Walk 24: Antrim Town Walk: Irish eyes are smiling

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5 miles (8.1km)

Time to walk: This is another walk that would probably take 1.5 hours to complete, but with a visit to stunning Lough Neagh included, it’s not one you want to hurry especially if, like when we visited, the weather was a fantastic sunny early November morning

Difficulty: All on flat hard paths. There had been a deluge the day before & we still didn’t get muddy

Parking: We used the free parking at Clotworthy House in Antrim Castle Gardens

Public toilets: Clotworthy House & at Lough Neagh

Map of the route: Not the best, but you won’t need one!

It’s not often that we dedicate a walk, but as a thank you for the fantastic welcome, hospitality & craic we received, this walk’s dedicated to the lovely staff of Tesco Antrim Masserene

Having visited Belfast before we’d never experienced Northern Ireland outside of the city. Antrim, in County Antrim, is in the northeast of Northern Ireland on the banks of Six Mile Water & close to Lough Neagh

The town itself is only small, but makes a great base for visiting a beautiful part of the country. County Antrim is one of 6 counties that form Northern Ireland. It’s one of the 32 traditional counties of Ireland & is within the historic province of Ulster

Our next visit will include the stunning coastline including The Giant’s Causeway, Portrush &, of course, Bushmills distillery

But that’s for another time as this walk’s concentrated around the centre of Antrim itself. Apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos as these were taken early morning on a phone

So…Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk in Antrim starts in the car park at Antrim Castle Gardens. It’s free to park & can be found on the Randalstown Road out of the town. Some people park just outside the gates, but drive on & park in the free main car park

Walk through the entrance into the courtyard of Clotworthy House

Very early morning!!

Very early morning!!

Clotworthy House was built in the 1840s as a coach house & stables for Antrim Castle

If you fancy a quick coffee etc then we can really recommend the cafe on the left through the archway. PS the warm sausage rolls are pretty good!!

We’ll have a coffee later as we’ve got a few miles to cover so we move through the next archway & have a look back…

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2. We’re now in the heart of Castle Antrim Gardens which were created by the Viscounts Masserene between 1680 & 1715 & are one of the earliest of their kind in the UK. They underwent a massive renovation in 2011/2012 & are certainly impressive although we’re only going to touch part of them today

Turn left, but straight ahead’s the river which we’re going to follow later. Because of the storms last night it was in full flow…

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3. We then take the first left along the path between the 2 high hedges…beech to the left & lime to the right…

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At the end of the lime hedge turn right to enter Parterre Garden

4. Parterre Gardens supplied the Castle with herbs for cooking & medicinal purposes in the 18th & early 19th centuries. However by 1857 the garden had disappeared. Luckily it was recreated in the 1990s

Today in November it was pretty bare so we’ve also attached a picture of what it looks like in full bloom…

5. Our exit from Parterre Gardens lies through the gate opposite where we entered & then turn left to arrive at the Long Canal…

The lower canal dates from 1710, while the upper canal was added by the 10th Viscount Massereene in the 19th century. The narrow paths on each side are called ‘lovers paths’ as couples had to walk close together to catch each other if they fell

Every year on 31st May it’s reported a ghostly coach pulled by 4 horses appears which then sinks into the depths of the Long Canal. It’s thought to relate to an event that took place in the 18th Century when a drunken coachman mistook the canal waters for that of a damp road surface. The occupants of the coach & the driver perished without trace

6. At the end of the Long Canal turn right & follow the path until arriving at the Round Pond

The above photo doesn’t really do it justice as this is a beautiful little area of the Gardens known as the ‘Wilderness’. It contains common, rare & exotic planting amongst scenic paths & avenues

Here's a watercolour of how it would have looked

Here’s a watercolour of how it would have looked

7. We now need to walk away from the Round Pond down the avenue leading towards the yew hedge with the hole in it. Again it was very dark along here…

