Mount Stewart unveils previously unseen countryside
Previously unseen parts of Mount Stewart Demesne, on the shores of Strangford Lough, were officially opened to visitors this week, with a network of new walking trails and archaeological wonders to explore.
The land has been looked after by the National Trust, Northern Ireland’s largest conservation charity, since it was acquired for £4 million as part of last year’s major restoration project at Mount Stewart, which saw a further £8 million spent on the renovation of the House. The acquisition now brings the outdoors at Mount Stewart to over 800 acres of rolling, County Down countryside.
Three miles of new walking trails wind through a landscape ‘lost in time’ and establishes Mount Stewart’s reputation as one of the best-preserved Irish country demesnes.
The landscape of the demesne is virtually unchanged since the Stewart family bought it in the mid-18th century and built up a working farm, interspersed with woodland, orchards, follies, a walled garden and, of course, the stunning formal gardens for which Mount Stewart is famed.
Jon Kerr, National Trust manager in East Down, said: ‘Mount Stewart has always been a gem but this newly accessible land really completes the sense of the demesne being a uniquely preserved, historic Irish demesne. The history of Mount Stewart is absolutely fascinating – the family and their guests were players on the international political stage right up until recent times.
‘Opening up the demesne allows visitors to really immerse themselves in that history and explore parts of the estate that no-one, outside of the Stewart family and their tenants, has previously seen. We would like to thank Ulster Garden Villages for their financial help in developing these trails.
‘Since last year’s restoration project, the number of visitors to Mount Stewart has soared by almost 20% - we had our best year ever in 2015 with 187,000 visitors. I hope the new walking trails will further enhance the visitor experience and create a much stronger connection with the outdoors and nature.’
Dr Tony Hopkins, Chairman Ulster Garden Villages said: ‘We are delighted with the completion of these walking trails which really open up the beautiful countryside at Mount Stewart. The demesne is right in the heart of East Down and is comprised of rolling drumlins, with stunning – and sometimes sudden and unexpected – views over Strangford Lough and right the way down to the Mournes. It really is a precious landscape, and a historic one: we are very proud to have played a part in opening up access to National Trust members, supporters and visitors.’
The new paths are the first phase in a ten-year plan to develop trails across the remainder of the demesne, with the ultimate goal of providing up to 20 miles of trails. The restoration of the demesne has also been kindly supported by the Garfield Weston Foundation.
Visitors to the new trails this summer can expect a different experience from the more formal paths around the Mount Stewart gardens and pleasure grounds. Good walking boots are recommended as the ground is uneven in places and can be muddy during wet weather.
Combined with the recently restored house and one of the top gardens in the world, Mount Stewart is now truly a national treasure offering a fascinating insight into the stories of the Stewart family and the running of a country Anglo-Irish estate in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It is one of the must-see destinations for anyone visiting Northern Ireland.