Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Walk of the Week: Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park

This route takes you on a gentle walk through a former estate rich in horticultural and historical interest, exploring the meadows, woodland, riverside fields and formal gardens which make up the beautiful Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park.

The park is home to the world famous rose gardens and hosts the International Rose Trials every year.

DIRECTIONS

By Bicycle: the park is accessible from NCN Route 9. By Bus: Metro service 8A, 8B, 8C from City Hall. Get off at the junction of Upper Malone Road and Finaghy Road South; walk along the Upper Malone Road for 1 mile (1.6km) to the start of the route. Ulsterbus service 21 to Drumbeg from Europa bus station (Mon–Fri only).

By Car: Entrances signposted off the Upper Malone Road. Enter at lower car park.

Beginning at the lower car park, take the path to the right of the buildings, leading behind the works yard. At the first junction turn right up the azalea walk. At the end of this path turn left through the small gate, and then left again at the fountain. This leads to the walled garden.

Retrace your steps to the fountain, turn right and follow the path between the yew hedges. Halfway along is an opening on your left — follow this to Wilmont House.

To the left of the house, across the lawn, you will see the first of the rose gardens. Close by are the only public toilets in the park.

Continue along the main driveway, turning left into the Japanese Garden. Pause to enjoy the garden then return to the main driveway, turning left.

After some distance, a path on your left leads down to a stone patio — this makes a good base to explore the remainder of the rose gardens to the left and right of the patio. Walk straight ahead from the patio, keep to the right beyond the rose beds and follow a grass path around the hay meadows.

Before you reach a low-lying belt of trees, the grass path continues to the left, sweeping round the meadow. Shortly you will see the River Lagan ahead: walk on round the edge of the meadow, keeping the river to your right. Turn right through the woodland and soon you will pick up a gravel path which leads back to the lower car park.

THE BACKDROP

Wilmont House, situated in the grounds of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park, was built by the Stewarts, a family of farmers in the early 1760s. It stood on the present barbecue area and some brick foundations can still be seen.

During the 19th Century the estate changed hands several times within a fourteen year period. Alexander McKenzie Shaw held the property from 1847–1856 and was responsible for landscaping the estate and planting 21,000 trees. However he was forced to sell the estate back to the Northern Banking Company in 1856, having fallen into debt. In 1858 James Bristow, a director of the Northern Banking Company, was granted a lease to the property. He immediately decided the house was not grand enough and commissioned the building of the present Wilmont House. The new dwelling was designed by one of Belfast’s most important Victorian architects, Thomas Jackson. In 1897 the estate was sold to Robert Reade following the deaths of the Bristow male heirs.

Robert Reade made yet more changes to the estate — a walled garden with glasshouses was built to provide fruit and flowers, new driveways and gate lodges were constructed and the farmyard extended to include stables.

Sir Thomas Dixon had the two halves of Wilmont House knocked into one. He died in 1950 and in 1959 Wilmont House and 134 acres of estate were presented to Belfast Corporation by Lady Dixon in memory of her husband.

FURTHER INFORMATION

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com.

Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) and Belfast City Council 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.

Walk Name: Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park.

Area: Upper Malone Road, Belfast.

Nearest big town: Belfast.

Distance: 2.5 miles.

Time: Walkers should leave just over an hour to enjoy this circular walk.

Suitability: This walk is on surfaced and grass paths with some small hills. The surfaced paths are suitable for those with limited mobility.

Refreshments: There is a coffee shop in the lower car park with disabled toilet facilities. This coffee shop is open from 10am to 4pm daily.

Publications: A Walk in the Park, available from Belfast City Council, Parks Section or via belfastcity.gov.uk/parks

Walk Developed By: Belfast City Council

Map: Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series sheet 15, available from LPSNI Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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