…& turn right just before the gap to arrive at the Motte…

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The fantastic Motte was built in the late 12th century by the Norman Lord John de Courcy, Earl of Ulster, or one of his followers, as part of his conquest of Antrim & Down & is one of the finest in Ireland

The Motte castle was the centre of an Anglo-Norman manor & other records refer to a nearby bridge, the building of byres & barns, numerous plough teams & other items of a busy settlement. The timber castle would have stood on the top of the mound, which is approximately 9 metres high. Considering its royal status, it’s highly probable that it had a bailey (a fortified enclosure for a garrison) the remains of which may lie beneath the nearby Terrace gardens

On arrival in Antrim, Sir Hugh Clotworthy enclosed the Motte within a walled bawn of 5 acres & established a garrison complete with castle to carry out his role as Captain of Lough Neagh. The Motte provided an excellent vantage point for the Lough & surrounding area & a large cannon was placed on top.

The Motte was transformed into a magnificent viewing mount in the early 18th century with a corkscrew path lined on the outside with a yew hedge. It reminds us of the one at Lyveden in Northamptonshire…

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8. Follow the path round the left of the Motte to come to the remains of Antrim Castle itself…at least the sun’s higher now for some better photos!

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9. Antrim Castle, or Massereene Castle, was built in stages between 1610 & 1666

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In recent history the castle was used for political conferences. In 1906 Right Hon. John Foster, the last Speaker of the Irish House, was reported to have spoken in the Oak Room of the castle at a meeting

During a grand ball on 28 October 1922, the castle caught fire & was destroyed. Although much of the evidence pointed to arson by the IRA, the official verdict was not conclusive, thus no insurance claim was paid out. The castle remained as a ruin until its demolition in 1970. The only evidence of the castle is a slightly raised grassed platform as well as a freestanding Italian tower which was built in 1887 & a gatehouse

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 10. With the Motte on the left we head towards & pass through the underpass…

Being close to the river you can now see how swollen it was…

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Immediately after passing through the underpass turn sharp left & head up the steps to the main road…

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11. We’re now walking alongside the Artillery Fort & Castle Walls

The Fort was built by Hugh Clotworthy in 1596 & it remained the same until, in the 18th century, it was converted into a garden for the Castle. The main part was destroyed in 1972 to make way for the road. Today the rampart & east wall survive. In 1999 the Borough Council restored the walls & a viewing platform was created on the turret in 2004. However some of the wall collapsed in 2008 & has again been rebuilt

After following the wall for a short while we turn right through the double archway below…

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12. …where we find the Barbican Gate…

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Built around 1818, this was the main entrance into Antrim Castle & the arms displayed above it are those of the Masserene family. It’s another building that’s been recently renovated

13. Following the road round we come to the centre point of the town…the Market Square…

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Permission to hold six fairs a year was granted in 1665, but this later reduced to three, being the annual livestock fair, a weekly produce market & a fair to hire workers

14. The main building here is The Old Courthouse…

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The Old Courthouse was built in 1726 for £150. The Court used the upper floor, whilst a market was held under the arches at the bottom

Later the bottom floor was converted into a holding space for prisoners awaiting trial & later into a library. Court trials continued until 1994

Today the building contains the local Tourist Information Centre (& very helpful they were too) as well as the excellent Manns Cafe

15. Let’s now head up the High Street. It’s a real mix of traditional pubs, local butchers & greengrocers together with the usual charity shops

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The view back to the Old Courthouse

The view back to the Old Courthouse

The locals kept telling us about Maddens Bar which apparently has a front & back bar. There was music on that weekend, but we didn’t make it…

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We didn't stop here today either!

We didn’t stop here today either!

