There cannot be a more wild and dramatic headland in Northern Ireland than Downhill Estate.
With fabulous views that stretch over the whole of the North Coast and open, windswept clifftop walks, it is not surprising that the estate is part of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is a well known icon.
Mussenden Temple & Downhill Demesne is situated five miles west of Coleraine on the A2 main road to Castlerock and Benone Strand. From Londonderry and Limavady follow the A2 coast road to Benone Strand and Downhill Demesne is located three miles past Benone. Signposted both directions, as section of the Causeway Coastal Route.
Starting at Bishop’s Gate entrance to the Demesne, proceed past a quaint Gothic-style gate lodge (private residence) and enter into the Bishop’s Gate Gardens — look out for the unusual bog garden. At a fork in the main path, take the right track — a well-surfaced woodland path and pass through a relict arboretum with many rare tree species.
At another pronounced fork, follow signs for Mussenden Temple up a steepish grass track. Through a small wooden gate continue on to gain a majestic view of the gaunt ruins of Downhill House. At this stage you can explore the ruin, or either head to Mussenden Temple which now beckons, perched on the cliff edge. The views of Ireland’s North Coast and some of the Scottish Western Isles (Islay and Jura) on a clear day are very impressive.
At this point, walkers can choose to retrace their steps or the more adventurous can head west (left of the Temple), making sure to correctly locate the mown grass track through the hay meadows and head for another unusual built feature — the dovecote (another circular type building).
From the dovecote, with ice house below, a fantasy landscape of a walled garden appears. On exiting the walled garden, all paths lead back to the ruins of Downhill House, but to return to your starting point veer off to the right, just before the front of the house, following a grass track. This grass track leads to the Mausoleum and back to the gardens at Bishop’s Gate.
You can also join a local guide from the National Trust for a free walk through Downhill estate. This is just one of the events featuring in the Causeway Coast & Glens Heritage Trusts Guided Events Programme for 2013 and will take place on Tuesday, April 16, at 6pm from the Bishops Gate, Downhill. Contact Tierna@ccght.org or tel: 028 20752100 to book your place for the walk.
The landscaped estate, gardens and buildings at Downhill reflect the vivid personality of their creator — the flamboyant and eccentric Earl Bishop, Fredrick Hervey. Hervey, one of the most colourful characters of the 18th century, was both the Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol.
In the early 1770s, he deliberately chose the bleak headland at Downhill to build a grand country house and surround it with a landscaped estate as it was vast, rugged and dominated by the elements. At the heart of the estate is the house, which was one of the most renowned in Ireland, containing treasures from throughout Europe. It suffered a disastrous fire in 1851, which destroyed most of the contents.
It was rebuilt and lived in until shortly after World War II when the roof was taken off. Unfortunately, it is now in ruins. However, its setting and architecture give more than a hint of its former glory.
Hervey also spent a vast fortune on the grounds. He erected a Mausoleum in 1778 dedicated to the memory of his brother, the 2nd Earl, the top of which fell during a storm in 1839. He also built the Lion Gate, which stands beside the remains of a double walled garden with dovecot and ice house still intact, and the Bishop's Gate a well-known feature with its Gothic gate lodge and garden.
Castlerock, Benone Strand and Downhill Beach are also located nearby.
For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, please contact Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or walkni.com
Outdoor Recreation NI (formerly CAAN) in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. Outdoor Recreation NI 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: Mussenden Temple & Downhill Demesne.
Nearest big town to start: Coleraine.
Distance: 2 miles.
Time: Please leave approximately one hour to complete this walk.
Terrain: This walk takes place on gravel paths and mown grass tracks.
Facilities: Car parking and toilets (located at Lion’s Gate car park) are available as well as a picnic area. Refreshments can also be found one mile away at Crusoes Coffee shop in the seaside village of Castlerock.
Publications: National Trust Walks information. Contact National Trust, tel: 028 7084 8728, for more information.
Walk Developed By: National Trust.
Map: Sheet 4 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).