We had a couple of hours spare before a flight from Belfast International Airport, so found this place was only 10 minutes drive away and decided to see what it was like. What a great find - a beautiful place, lovely walks and plenty of interesting things to see and do.
There was lots of free car-parking, we strolled alongside a little canal with lots of boats "parked" up. The whole area was leafy, green and lush. Beside the canal at various points are different pieces of outdoor gym equipment - we had great fun trying these out - go for a walk and keep fit too!
Eventually we reached the castle itself. There are only ruins now though, but it is a lovely ruin. The castle was built between 1610 and 1666. It was the former home of Viscount Massereene. At one time, it was an important place, used for political conferences amongst other things. In 1906 the last Speaker of the Irish House spoke in the Oak Room at a meeting. There was a fire during a grand ball in 1922. The castle unfortunately burnt down. Evidence pointed to the IRA, but the official verdict was not conclusive.
The Italian tower is still standing - a lovely stone building, and the grassy mound which you can walk up to the top are the only pieces of evidence that a castle once stood here.
The grounds and garden are stunning and beautifully kept. The trees looked glorious too. The gardens are recently restored - thanks to a grant from the National Lottery. We spent about an hour, strolling and taking in the views. It is a lovely, peaceful place.
Right in the centre of the gardens is Clotworthy House. Another lovely stone building, if you go through the gate and into the courtyard there is an exhbition about the gardens and the Massereene family, an art exhibition, a shop and a lovely coffee shop. We sat in the courtyard and enjoyed their delicious coffee and cakes.
Back at the car park, we strolled over to the water's edge and found ourselves on the shores of Lough Neagh - the largest freshwater lake in the UK. We flew over it later when we caught our flight - it was good to get two different perspectives!
You can see a structure just in the middle of the lake - it was a torpedo platform which was built during World War II. They built it so that Mark 8 Themal torpedoes from a nearby factory could be tested for accuracy and depth. This was the launching platform, but apparently they used to have sleeping quarters, a food store and a kitchen there too just in case bad weather prevented the staff returning to shore. Today it is a breeding place for common terns and cormorants before they fly away in August to the west coast of Africa.
There are lots of information boards about the Lough and the surrounding area and its geology and geography. I enjoyed reading those. Our son enjoyed the various information boards with local legends. One in particular captivated him - all about the legend of how Lough Neagh was formed. Finn McCool, the Irish giant who "formed" the Giants Causeway was fighting with a Scottish giant. In anger, he lifted a huge rock out of the ground and flung it at the other giant. The hole in the ground, from where he lifted the rock, filled in with water and became Lough Neagh - largest lake in the UK and Ireland - nice story!
We spent about 2 hours here before our flight, strolling, exploring the castle and gardens and looking out over Lough Neagh. It is a lovely place - come early for your flight, I definitely recommend checking it out.