If you live in Newcastle you can't fail to have noticed the Baltic on the…
If you drive along the shores of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland you are met with stunning views. The sea lapping against stone walls when the tide is in, or vast beaches exposed when the tide is out. Looking across the lough to green fields and passing harbours where small fishing boats are anchored, it is a scenic drive. Along the way you will pass Mount Stewart, a house and gardens owned by the National Trust that is well worth a visit. The house was home to the Marquesses of Londonderry and the gardens were the work of Lady Londonderry.
There is plenty of room to park and entry into the ground is through a wooded area. The scent of curry hangs in the air from a curry tree which used to stand here, possibly some shoots remain. A butterfly posed as we passed, stopping to drink the sweet nectar from the plant.
The house is impressive, with large sweeping drives and vast gardens. You can imagine people arriving to visit in old fashioned cars, chauffeur driven and greeted at the door by a butler, his face impassive as he takes their coats. Although you can go inside the house, we opted to explore the gardens.
There are many different styles of garden, it is like entering the world of Alice in Wonderland, you never know what you will find around the next corner. The red hand of Ulster blazes in flowers with the Irish harp behind it. Looking closely at the surrounding hedges figures are seen atop them, a man on a horse, a rabbit, all carefully fashioned from the leaves.
There is a rich variety of plants from around the world, the trees have labels on telling you what they are and where they are from. Giant sequoias loom, promising to reach full size. They have many years to grow. My son and his cousins test their Granny, asking her which each of the different trees are, hiding the labels from her view. Most of them are identified, a skill which we have now lost.
We pass through golden gates into a garden where statues lurk, something unexpected behind every corner. The flowers are beautiful, blooming with different colours, setting off the pond in the centre.
This strange statue guards the entrance, reminding me of a figure once seen in a Chagall painting in the Guggenheim museum. A boar looks thoughtful behind him, as if deciding if you should pass.
Passing though the gate monkeys carry loads on their heads, deep in concentration, as if they are likely to drop the burden. They remind me of the three wise monkeys, trying to hear, speak and see no evil.
The house stands magnificent in the background, serenely looking over the gardens, undergoing restoration work which will bring it back to its glory days.
Smaller gardens are set off the main garden, each with a different theme. This one looks oriental, I half expected a tea ceremony to be played out at the bottom. Brightly dressed Geisha’s pouring tea into delicate cups.
A Noahs ark guarded by rabbits and a dodo, we watched a robin bath in the stream. Going up the stairs we found strange creatures guarding the undergrowth.
We had entered a Jules Verne novel where dinosaurs were alive again.
Leaving the gardens you pass though arched paths that speak of tranquillity and peace. There is plenty to see here and you can easily spend hours wandering around.
There is a lake you can walk around and view the ducks, or you can linger in the tea rooms and have a meal. It is a peaceful and stunning place to visit, a place to spend a few hours of leisure.