Eight things to discover at Castle Ward

Hooray spring has finally arrived, bringing with it longer days, sunshine and signs of new life everywhere.

To celebrate the arrival of my second favourite season (weirdly winter is my first), and the fact that our kids were off school for the Easter holidays we bit the bullet and decided to plan our first family day out of the year.

As anyone with children knows, family days out take a little planning, starting with giving the children at least 24 hours’ notice that they will be separated from their beloved PlayStation for most of the following day (I’ve learnt the hard way that this works far better than springing it on them last minute!).

Where to go

Picnics need to be packed and a destination needs to be agreed on - never as easy as it sounds when you are trying to please a child, pre-teen and teenager.

Thankfully, as National Trust members we are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to visit, in fact our children (aged 8, 11 and 14) now jokingly refer to Mount Stewart as our ‘second home’ we visit so often.

This time however we wanted to venture a little further afield so we decided on Castle Ward near Downpatrick, another one of our favourite National Trust spots.

Miles of walking and cycling trails

What I love most about this place is the sheer scale of the estate – even if it’s packed with visitors, you are never far away from a quiet spot where you can soak up the scenery and enjoy a moment of tranquillity, even with three children in tow. The trail routes range from 2km to 12km but we decided to create an itinerary of our own.  

Our plan was to walk round the Temple Water; head to the Adventure Playground for a picnic; explore the Sunken Gardens and round the day off with a visit to the courtyard for a spot of shopping in the book and gift shops - ambitious even by our standards.

Signs of spring

To keep the children amused we set a family challenge – to see what signs of spring we could discover as we explored the expansive gardens, woodland and lake. Here’s what we came across:

8 things we discovered this spring at Castle Ward

1.    Primroses growing along Lime Tree Avenue
2.    Swans preparing to nest at Temple Water
3.    The Temple clearly visible perched above Temple Water
       (Come summer it’s much harder to spot through the foliage)
4.    Blue sky creating the perfect backdrop for Old Castle Ward
5.    Colourful crocuses popping up across the lawns
6.    Frog spawn in the pond at the Sunken Garden
7.    Busy bumblebees collecting pollen from the heather at the rockery
8.    A little field mouse scurrying through some fallen leaves.
       (Not strictly spring related but far too exciting a find not to mention.)

We had a brilliant family day out and left with a pot of Lemon Curd and a set of goals for our next visit, including a bike ride to Audley’s Castle and tour of the house.