Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
This excellent museum, just 11 kilometres from Belfast, consists of 30 typical buildings from past centuries, each carefully restored and furnished to give a faithful impression of times past. The rebuilt village includes farmhouses and mills, complete with animals and staff dressed in period costume to maintain the air of historical realism. Various ancient skills, such as thatching and ploughing, are demonstrated for visitors during the summer season.
Across the road from the village, the transport galleries contain examples of all forms of transport utilised in the area over hundreds of years. Horse-drawn carts, bicycles planes and trams are all exhibited, as well as a De Lorean sports car.
Crawfordsburn Country Park
A large estate once belonging to the Crawford family, Crawfordsburn Country Park lies just three kilometres west of Bangor. With plenty of beautiful wooded walks through beeches, cypresses and even a Californian Giant Redwood, it also boasts a gun emplacement, with a command post and lookout station. Information on the local flora and fauna can be found in the Park Centre.
Strangford Lough is almost a lake, with just a strait of one kilometre leading to the sea. Twenty five kilometres long and approximately six kilometres wide, it’s a calm inlet cut off from the sea by the Ards Peninsula. With plenty of birdlife in the area, and colonies of grey seals to be found throughout the year, the lough boasts a diverse marine life and even the occasional killer whale has been known to make an appearance in these waters. Boat trips around the lough are available for visitors.
Dividing Strangford Lough from the Irish Sea, Ards Peninsula is six kilometres wide and 35 long, with lots of sandy beaches along its lengthy coast. The remains of tower houses built during the middle ages to protect the coastline are found throughout the peninsula. These days, the peninsula focuses on agriculture, with recent initiatives including ostrich farming becoming popular.
Mount Stewart House and Gardens
The Mount Stewart estate lies just eight kilometres south east of Newtownards and comprises a stunning 18th century house and beautiful gardens. The estate was originally the home of the Marquess of Londonderry, and the 98 acres of garden was landscaped by Lady Londonderry, wife of the seventh Marquess. The gardens are now looked after by the National Trust.
Woodlands, lakes, Spanish and Italian gardens, statues and topiary vie for attention, while the house itself is also worth a visit. The interior is lavish, having sheltered a number of influential figures over the years. This was the birthplace of Lord Castlereagh, who went on to become British foreign secretary and was largely responsible for the Act of Union which dissolved the Irish parliament. A number of valuable paintings are contained in the house, as well as elaborate furnishings and marble nudes.
The beautiful Mourne Mountains are still relatively untouched by humans, with a number of towns and villages surrounding the range, but very little in the way of inhabitants based on its granite slopes. Several of its peaks are accessible for climbers, however, with the most popular being Slieve Donard, which at 848 metres is the highest in the range and Ulster’s highest peak.
Other heights to scale include Slieve Binnian, Slieve Bearnagh, Slieve Lamagan, Slieve Muck and Cove Mountain. At the heart of the range is the Silent Valley Reservoir, surrounded by Mourne Wall, built in the early nineteenth century to provide employment for the local poor. The range also contains several parks, including Donard Park and Tollymore Forest Park. For information on walks in the mountains, Mourne Countryside Centre in Newcastle is a good starting point.