Belfast Telegraph

Mount Stewart: 1,000 acres of potential for extending the offer at estate

By Amanda Ferguson

It is a place of great beauty and tranquility on the Ards Peninsula with stunning views of Strangford Lough.

Mount Stewart house and gardens, which reflect a rich tapestry of design and great planting artistry that was the hallmark of Edith, Lady Londonderry, is to be further opened to the public after the National Trust took the decision to increase its ownership of the land in Co Down from 100 acres to 1,000 acres.

Following the £4m purchase further investment will take place over the next five to 10 years, meaning after hundreds of years areas previously off-limits to the public will be accessible.

The Stewart family, very astute business people, were planted in Ulster and bought Mount Stewart around the 1740s.

In the 1910s Edith, Lady Londonderry, became Marchioness and after seeing Mount Stewart, fell in love with it and started to create the wonderful gardens we now know today.

The house and gardens were given to the youngest daughter, Lady Mairi Bury, 60 acres was then gifted to the National Trust in 1957, and in 1976 the house was also handed over bringing the holdings up to 100 acres.

Mount Stewart welcomes 160,000 visitors each year with its shelterbelts - planted trees - protecting the gardens from the worst of the cold weather. National Trust manager Jon Kerr said: "That small differential actually makes a huge difference to what we can do here.

"To protect the gardens and afford better access to visitors it was essential we purchased this because we could have had somebody else want to develop it and we could have had a 'millionaire's housing estate' here because that is exactly what happened in Windham in Co Durham.

"It was bought by Sir John Hall, who owned Newcastle United Football Club. He built a series of very nice, exclusive houses throughout the grounds and now he has almost a gated community for millionaire footballers and whoever else.

"So there was a real risk that this could have been developed into a series of very grand houses in smaller and smaller pieces of land and that would have fundamentally changed how people enjoyed Mount Stewart and also the protection that the demesne affords the gardens here.

"Our intention is over the next five to 10 years we are going to spend that time restoring the landscape and the demesne and the farming infrastructure in the same way we have with the house and garden."

Neil Porteous, head gardener at Mount Stewart, said the team was looking forward to getting stuck into the next phase of work on the site which includes restoring old farm buildings and creating walking trails. "Restoring the walled garden in years ahead will incorporate the return of an extensive collection of the best scented period roses," he said.

"In the open quarters of the orchard there are plans to plant a selection of fruit trees. Over the longer term we will once again grow soft fruit in the restored vineries and peach houses."

Dawson Clarke and Alison Kingsmills, both from Newtownards, shared their thoughts on what made Mount Stewart special.

"I enjoy walking here," Dawson said. "The trees are so beautiful. I love to sit in the gardens and come in for coffee too. It is really nice."

Alison said: "I come here at least once a week," she said. "It is so peaceful. The development news is very welcome."

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