The view back down the High Street

The view back down the High Street

16. Eventually the High Street reaches a roundabout. Left is Castle Way, but continue up Church Street which used to be known as Scotch Quarter due to the number of Scots who settled here

On the left’s the Old Congregation Church…

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…which was built for the Scottish settlers in 1700 & later reconstructed in 1888

17. Further along the left side of Church Street’s an imposing building know as Castle Puff…

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This building used to be the clergy house for the close-by Non Subscribing Presbyterian Church & was used to house guests thought not be important enough to stay at the Castle

Great traditional shop along here too

Great traditional shop along here too

18. Cross over Church Street to head back towards the High Street. On the left now’s the First Antrim Presbyterian Church which was built in a Greek style with two Doric columns (takes us back to Bath!). The congregation was formed in 1726

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19. Walking back towards the town on the left’s a blue plaque…

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Irvine was born, the ninth of twelve children, in Pogue’s Entry in Antrim, the street he was later to make famous. As a young man he worked as a newsboy, miner & a soldier before emigrating to the United States

He graduated from Yale University as a minister of religion & preached for some years in the Church of the Ascension in New York. During the First World War he served on the western front

Irvine’s publications include The Souls Of Poor Folk; The Man From World’s End; My Lady Of The Chimney Corner. He’s buried in Antrim Church of Ireland graveyard

20. The above mentions Pogues Entry & that’s next door to where we are now but…oh dear…

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As you can see it’s only open for several months of the year… so what is Pogues Entry? Well it’s basically the 18th cottage where Irvine spent his childhood years. Here’s what it would have looked like if we could have seen it

The cottage still looks the same now as it did then as a tribute to Irvine . The guide tells us to visit the resident ceramicist & watch him at work on his kiln – well we’d have loved to & apparently it’s the only one of its kind in Ireland

21. Getting over the disappointment we carry on & the next place we come to is impressive though…All Saints Church

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This is one of the oldest churches in Northern Ireland having been built in 1596. We’ve seen many churches , but this one’s got something we’ve never come across before called leper squints. Apparently they’re holes that allow views of the interior of the church by people not allowed into it

The church has been subject to many burnings & reconstructions & the churchyard also plays host to the afore mentioned Alexander Irvine

22. We need to turn left down Riverside, but before we go we’ve been recommended to visit a couple of local institutions over the road…

Firstly ‘The Chippy’ which claims to be one of the top 5 fish & chip shops in Northern Ireland

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We tried it & it wasn’t bad, but the service was slow & we were disappointed with the batter even though it was freshly cooked. It isn’t a patch on our favourite The Magpie in Whitby

It's location to the quay says how fresh the fish is & it's cooked in beef dripping!!

It’s location to the quay says how fresh the fish is & it’s cooked in beef dripping!!

Also on the corner is the fabulous Bushes Home Bakery…

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23. Back over the road we need to head down Riverside, which was formerly known as Mill Row…

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Riverside was once the industrial capital of Antrim during the 18th & 19th centuries. This street runs along Six Mile Water where you would find a paper mill, brewery, corn mill & weaving factory at 34 Mill Row. The area’s been preserved as far as possible

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24. We now about-turn & head back towards the church. There’s some great views of Six Mile Water on the left plus the bridge we’re shortly going to cross…

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As we approached the top of the road we were greeted & past by an old boy on a bike who must have been in his 80’s…

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25. Turning left at the top, back on the left’s The Old High Street Presbyterian Church which is built in a Gothic style. It’s obviously no longer a church…

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…walking along the street we note that Antrim’s flying the Union flag from most lampposts

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26. Turning left at the roundabout we walk along Bridge Street towards Masserene Bridge…

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Masserene Bridge was built in 1708, but then widened in 1857, There’s some great views from here…

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27. Just over the bridge on the left’s the Masserene Forge which was built in 1887 & was home to Viscount Masserene’s blacksmith..note the horseshoe doorway

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28. Just after the forge cross the road & turn right up the next street passing the British Legion Hall…

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…& then turning right into the public car park…

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…& onto the river path that will lead us to Lough Neagh…

