The 820-acre coastal, historic landscape of Co Down’s Castle Ward has been opened up with a myriad of off-road woodland trails and tracks.
Cyclists exploring the National Trust estate can savour spectacular views over Strangford Lough and towards the Mountains of Mourne, while watching out for buzzards and the Irish hare.
By Bike: Use National Cycle Network Route 99. By bus: take the Ulsterbus No 16E service between Downpatrick and Strangford, bus stop at Castle Ward gates (check re space for bikes). By car: on A25, 7 miles from Downpatrick and 1.5 miles from Strangford. 45 mins drive time from Belfast. Follow brown road signs for Castle Ward. Do not follow sat nav once on Strangford Road. Follow the main avenue at Castle Ward for half a mile and the main car park is on the left just next to the woodland playground and close to the adventure playground.
From the main car park, cycle down the main avenue with the mansion house on your left. Just before the entrance gates turn right onto Colonel's Walk. Climb up through the woodland and pause to enjoy the view towards the Mournes at the top. Cycle on past some freshwater ponds until you come to the old Gamekeeper's Cottage — now used by groups as ‘Base Camp'.
Choose an alternative trail to take you west through Mountain Wood from where Strangford Lough comes into view. Descend the gravel path to a quaint Victorian Gate Lodge.
Turn right, with open farmland and the estate wall visible to your left and follow the rough stone road back to the carpark.
The area now known as Castle Ward was previously known as Carrick na shanna (the rock of the fox) and has traces of human habitation dating back to Neolithic times, evidenced by the a standing stone and beside it a matching stone lying on the ground.
Also located on the property is Audley’s Castle, a magnificent example of a 15th Century Anglo-Norman tower house. The castle is now in state care. However, it was not until the Ward family settled here in 1570 that the Demesne began to develop into the landscape that we see today.
The social rise of the Ward family from colonists in the 16th century to the nobility in the 18th century is encapsulated by the small fortified tower house of old Castle Ward and the family’s more recent Georgian mansion set in landscaped parkland.
The succeeding naturalistic movement is exemplified by the pastoral and wooded parkland around the manor house and 18th century stableyard which contains a tea room and gift shop — both open from 1-5pm, Saturday and Sunday only, September-March and 12-5pm, April-August.
Victorian industrial innovation is represented on the property by a corn mill and saw mill in the old Castle Ward/farmyard area which were operated by a water course from the Temple water lake. The corn mill is still operational and demonstrations are held every Sunday afternoon in June, July and August. The first landmark of note on this cycle is the manor house itself with its dual facades. The classical front is seen by approaching visitors and the Gothic side overlooks the former deer park and Strangford Lough.
The clock which can be seen on the old Castle Ward tower house was a Victorian addition and still chimes on the hour. A closer look will reveal the 12 letters W I L L I A M J W A R D in place of traditional numerals on the clock face.
For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network at 028 9030 3930 or www.cycleni.com.
Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure |accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.
Cycle Name: Castle Ward Woodland Trial
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Strangford Lough
Nearest big town to start point: Strangford, Downpatrick
Distance: 3.5 mile circular
Terrain: All off public road
Access Restrictions: Cycle is mostly woodland floor and gravel tracks. The main avenue is tarmac. Trails may be boggy in wet weather. Contact National Trust, tel: 028 4488 1204 for more information
Refreshments & facilities: Car park (disabled parking at Stableyard), toilets (including disabled), seasonal tea room, mansion house with tours, adventure playground, gift and book shop, farmyard and corn mill, camping and caravan site, picnic areas and bike hire
Publications: Castle Ward trail leaflet and property leaflet produced by the National Trust is available from reception in the Stableyard