Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Walk of the Week: Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart estate enjoys the remarkable climate of the Ards Peninsula, lying on the east shore of the important conservation area of Strangford Lough.

The estate, five miles south-east of Newtownards, is home to an 18th century mansion house with 19th century additions, an important neo-classical Temple of the Winds, “too beautiful to be called a folly”, and 98 acres of award-winning gardens.

The gardens have been nominated as a World Heritage Site and were planted by Edith, Lady Londonderry, wife of the 7th Marquess, in the 1920s.

The full transfer of the gardens to the care of The National Trust was completed by Lady Londonderry and her daughter Lady Mairi Bury in 1955, and the mansion house and some of the contents donated by Lady Bury in 1977. Both are open to the public from March to October, with part of the gardens, including the Lake Walk, remaining open all year.

Directions

Mount Stewart is five miles south-east of Newtownards and 15 miles east of Belfast, well signposted on the north side of the Newtownards to Portaferry road (A20).

At the main reception area, visitors are directed to the north front of the mansion. Enter the wide gravelled path past the clipped bays and between the beeches planted by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1903.

Look out for the Magnolia campbellii, planted in the 1920s and flowering for the first time on April Fool’s Day in 1956.

As you ascend the rise of the path, the expanse of the seven acre lake comes into view. Passing the little wooden jetty, you come to a bank with a seat set into a wall.

A little farther on to your left rises the south facing “hot bank” of Tir N’an Og, Land of the Ever Young in Gaelic, and the family’s private burial ground.

Here are the graves of Lord and Lady Londonderry, relatives and friends, guarded by a turreted wall, ornamental gates and statues of Irish saints that gaze across the calm waters of the lake. On the slopes of this hill can be found paths and steps running through a variety of shrubs and plants that favour a hotter climate.

There are Japanese Maples, blood-red Australian Leptospermum scoparium ‘Nichollsii’, and two olive trees, one grown from seed brought back by Lady Londonderry from the Mount of Olives.

Returning to the path at the bottom of the hill, you can either follow the lakeside grass path known as the Rock Walk or follow the gravel walk alongside the Jubilee Avenue.

Planted to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary’s reign in 1935, the avenue’s dominant colours reflect the red, white and blue of the Union Flag.

Following the lakeside path takes you along the natural outcrop of rock with Rhododendrons, Japanese Maples and the Chinese Populus Wilsonii.

By crossing a little stone bridge over a stream you reach the Ladies’ Walk. Lady Londonderry disapproved of the cairn of stones built from rocks taken from the Giant’s Causeway in 1800 by a former Lady — “a most reprehensible habit!”.

Turning to the right along the Ladies’ Walk will return you to the mansion house. A good view of the house can be seen before the path descends steeply to the stone vase and north lawns. As you continue along the Ladies’ Walk beside the lake there is a tiny island.

Step across the stone bridge and sit for a few minutes in contemplation of the beauty of the lake and the view of Tir N’an Og opposite. This little island has an oriental feel with a Japanese Lantern, also from Nikko, Japan, adding to its tranquil air.

Further information

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

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.

Factfile

Walk Name: Lake Walk at Mount Stewart.

Area: Strangford Lough Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Nearest big town to start point: Newtownards.

Distance: Up to 2 miles.

Time: This walk should take approximately one hour to complete.

Terrain: Pathway and lawns, mostly level access, some gravel.

Suitability: This walk is along relatively flat paths — however these may be slippery in some places. A route map is available from reception.

Access Restrictions: Batricars are available by prior booking with visitor reception. The lake is not suitable for paddling or swimming. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on their leads at all times.

Refreshments: The visitors’ reception area has a restaurant for snacks and meals. Groups are advised to book in advance. On special event days there may be extra catering in marquees. Picnics are welcome but please carry your litter home.

Publications: A garden guidebook is available for purchase from visitors’ reception, and the shop stocks a wide selection of books. Simple maps are included in the estate leaflet that is given out with entrance ticket receipts. Contact the National Trust, Access and Recreation Officer 028 9751 0721 for more information.

Walk Developed By: The National Trust

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

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