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Northern Ireland - Western County Down

Top 10 places

Top 100 places to visit in Northern Ireland

Western County Down

1. Castlewellan Forest Park

Located in a dramatic setting of mountains and sea, this is one of the most outstanding tree and shrub collections in Europe. The garden is a mixture of informal and formal design with terraces, fountains, ornamental gates and flower borders. To walk around the forest park's mile-long lake, encountering some intriguing modern sculptures on the way, is to enjoy a great experience of eighteenth-century landscaping. Why not give fly fishing a try? Contact the park office for details.

2. Annalong Corn Mill

Annalong is a relaxed seaside town with a stony beach and pleasure craft and small fishing trawlers tied up against the harbour. Just off the main road in Marine Park and overlooking the harbour, stands a 19th century corn-mill, still in working order. Built in 1830 it operated until the 1960’s and was one of Ulster’s last working watermills. The complex contains a grain drying kiln and 3 pairs of millstones, which are powered by the combination of a 15ft waterwheel and a 1920’s Marshall 'hot-bulb' 20hp engine.

3. Hike up Slieve Donard

The highest peak in the Mournes, and in Northern Ireland, is Slieve Donard, at 850m (2788 ft). The ascent is relatively easy, with a well marked trail that ends at the massive hermit cell on the summit. From here, the views accross the whole mountain landscape are utterly spectacular. You can obtain walking maps and information from the Mourne Countryside Centre in the seaside town of Newcastle. More serious climbers may like to try a climbing course run by the Tollymore Mountain Centre in Bryansford.

4. Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle dates from 1797, and from 1925 to 1973 was the residence of the governor of Northern Ireland. Since then it's been used mainly to house visiting diplomats, and is now the official residence of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Tours take you through the State Drawing and Dining Rooms, replete with Georgian furniture and silver from HMS Nelson, while the gardens, which you're free to roam through, are particularly lovely in May and June, when the many roses and Europe's largest rhdodendron bush are in bloom.

5. The Silent Valley and Viewpoint Walk

A mile or so inland from the coastal town of Annalong, signposts point to the Silent Valley, where you'll find Belfast and County Down's reservoir. There's a car park by the lower reservoir, bounded by the Mourne Wall, a 22 mile long granite boundary to the catchment area that links the summits of fifteen mountains. The views out to Slieve Binnian and Ben Crom, to the west are worth the effort of the three mile circular Viewpoint Walk, which starts at the car park. Less energetic, but still superb, is the half mile Sally Lough Stroll up to the dam at Ben Crom.

6. Warrenpoint

Picturesque Warrenpoint, on the shores of Carlingford Lough, is a traditional seaside resort with a colourful esplanade of seafront housing and a spacious central square. It's a relaxed and friendly town and is a pleasant place to use as a base. A revitalised waterfront has a bustling promenade with hotels and cafes and a new marina attracts the boating fraternity. During the second week in August the Maiden of the Mournes festival takes place - a local version of the Rose of Tralee.

7. Narrow Water Castle

Less than a mile northwest of Warrenpoint on the Newry Road is Narrow Water Castle. The original was built in 1212 by Hugh de Lacy to guards access to Newry via the river, but this was burnt down during the 1641 Rebellion and the ruins here are of a building erected some twenty years later. Although built for military purposes, Narrow Water Castle is a typical example of the tower houses found throughout Ireland from the 15th to early 17th century. The castle is open all year round and guided tours take place during July and August.

8. Newcastle Centre and Tropicana Complex

Newcastle has a beautiful beach with views of the Mourne Mountains, and on a rainy day there's lots of activities here to keep children entertained. Newcastle Centre and Tropicana Complex has indoor and outdoor swimming pools and water slides, and Coco's Adventure Playground has an activity tower and a soft play area for toddlers. For the grown ups, there's walking in the Mournes to the southwest of town, pony trekking and fishing on the river. Golfing enthusiasts may be tempted by Newcastle's Royal County Down golf course.

9. Tollymore Forest Park

Tollymore Forest Park is a rare treat, with a barn dressed up to look like a church, stone cones atop gate piers and gothic-style gate arches. A walk along the Shimna river is marked by many curiosities, natural and artificial - rocky outcrops, bridges, grottos and caves. Elsewhere in the park the tree lover can examine experimental forest plots - some of exotic trees such as monkey puzzle and eucalyptus - or admire the tall giant redwoods and Monterey pines.

10. The Leganny Dolmen

The Leganny Dolmen is signposted from the village of Leitrim, three miles north of Castlewellan. Approaching the site you'll find yourself on narrow humped lanes, gradually ascending the southern edge of the Slieve Croob range, and feeling increasingly distant from modern realities. Dolmen are also known as 'Portal Tombs.' Dating from around 2500-2000 BC they consist of three or more sturdy upright boulders, on which an often bigger capstone was placed.
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