This is the strangest stately home you are likely to come across in Ireland, one side of it is Neo-Classical in style while the other is decidely Victorian Gothic reflecting the owner Lord Bangor and his wife, Lady Ann’s very individual tastes. By the end of the tour I wasn’t exactly sure which I preferred and possibly the original occupants weren’t either. The Western Neo-Classical side ticks all the Georgian boxes with a beautifully balanced, portland stone facade and tall elegant counter paned windows. The plasterwork in the entrance hall is detailed and interesting, including the fake piece! Apparently the craftsmen were under pressure to finish, so they dipped a tricorn hat and fiddle and mounted it on the wall, which was only discovered during restoration work a couple of years back.
The dining room and drawing rooms are typically grand and well furnished but it is when you cross over into the Eastern or Gothic side of Castleward that you experience the culture shock with highly ornate gothic ceilings and patterned wallpapers, tufted furniture and costumed stuffed squirrels. Yes, there they are boxing, fishing, hunting etc in their glass cases with their tails chopped off, which is all very weird but intriguing nonetheless, the landed gentry must have had very little to do with their time back then. But I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, the sunken garden is wonderful too, as is the Court Yard and Café. Great location with plenty of walks and nature trails for children along the shores of Strangford Lough.
10 Hidden Gems near Castleward.
1 Take any of the guided walks around Castleward for beautiful views out over Strangford Lough and the Ard’s Peninsula.
2 Visit Audley Castle, about a kilometre north of the Castleward itself it belonged to the Audley’s a planation family who settled there in the 12th century. A small town Audley town closeby disappeared completely when the tenants were evicted and shipped to America in 1585, nothing has been seen or heard of them ever ever since.
3 Audleystown Cairn is a little further along the road towards Downpatrick and a typical long barrow burial site facing east west.
4 Downpatrick, named after Dún (fort) of St Patrick is where Christianity is reputed to have begun in Ireland.
5 You can visit the cathedral itself or the St Patrick Centre for more information about the life and times of Ireland’s patron saint.
6 Or you can head down to the small harbour and take the ferry (every 10 minutes) over to Portaferry and the Ards Peninsula.
7 If you are hungry eat first at The Cuan (harbour) bar and restaurant on the Strangford side of the lough, it serves excellent pub grub and they even do accommodation overhead.
8 Visit Mount Stewart House and Gardens on the Ard’s Peninsula.
9 Hike up or admire from afar Scrabo Tower on the far shore near Dundonald.
10 Visit the wildfowl reserve at Castle Espie, home to 1000s of Brent Geese who arrive to overwinter here from Greenland each autumn.