National Trust buys £4m land around Mount Stewart to keep it open to public
Mount Stewart's world famous house and gardens are to be reunited with their historic demesne after a £4m investment by the National Trust.
The conservation charity told the Belfast Telegraph it wanted to avoid the Co Down site overlooking Strangford Lough being turned into a "millionaire's housing estate", so it has increased its ownership from 100 acres to 1,000 acres of rolling parkland and woodland.
Over the next five to 10 years, following further investment, the 60 acres currently in use at Mount Stewart will increase to around 100 acres.
The "heart" of the estate will eventually be opened up to the public after work on an old walled garden, dairy and farm buildings, with plans for new walking and cycling trails and camping areas.
This comes as a £7.5m project to restore the neo-classical house at Mount Stewart - which attracts 160,000 visitors annually - enters its final weeks.
National Trust manager Jon Kerr said it was an exciting new chapter in Mount Stewart's history.
"With a story dating back hundreds of years, the landscape will now extend beyond the house and garden on the shores of Strangford Lough to include the surrounding 1,000 acres of rolling parkland and woodland which make up the demesne," he said.
"In time, visitors will be able to explore extensive woodland, previously unseen walled gardens, farmland and a range of historic monuments and buildings.
"Combined with a newly restored house and one of the top gardens in the world, in years to come this will create a destination which offers a fascinating insight in to the stories of the Stewart family.
"I really believe that Mount Stewart is an extraordinary place, and it deserves to be safeguarded and protected for many generations to come."
Lady Rose Lauritzen, grand-daughter of Edith Lady Londonderry, who fell in love with Mount Stewart in the 1920s, welcomed the news.
"The number of people visiting Mount Stewart continues to rise every year and the pleasure it gives to so many people will be enhanced by the opening of the demesne," she said.
"This will eventually enable visitors to walk, ride or cycle around the old rides, and enjoy the beauty of the wildlife and wild flowers in a totally unspoilt part of Northern Ireland.
"Mount Stewart for me is more like a relation or a best friend and having experienced so much pleasure all my life surrounded by the exquisite thousand acres, I feel very strongly that it should be shared by everyone. I know for the trust this is an important long-term investment."
National Trust director Heather Thompson said the £4m investment was another clear demonstration of its commitment to conservation that will "leave a legacy for everyone in Northern Ireland to enjoy, forever".
She also thanked the Arts Council, HMRC, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Lauritzen family for helping make the project a reality.
The newly restored house at Mount Stewart will open to visitors this April and a TV documentary on the project is expected to air this summer.
Meanwhile, the gardens are open to enjoy now.
The National Trust's £7.5m restoration project to save Mount Stewart includes essential repairs and improvements to the structure and services of the house.The house will reopen to visitors in April. The National Trust estate has now increased from 100 acres to 1,000 acres after a further £4m investment.
The Vinery is the only significant historic glasshouse left in the demesne which is home to the ancient 'White Syrian' vine. This is the oldest vine in Ireland and the second oldest in the UK, planted one year after Hampton Court Vine, which dates back to 1768.
Mount Stewart estate like a 'second home' for volunteer
A National Trust volunteer open day is taking place at Mount Stewart this Saturday from 11am to 3pm.
One volunteer who has recently been spending more and more time at the estate is Donaghadee resident Paul Burnell.
Paul said: "After my wife passed away, a neighbour who volunteers at Mount Stewart suggested it might be something that I'd find rewarding, and would get me out of the house.
"I started off helping out in the house and over the last year I seem to have spent more and more time there, I've been helping with conservation and on events and am really looking forward to Mount Stewart reopening and welcoming visitors in again.
It's a lovely place to work and I really do feel like I make a difference there. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
"It's become like my second home and the team are really like an extended family!"
- For information contact Jenny by email at VolunteeringatMountStewart@nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone 028 4278 8830.