The phrase ‘a fine prospect’ springs to mind when I think of the drive down to Castle Ward from Strangford Road. When my brother Jack and I decided to visit over the weekend I didn’t fully appreciate how extraordinary this place would be. I had heard about it’s schizophrenic architecture, but nothing could prepare me for how unsettling it was to see the strong classical lines on one side only to be met with the ‘cow’s udders’ on the other.
They say builder, Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, didn’t get along with his wife, Lady Ann Magill. With taste demonstrated by the gothic side of Castle Ward, I can see why. I’m not ashamed to say I really, really do not like 50% of this property (haha!)! I’m truly amazed that they managed to spend enough time together to A. build the house and B. have eight children before finally calling time on their relationship. But enough of my opinion on that: in the 1760s Bernard and Ann constructed the greatest architectural compromise in Ireland. The front of the house is in the classical style, square frames and recessed columns, making for a magnificent drive down from the main gate. The lough side is in Ann’s favoured gothic style. This resulted in pointed arches, buttresses and ceilings so high that the rooms above require two steps up to enter (since the first floor is high on the gothic side than the classical).
Lady Ann’s boudoir is quite the sight to behold. Described as looking like cow’s udders and having been restored to the original busy pink wallpaper, it quite literally screams of milk and swollen flesh.
The design of the house is as much about avoiding each other as it is providing exemplary Georgian and Victorian hospitality. The library is situated at the front of the house and has three secret doors in addition to the entrance off the grand hall. If one saw an unwelcome visitor making their way up the drive, the Lord could simply slip out through a secret exit and disappear. Our guide said that it is rumoured their was once a secret staircase leading to the basement for ultimate secrecy.
After completing the tour, we decided to leave the ladies behind and visit another type of cow. Castle Ward has some of cutest little calves this Spring! They really seemed to be enjoying the good turn in the weather. Tiernan always says that a cow lying down is a happy cow. Cows walking around the fields aren’t happy cows. They can’t be, they’re hungry and looking for more grass to chew. Castle Ward has happy cows.
There are over 800 acres to be explored at Castle Ward while Mount Stewart has over 1000; but the grounds are a lot more accessible at the former. The guide you’re handed at the gate outlines the many walking, cycling and riding tracks you can take. Jack and I went on the farm trail which led us around a small man-made lake, past the Temple Water and around to the Farmyard which has featured in Game of Thones as the Stark seat Winterfell. Clearsky Adventure Centre operates out of here, allowing patrons to try their hand at GOT-equse past-times such as archery.
After several hours and a couple of chocolate brownies, Jack and I drove down to Strangford to catch the car ferry to Portaferry (₤6.80 for a car and two passengers).
We think we’ve got a great recipe for a day out here. Starting with Castle Ward and the southern tip of Strangford Lough in the morning. Followed up by a ferry crossing and a visit to Mount Stewart on the northern banks in the afternoon. The sun was now in full force as we drove along the rolling hills that stretch from Portaferry to Mount Stewart. Jack said how much it reminded him of our drive around Dingle. For me, it reminded me what I like about Ireland. I felt at home enjoying this little bit of the South in the North. And, perhaps most importantly, I finally felt the rush of visiting somewhere new again. It’s a feeling of joy and excitement that those suffering from wanderlust chase their whole lives. Fortunately the world is a big place. There will be plenty more first times to come!