New Year treat: 6 ways to unwind in Co Down
In the home of so many beautiful places and spaces, connecting with Northern Ireland’s wonderful natural environment is always going to be a pleasure.
There are many benefits to reap from spending time in nature, from feeling healthier and happier to being able to chill out and be mindful. So start the New Year well — resolve to connect with nature for a couple of days in Co Down, along one of the loveliest coastal stretches in the country.
1. Aside from the incredible views, fresh seascapes and natural attractions, this part of Northern Ireland offers top-quality food and drink, fascinating history and culture, plus interesting landmarks and tales at every turn. Set yourselves up with a stay in a little piece of heaven — The Old Schoolhouse Inn. Located close to Comber on the shores of Strangford Lough, this guesthouse boasts what is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Co Down and eight luxury bedrooms all named after American presidents of Ulster descent.
2. Check in and have a coffee, then spend the rest of the day at Castle Espie Wetland Centre, a short walk away and a simply delightful place to enjoy quality time together up close to nature. At this time of year almost all of the world’s entire population of Brent Geese is overwintering in Castle Espie and it’s a sight to behold.
3. The location, grandeur and setting of Castle Ward also provides a fantastic natural backdrop for walking, cycling, horse riding and picnicking. Game of Thrones fans will know Castle Ward as ‘Winterfell’ and love the immersive on set experience and other entertaining ‘Thrones’ themed activities provided by Clearsky Adventures.
4. For those who like island tranquillity and a bit of history, some of Strangford Lough’s many islands are reachable by causeways. Mahee Island offers stunning views as well as the Nendrum monastic site, where the extensive stone remains are definitely worth a visit. On Sketrick Island, next to the ruins of a castle, you can enjoy superb walks and views across the water to basking seals and wading birds. Refuel with breakfast, lunch or a drink at Little Eddy’s.
5. Having worked up an appetite in all that fresh air, you will be spoiled for choice for an evening meal in an area rich in fine gastronomy and modern Irish cuisine. You could return to The Old Schoolhouse Inn restaurant, head into the Poacher’s Pocket in Comber or travel down the coast to The Cuan in Strangford — all highly-rated and multiple foodie award-winners.
6. Next day, a scenic drive around Strangford Lough towards Newtownards will bring Scrabo Tower into view. One of Northern Ireland’s best known landmarks, it’s well worth stopping to scale its stairs and take in the incredible views of the lough and even Scotland. Continue on a loop around the lough to Mount Stewart House and Gardens and indulge in a tour of the aristocratic home and its extraordinary gardens.
Belfast Telegraph Digital