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29. We’re now going to follow this path all the way to Lough Neagh. Across the river’s Antrim Castle where we were earlier…

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Here’s a little video we took…

30. Carry on along the path past the Leisure Centre…

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Closer to the Castle now

Closer to the Castle now

…& eventually we come to Deerpark Bridge which would allow us to walk back to where we left the car…

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Deerpark Bridge was built in the mid 18th century from basalt which is the same rock that forms the Giant’s Causeway. The pasture this side of the bridge was used for grazing sheep & deer

There’s another piece of folklore associated with this area. In 1600’s Lady Marian Clotworthy was attacked by a massive wolf. Legend says she was saved by an Irish Wolfhound that ran out of the woods & then disappeared. His statue now sits in the courtyard of Clotworthy House

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31. But we don’t want to go there yet as we’ve a Lough to find!!

So head straight on past Antrim Stadium on the left

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…& just follow the hard path besides the river…

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The river’s in full flow, it’s a gorgeous early November morning & autumn is showing her fabulous colours…it’s great to be alive on days like this!

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32. Shortly the path heads into the trees for a short while via some metal barriers. For the past ten minutes we’d followed a grandad telling his grandson the virtues of life…

Eventually we emerge into the open again…

Who's that trying to keep their shadow out of the shot & failing?

Who’s that trying to keep their shadow out of the shot & failing?

There’s been a few cyclists here & a notice explains it’s part of the National Cycle Network

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All along here’s a very impressive fitness trail which, unfortunately we didn’t get time to try out…ha! ha!

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33. Just across the river is a stark reminder of ‘the Troubles’ – Massereene Barracks. Recently sold, we’ll come back & have a look at the end of the walk…

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Spot the heron

Spot the heron

34. We’re getting closer to the Lough now & start to pass several boats moored along the riverbank…

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Given the amount of water trying to get out of the river into the Lough & vice-versa it was getting pretty rough as this clip shows…

35. And finally we arrive at beautiful Lough Neagh

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Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in the UK & Ireland & is an Area of Special Scientific Interest & a Special Protection Area

Six of Northern Ireland’s major rivers flow into the Lough & the one that we’ve been following is a great salmon & trout fishery

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Here’s another little clip we took…

I see no ships!

I see no ships!

36. Right…time limits mean we need to head back, so making a promise to return & walk some of the Lough paths, we about turn & follow the riverside path back to Deerpark Bridge & cross it…

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…& turn left back to Clotworthy House

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37. In the entrance to the house there was a nice little touch that we didn’t see earlier. We could imagine sitting in the courtyard with a nice coffee from the cafe having a good read…

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38. A latte later it’s back through the courtyard gardens to where we left the car. Now the sun was higher it was easier to get some brighter shots…

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39. Remember that we said we’d have a look at Masserene Barracks at the end of our walk? Whilst not wishing to end the walk on  a ‘down’ whenever we visit an area we always research & write about as much of the local history as possible

On exiting the Gardens turn left at the main road &, after about 200 yards we arrive at the main entrance. The Barracks have recently been sold, but at present are untouched from when they were closed

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On 7 March 2009, two off-duty British soldiers of 38 Engineer Regiment were shot dead outside Massereene Barracks whilst taking delivery of a pizza. Two other soldiers & two civilian delivery men were also shot & wounded during the attack. An Irish republican paramilitary group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility.

The shootings were the first British military fatalities in Northern Ireland since February 1997. There followed a miscarriage of justice when cystic fibrosis sufferer Brian Shivers was convicted of the murders & jailed for life, only to later have his conviction quashed after time in prison

It’s another of those places where you can ‘feel’ history…

Well that’s the end of our early morning stroll around a part of the country we can’t wait to come back to & explore more. All the way along our walk, whether it was in the town or by the river, people just wanted to stop & chat & it’s a long time since we were made so welcome

Great people, great countryside, great craic – thanks Antrim & see you soon

Go Walk!

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