Castle Ward, Murlough beach and Newcastle, Monday 2 August

Written by Mike

We are determined to get maximum use out of our national draft cards on our holiday to Norther Ireland this week – and today we visited Castle Ward, an eighteenth century estate and house on Strangford Lough. Castle Ward has been a venue for the Antiques Roadshow – so we’d seen it on TV and remembered Fiona Bruce marvelling at the apparent split-personality architecture oo the house. The house isn’t particularly opulent for a stately home, but it has a unique feature: the front and rear elevations of the house, which was built during the 1760s, are very different styles – reflecting the different tastes of Bernard Ward (Lord Bangor) and his wife, Ann Bligh. The front of the house is classically Palladian – symmetrical with a Greek style pediment and square windows.

The rear of the house is Georgian Gothick Revival, with pointed windows, turrets, battlements and finials.

The different styles are not just external – the rooms inside also have completely different decorations and furniture.

Initially we imagined that the house represented an unusual eighteenth-century compromise in a marriage – after all, at that time men – and rich men in particular would have regarded their wives and houses as their property to more-or-less do as they liked with. So, the fact Ann obviously had some considerable say and impact was remarkable in itself. We imagined that the house design represented an amicable compromise between the couple – but we found out that actually they didn’t get on and Ann Bligh left her husband shortly after the house was completed in 1770.

The grounds at castle Ward are lovely – we had a nice long walk through the farmyard and along the shore of Strangford Lough. The farmyard will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Game of Thrones on tv (not us!), as apparently it was used as the backdrop for the series ‘Winterfell’; the film crew were there for eight weeks. The farmyard was modelled on the older and now derelict Audley Castle, which is still part of the estate.

Next stop was for a walk along the beach at Murlough Nature Reserve – a 6,000 year-old dune system with heathland and woodland surrounded by an estuary, beautiful fine sand and a quiet shallow beach on the Irish Sea. The Mourne Mountains and Newcastle in the distance looked wonderful.

Finally we headed south and into Newcastle – a small seaside resort town a bit like Weston-Super-Mare or Whitley Bay … but with spectacular mountains behind. We found a nice chip shop – next to a very grand-looking Lidl!

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