Irish skies are weeping, Friday 6 August

Written by Matthew

The Irish skies are weeping; heavy and grey, mournful at our impending departure – in other words, it’s pissing it down! Typical, as the final excursion of our holiday is to Mount Stewart gardens – another place on my bucket list that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.

The house isn’t anything particularly special, but it’s the extensive gardens that I wanted to see. Set our around the house as a series of informal room, the gardens take advantage of the warm micro-climate on the shores of Strangford Lough. Many of the plants at Mount Stewart wouldn’t survive elsewhere in Ireland, Mediterranean plants mingle with more conventional British garden planting.

Despite the torrential rain, we persevered, donning out waterproofs and walking boots to explore. It’s fair to say that Zoly and Jojo are not much enamoured by wet weather walks, but needs must and after a couple of hours drive even they were keen to get out of the car to stretch their legs. The bad dog dads that we are, we forgot to pack their warm waterproof coats, so it was birthday suits for them. After walking around the formal gardens we took a long woodland walk around the edge of the estate.

In the Mount Stewart estate woods there’s a hide to (try to) spot red squirrels – Northern Island being one of the few places in the UK where they can still be found. Red squirrels have been driven to the verge of extinction in many places by the grey squirrel (only introduced to Northern Ireland from North America around 1910). We sat in the hide for a little while – partly to avoid the rain – but much to Jojo’s disappointment, the red squirrels were not making a show (it was so wet, I think that they’d decided to stay in and keep their nuts dry).

After we’d done with gardens and rain, we made our way to Belfast. Mike had hoped he might get to visit the Titanic museum – but having not pre-booked ahead there were no tickets available.

I managed to pull up outside the museum for long enough for Mike to wander around the Titanic slipway. By modern standards the Titanic is not a particularly big ship – but the scale of the slipway (and the huge twin yellow Harland and Wolf gantry cranes – Samson and Goliath – visible in the yard next to the museum) are still pretty impressive. We shall have to make a return visit to Belfast to go to the museum.

Outline plan of where one of Titanic’s funnels would have been

So that’s it. Our first visit to Ireland is almost at an end, just the overnight ferry and a stop off at Shrewsbury parkrun tomorrow on our way home and that’ll be our holiday over. Thank you Ireland, we loved it and had lots of good craic (as they say here… apparently!)

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