[Tip: Rotate phone for best view. All pics click to enlarge]
Tell me you don't love a good ol' Castle?
In school I hated history. It could've been i didn't have the attention span or maybe it was the crazy-ass teacher who threw chalkboard dusters when he was angry (and also looked like the frowning lovechild of Hitler and Dennis The Menace's neighbour). Either way, I hated it.
Fifteen years (or so) on and now look at me - planning weekends around the next castle needing a visit. Rock and roll, kids. Anyway, having passed through the town recently and catching sight of the old walls, Antrim Castle was the destination for today's adventure.
Castle Gardens & Clotworthy House
Not wanting to plan out the day too much, we headed in the direction of Antrim with the idea of parking up at the first place that looked castle'y. A sign for 'Castle Gardens & Clotworthy House' led us down a beautiful, long, tree-lined avenue, eventually arriving at a large, very modern-looking building.
Clotworthy House is named after English settler Sir Hugh Clotworthy, who built the original castle in 1613. The beautiful grey brick building is the former stables block of the Castle, taken over in 1992 by Antrim Borough Council and having since undergone a £6m restoration project to help turn it and its beautiful gardens into the award-winning visitor destination it is today.
Inside, you'll find a museum telling the history of the castle and local area (through a mixture of interactive displays), a stunning light-filled exhibition space (The Oriel Gallery) and the tasty and treat-tastic Garden Coffee Shop. It was lunchtime when we arrived and the place had a great buzz about it - the courtyard filled with coffee-sipping tourists and kids happily playing about (going nuts)..
From the various signs and booklets scattered around, the place looks to have a jam-packed calendar of events - so be sure to check out what's on if you're thinking of heading.
Across the water
Venturing out of the busy courtyard to the other side of Clotworthy, we follow the river path and end up at the picturesque Deerpark Bridge. I'll let the pictures do the talking here. And if you fancy another history lesson, featuring the story of a damsel in distress and an heroic hound, have a gander at the blue sign beside the bridge.
Crossing the bridge, we follow the river path and soon realise we've been following Six Mile Water and in no time at all, end up at Antrim Marina on the shore of Lough Neagh.
Sure send the money in the post
We noticed a crowd gathering beside one of the docked boats. Eventually a few get on and after listening to the laughter from the crowd above us on the deck, curiosity killed the cat and we asked the most captain-of-the-ship-lookin-person about if this was a tour.
"Yes, it is sure is", he says. "We head off on out into the middle of the lough, past a few points of interest including an ex-army torpedo testing site and Shane's Castle". Another castle. I'm sold.
"Is the tour full?", we ask.
"No, not yet."
"Can we come along?"
"Aye, if you're quick. We're waiting on two others coming but I think the wife there's getting impatient". We look over at his wife, a smiley lady who's not showing an ounce of impatience.
"How much is it? We've no cash, can you take a card payment?"
"Don't worry about the money, sure just take our address and send it in the post".
HA! Amazing. How nice are these two!? All aboard!
For their sheer honesty and kindness - plus a perfect little tour around Lough Neagh with witty commentary throughout- I can't recommend these guys enough. Check out the Maid of Antrim and other tours here
46 years too late
Back again on dry land, we head in the direction of the Walled Garden again to find the whereabouts of the Castle itself. After failing to find any signposts, we stop a bunch of local yufs [youths] and ask for their help. At this point we're told that the castle was knocked down years ago and the only significant bits remaining are one of the corner towers and a big gate closer to the town centre.
A quick Google search confirms this. During a grand ball in 1922, the castle caught fire and was completely gutted. Nearly as much as I was in hearing this. After years surviving as a shell (lots of ghost stories apparently) the building was finally pulled down in 1970.
Such a shame. If only the folk of 1970 had known how great a tourist destination Northern Ireland was to become, the structure could have been secured and we may have had another phenomenal landmark to boast about.
The remaining barbican (fortified) gate and Castle tower are still impressive though, plus the motte (hill) of another previous Norman castle right beside it makes for a good dander up.
And just before we finish today's history lesson
A few photos of my history teacher... :-p