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From the glittering, island-speckled waters of Strangford Lough to the peaceful ruins of Nendrum and the grandeur of Mount Stewart, Down is one of Northern Ireland’s hidden gems. Discover its treasures for yourself, from some of the best hill walking on the island to magnificent golf and fine food.
For the ultimate in stately grandeur, visit the sumptuous 18th-century Mount Stewart, 8 km southeast of Newtownards. Built for the Marquess of Londonderry, it is a spectacle of elaborate plasterwork, marble statuary, and priceless artworks. Lady Edith, wife of the 7th marquess oversaw much of the landscaping of the lavish gardens in the early 20th century, indulging her children with a Dodo Terrace inhabited by historic relics like dinosaurs, mythic creatures, giant frogs, and duck-billed platypuses.
A 70-hectare site in Hollywood interweaves many aspects of Ulster's past to create an extensive outdoor folk museum. You’ll see 19th-century buildings including farmhouses, mills, churches, rural schools, a forge, a bank, and a print shop - all saved from demolition and transferred here intact from their original sites. Actors in period costume recreate life as it was in past centuries.
Nestling among the magnificent Mournes is the aptly named Silent Valley Reservoir, an oasis of calm where the River Kilkeel was dammed in 1933. Wander among picturesque trails around the grounds, a coffee shop, and a fascinating exhibition on the building of the dam. A shuttle bus transports you 4 km from the car park up the valley to the Crom Dam. This operates daily in July and August, and weekends only in May, June, and September.
Follies and fancies galore reveal the genius of Tollymore designer, Thomas Wright of Durham, who created the grounds in the 18th century. Stroll beside the Shimna river to see natural and manmade attractions, with plantations of exotic monkey puzzles and eucalyptus, and giant redwoods and Monterey pines elsewhere in the park. An example of Picea abies “Clanbrassiliana” is the oldest tree in any arboretum in Ireland.
Established in 2010, the Festival of Flight is a major reason to visit Newcastle in August. Set in the magnificent arena of Dundrum Bay, it showcases the most jaw-dropping aerial displays, drawing crowds in excess of 100,000 to Newcastle. As well as air spectacles, the festival features exhibitions, music, street entertainment, vintage vehicles, and a closing open-air concert on the promenade.
Down is home to Northern Ireland’s best hiking territory, with the Mourne Mountains at its heart. With steep climbs, gentle slopes, and sparkling lakes, the 28 granite peaks that make up the Mournes are a playground for the outdoor enthusiast. Scale the 850-metre Slieve Donard for a test of your stamina and enjoy views over Murlough Bay and picturesque Newcastle. Butter Mountain, Slieve Lamagan, Slieve Binnian, and Slieve Corragh are perfect for easier walks.
A place of welcome tranquility, Nendrum is the best example of a pre-Norman monastic site in Northern Ireland. Believed to have been established by St Machaoi in the 5th Century, it is also associated with St. Patrick and comprises three concentric stone enclosures. The outer circle shows signs of industrial works; the central ring has a church ruin, sundial, fragments of a round tower, and a graveyard; the other enclosure has the remains of huts and workshops. A visitor centre features interactive and graphic displays, models, artefacts, and videos.
The British Isles’ biggest sea lough, Strangford Lough is a magical place, virtually landlocked apart from its outlet to the Irish Sea via the Strangford Narrows. A nature reserve of 6,070 hectares incorporates foreshore, 50 islands, woods, wetlands, salt marsh, and agricultural fields. Visit the Strangford Lough Wildlife Information Centre in Downpatrick for information on the rich marine and plant life, as well as internationally significant bird populations.
The Somme Heritage Centre in Newtownards explores Ireland's role in World War I, focusing on the cross-community involvement in the three local volunteer divisions: the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions and the 36th (Ulster) Division. A guided tour transports you back to 1910 and the Home Rule Crisis, with an emphasis on the recruitment and training of men and life in the trenches. The Battle of the Somme in 1916 is evoked with reconstructed trenches.
Ballycopeland Windmill is a frequently overlooked attraction a few minutes from the seaside in Ards. The last working windmill in east Down, it was constructed in the late 18th or early 19th century and restored to full working order between 1950 and 1978. The last vestige of the region’s once thriving barley industry, the mill features an audio-visual display on its operation, and if the wind is strong, you may even see it in action. The outbuildings house a visitor centre.
4.4km from Kilkeel
Located at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the cottages are an ideal base for exploring the hidden marvels of the countryside and the South Down coast. Both cottages offer guests modern facilities in peaceful rural surroundings. Enjoy underfloor heating powered by geothermal heating systems and the atmosphere of a wood-burning stove in the living room.
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