It seems as if we have been in Northern Ireland quite a lot over the past year. First was a wonderful stay at the Galgorm Resort & Spa near Ballymena and a tour of the north Antrim coast. Then last April, I wrote about our stay in The Cairn Bay Lodge in Bangor and a few weeks ago, we spent a lovely weekend in Portaferry with friends.
Having arrived in the lovely town of Strangford, County Down, we waited for the ferry to take us on the short trip across the very tidal mouth of Strangford Lough to its close neighbour Portaferry. There is just something about a ferry that makes you feel in holiday mode.
Strangford itself is a pretty place and there is a small harbour, overlooked by well-preserved cottages and a Georgian terrace. Many different species of birds chattered loudly around us. The ferry takes about eight minutes, whereas if you go around the shores of the Lough and down the Ards Peninsula by road, it would add another hour and a half to your journey.
Portaferry is also a very attractive place and we were staying in a really charming Airbnb overlooking the Market Square. Called The Old Bank, it was as its name suggests a bank in a previous life. It has been beautifully converted into a very comfortable, with high ceilings, a large open ground floor space, and two well-appointed bedrooms upstairs. One feature was a series of framed foreign bank notes adorning the wall up the staircase (below) and the original bank vault with a safe is still in the basement.
I have videos on Insta stories and on my FB page which take you on a tour of the house.
We ate out on both evenings and Siobhan, who had been to Portaferry before, chose two really lovely eateries. On the first night, we ate in The Salthouse Restaurant upstairs at Portaferry Sailing Club – the view over the Lough entrance was gorgeous and so too was the food.
We travelled back over to Strangford as foot passengers on the ferry (£2 return each!) on the second night and had another delicious dinner in The Artisan Cookhouse, a contemporary bistro that was clearly popular with the locals, and for good reason.
What to do
There are plenty of lovely walks and drives in the area. The highlight on the first day was our trip to Kearney Village, a showcase fishing village authentically restored by The National Trust, where the houses are on long-term lease to the occupiers.
I also highly recommend a visit to Castle Ward, an 18th century National Trust property. It would be easy to spend the entire day on the 820-acre estate.
The Mansion House built in the 1760s has two distinct styles both inside and out, catering for the conflicting tastes of the owners, Palladian on one side and Georgian Gothic on the other! We only got a guided tour below stairs as the other floors were being renovated and were due to open the following Monday, so we will have to return.
There are 34 kilometres of multi-use trails, places to eat and shop. You can visit the original home of the Ward family’s Tower House built in the 16th century, the farmyard and cornmill. This part was where all the Winterfell scenes from ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed. You can even take archery lessons in costume if you wish.
Below you can see a part of the sunken Victorian garden, which has been recently restored and is full of really unusual plants.
There is no doubt that The National Trust does an absolutely incredible job and we were impressed with the people who volunteered there and took incredible pride in showing us around.
So, visit Northern Ireland and Strangford and Portaferry, preferably before Brexit happens!