A weekday walk’s always better if you’re going somewhere like Castle Ward. Less traffic, a lack of crowds, and the knowledge that you should really be at work – all this can only make a good day even better. Much more civilised than a weekend – or, God forbid – a bank holiday.
Last Thursday, we happened upon a rare Summer’s day, and decided to squeeze in a bit of a walk. I hadn’t tried Castle Ward’s new trails yet, so it seemed like as good a chance as any.
It takes a certain amount of discipline to drive from Belfast to Castle Ward. There are so many things worth looking at on the way that you could easily find yourself sidetracked, but we stuck with it. No deviation to see Inch Abbey, or the County Down Museum, or even the holy wells at Struell (blessed by Saint Patrick, they say, just before he stripped buck naked and spent the night there singing psalms).
There were hardly any people in the estate, but there were plenty of foxgloves. Foxgloves sprouting out of the hillside and erupting out of every crack in the rock. Eucalyptus was there in profusion. Leafy young plants, tall, mature trees, and snake-like strips of shed bark lining the path. It made me wonder just how invasive it might get.
It might be owned by the National Trust, but Castle Ward it still a working estate. The most noticible fauna present were the cattle. And noticible they certainly are! A lot of the route crosses fields full of bulls, cows and calves, so sometimes a bit of caution is required. Diversions are signposted at various points in case you need an alternative route.
A man was trampled to death by the cattle here not so long ago, so it doesn’t do to be complacent about the danger, but today they were calm enough.
The Boundary Trail is pretty well marked throughout, and it’s all but impossible to get lost – once you’re on the trail, just keep going.
There’s been a lot of work put into the trails, and it shows. The hiking, cycling and bridle paths are arranged so that they overlap, but cause minimal inconvenience for each group.
Walking was the goal today, so we didn’t check out the Big House, but it’s an interesting one if you’re interested in architecture. Due to bickering between the husband and wife who owned the place it’s built in two completely different styles: his side of the building is classical, and her side is Gothick.
Along with the house, there’s the usual NT tea-room, naturally. You can also hire canoes to take out on Strangford Lough, but that’s a temptation for another day!