I know Antrim wouldn’t be everyone’s first thought as a fun day out, most people (Non Antrim residents) only briefly view Antrim as a distant blur from the M2 as they speed up to the volcanic delights of the North Coast, or may get a bit closer if they succumb to the retail magnetism of Junction one.
But you are missing out, not 10 minutes bypass off the M2 you can arrive at one of the finest jewels in the N. Ireland tourism crown, Antrim Castle Gardens.
Originally designed and built in the 17thCentury after Antrim Castle was constructed by Sir Hugh Clotworthy (he would later marry Lady Marion Skeffington, with the family name changing to Massereene), the gardens reopened in 2015 after a £6 Million restoration which saw many of the original 17th/18thCentury features reinstated, including magnificent Anglo Dutch canals, ponds and avenues totally unique in N. Ireland, a 12thCentury Motte (known locally as the cake), a Victorian pleasure garden, and a recreated Large Parterre (plant beds in symmetrical patterns).
The gardens provide a stunning location for a walk anytime of the year but especially in Spring or Summer when they come alive in a parade of colourful flora, carefully manicured by the skilful staff and volunteers.
It will not come as a surprise to learn the gardens have received a number of awards including the prestigious ‘Green Flag’ and hold ‘Green Heritage’ Status.
Also included within the gardens is the historic Clotworthy House former coach house and stables for Antrim Castle (burnt down in dubious circumstances in 1922).
Clotworthy House has recently been restored and now houses a coffee shop/café in its courtyard, a gift shop and various public galleries and meeting rooms.
On the way from the carpark to the courtyard you will see the fantastic stone sculpture of Lady Marion’s hound which (according to legend) saved her from a wolf attack, the sculpture dates to 1612.
You can also hear more of the story from another local legend, storyteller Liz Weir – just press the button on the hound’s plinth.
So please don’t be in such a rush to bypass Antrim in the future. Call into the fantastic Castle Gardens either on the way up or on the way back from the Causeway Coast, you won’t be disappointed!
Donal Kelly is a Tour Guide based in Belfast but was born and grew up in Antrim Town, he is the owner/operator of Belfast Mic Tours (www.belfastmictours.com).
Clotworthy House, Antrim (1)