Drawing Room', 'Breakfast Room' just to give you a sense of the geography of the house. Some sections are gated off for health and safety reasons, my brother- the daredevil, of course ignored this and climbed about, but remember to be careful!

Enough about the inside of the ruins, the outside detailing is really spectacular! Have a look at the original front door, there are stone wasps formed all around the doorway (see photos).

Mussenden Temple is a short walk from the main house, it rests on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and you can lean over the wall to look down at the sea, remember to be careful, yes Mark I am directing this at you, do not climb along the wall unless you're prepared to take your life into your own hands. The Temple was locked today but it does open at specific times of the year. The temple is actually a library with 360 degree panoramic views overlooking Donegal, Co. Londonderry and Portrush in Co. Antrim.

So, after much exploration of Downhill Estate we ventured off down the road to the beach. Lola has never visited the beach before so this was a real treat for her. We let her off her leash and she ran across the sand quite happily, exploring the tide as it rushed in and out, as we collected shells.

All in all it was a great day out and it made a change from our usual countryside walks. Lola is now sleeping off the sea air and I am debating whether or not it is too early to hit the hay.

For more information on Downhill House and Mussenden Temple click here.  The BBC also ran an interesting story on the Forth Earl of Bristol, owner of the estate, click here to check it out. 

How the original house looked 200 years ago

The infamous headless statue

Bishop's Gate

The ruins of Downhill House

Mark pretending to be Hamlet

Wasps on the original front door

Mussenden Temple
The Earl of Bristol built this little dungeon for the catholic priests to pray- it was a controversial move 300 yrs ago.

The Atlantic

Not happy that my sheep friends have abandoned me!

So friendly!

The original gates

Bishop's Gate which leads to the restored garden

View of Mussenden Temple

The main entrance to Bishop's Gate