2014 – Day Thirty Six

Rain! Lots of rain! It’s pouring down and has been most of the night.

We are near Mount Stewart house, a National Trust house and gardens which we are determined to see, rain or not. We rug up, with brollies at the ready and set off.

The first thing to greet us is a “give way to squirrels” sign in the car park – little chance we will see them in the rain sadly – hopefully they are dry and snuggled in their nests.

Mount Stewart House was home to the Marquesses of Londonderry and is renowned for its magnificent gardens that draw on Europe for inspiration. It has a formal English garden, a sunken garden, an Italian garden, a Spanish garden, a topiary shamrock shaped garden and a peace garden. Each of the gardens is unique in its design and is separate to the others. Being summer, it’s in full flower and in particular has a scent of oriental lilies which the rain has intensified. There are also wonderful walks though ancient azalea and rhododendrons and beautiful old tees, including an ancient pair of
redwoods. So beautiful. The walk take us around a central lake, which has 2 gorgeous white swans completing a very picturesque view. At one stage we cross a mini bridge on the lake and startle a gaggle of ducks who were hiding from the rain – too wet even for
ducks! Much quacking and squawking as they dash out from under their hiding place into the peace of the lake.

The gardens also drawn on the animal kingdom, with sculptures of dinosaurs, orangutans, cheetah and even dodos complete with Noah’s Ark. There’s a great deal of mythology reflected in the sculptures. It’s really quite magnificent.

The gardens are currently hosting an art exhibition of sculptures which are placed around the garden. We see a very charming sculpture of the three bears having a picnic and a mermaid emerging from the lake.

The house dates back to the 1700s and sections of it are still in private use: a condition of the bequest to the Trust was to retain private rooms for family residence.

The house itself is undergoing a major £7.4M restoration. Everything down to the finest detail is being restored from the floor joists to the artwork, soft furnishings and wood inlay of the doors. It’s a massive project. I have a fun time chatting to one of the Trust team about asset management. They’re introducing a new cataloguing system.

The room we are in has been converted to a three level storage unit – we are standing on the ground floor with hundreds of paintings, each of which will have been meticulously detailed for condition, repaired if needed, catalogued and stored, waiting to be reinstated
to its correct position. We are also lucky to see a number of restorations in progress, including soft furnishings that are being vacuumed through a special mesh, then through muslin to extract centuries of dirt without damage and some extraordinary detailed
door framing with alternating dark bog oak and light holly wood strips. Amazing what the experts can do.

Tour over, and sopping wet, we get back to the car to head ever south. Typically, in an hour or the rain stops and the heavens clear. Oh well, at least we have the gardens and Trust guides all to ourselves.

We end up in Ardglass, a pretty little seaside village and stop in the marina for a look see. We don’t get far. I spot a “rock” in the distance, and whilst I am pondering why a rock is in a marina laneway….it moves!! It is a seal…and then two seals!!!! Delighted!!!

I’m sure they are hanging around the boats for a treat, although these are yachts vs fishing boats. They are grey seals, two boys I think, given their size. One comes quite close to where we are and I can see his lovely mottled colour through the water. He’s huge! The other hangs back, and through the binoculars I get a really good look at him – he presents either his nostrils peeping out of the water like a little periscope, or his butt (he’s a big boy too). He hangs around for ages, and at one stage comes in really close and pops his whole head out. The low afternoon sun catches him and I am in seal bliss – he has a super shiny sleek grey head, tiny little ears, lots, lots, lots of whiskers, and super long eyebrow whiskers too. He’s a very handsome boy. Full of seal goodness. 🙂