If you drive along the shores of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland you are met with stunning views. The sea lapping against stone walls when the tide is in, or vast beaches exposed when the tide is out. Looking across the lough to green fields and passing harbours where small fishing boats are anchored, it is a scenic drive. Along the way you will pass Mount Stewart, a house and gardens owned by the National Trust that is well worth a visit. The house was home to the Marquesses of Londonderry and the gardens were the work of Lady Londonderry.
There is plenty of room to park and entry into the ground is through a wooded area. The scent of curry hangs in the air from a curry tree which used to stand here, possibly some shoots remain. A butterfly posed as we passed, stopping to drink the sweet nectar from the plant.
The house is impressive, with large sweeping drives and vast gardens. You can imagine people arriving to visit in old fashioned cars, chauffeur driven and greeted at the door by a butler, his face impassive as he takes their coats. Although you can go inside the house, we opted to explore the gardens.
There are many different styles of garden, it is like entering the world of Alice in Wonderland, you never know what you will find around the next corner. The red hand of Ulster blazes in flowers with the Irish harp behind it. Looking closely at the surrounding hedges figures are seen atop them, a man on a horse, a rabbit, all carefully fashioned from the leaves.
There is a rich variety of plants from around the world, the trees have labels on telling you what they are and where they are from. Giant sequoias loom, promising to reach full size. They have many years to grow. My son and his cousins test their Granny, asking her which each of the different trees are, hiding the labels from her view. Most of them are identified, a skill which we have now lost.
We pass through golden gates into a garden where statues lurk, something unexpected behind every corner. The flowers are beautiful, blooming with different colours, setting off the pond in the centre.
Passing though the gate monkeys carry loads on their heads, deep in concentration, as if they are likely to drop the burden. They remind me of the three wise monkeys, trying to hear, speak and see no evil.
Smaller gardens are set off the main garden, each with a different theme. This one looks oriental, I half expected a tea ceremony to be played out at the bottom. Brightly dressed Geisha’s pouring tea into delicate cups.