In the world top ten of the most beautiful gardens for year 2016, Mount Stuart is number eight. An 19th-century house and garden now owned by the National Trust, Mount Stewart is in County Down, situated on the east shore of Strangford Lough, a few miles outside the town of Newtownards – about 30 minutes drive from Belfast. The estate used to be the Irish seat of the Vane-Tempest-Stewart family, Marquesses of Londonderry. During the summer months, the living members of the family still reside here, in some reserved rooms, while the rest of the property is open to visitors. And it’s well worth the price you pay for entrance.
The lake walk
We decided to start our visit from the lake walk, as the sun was just behind the clouds to lighten up the view… when that happened, the incredible colours of the woods surrounding the lake were simply marvellous. In our initial walk, we were impressed by the decaying walled garden, the white stag and the tir na nog. The number of species you can see in the woods is countless, while you can see birds – the ducks are indeed very friendly – and the traces of foxes on the ground. Also, the buzzing of bees coming from blooming trees is so loud that it it’s almost hypnotic. Wonder after wonder, we completed the circle around the lake and – before starting the tour of the formal gardens – we stopped at the Tea Room for a quick lunch with the soups of the day, soda bread and strawberry cake.
The formal gardens
The formal gardens extend from the side of the building to the front and they are huge. They are a mix of classic and mythologic, comprehending the Shamrock Garden, the Sunken Garden, the Spanish Garden with a small hut, the Italian Garden, the Dodo Terrace, a Menagerie, the Fountain Pool and the Lily Wood.
The house is only partially open to the public: in different periods of the year, different rooms can be seen. Some of the rooms can never be seen as they still are the private rooms of the Stewart family members. All in all, it gives a comfy and relaxed feeling, even if it features many bizarre details.
The main room is the Drawing Room. This looks out onto the main gardens and in the past it would have been possible to see Strangford Lough. Its blinds function as book shelves and when they are closed, at night, they form a complete perimeter of books for the room. Another remarkable room is the Dining Room which looks out onto the entrance front. Mount Stewart also has a private Chapel – a double-height room with stained glass windows and Italian paintings on its walls.
Our visit lasted about 4 hours, and in the end we were exhausted. Mount Stewart is for sure a must for people coming to Northern Ireland. You won’t be disappointed: there’s much more than the gardens to be seen.