Monday, 13 March 2017


This lively port is not only home to the largest fishing fleet in Northern Ireland, but is also the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Mourne, and as such is an ideal base for exploring the beautiful MourneMountains and Carlingford Lough.  Kilkeel has a long history dating back to megalithic times, with many dolmens (megalithic tombs) and raths (ancient circular dwellings) in the area.  The harbour, which was first started in the 1850s, is mainly dedicated to fishing for shellfish such as prawns and scallops, but there are proposals for an expansion including the construction of a new breakwater.     

In the past, Greencastle Pier at the mouth of Carlingford Lough was the scene of many a departure for the New World by local people searching for a new life.  During World War II there was a US aerodrome at Greencastle, which was the venue for a wartime commemorative festival called GI Jive last year – I have been unable to find out whether the festival is running again this year. 

One of Kilkeel’s most unpleasant residents over the years was William Hare, born Thomas O’Hare, one of the infamous body snatching duo known as Burke and Hare.  After testifying against Burke, which led to the latter’s hanging in 1829, Hare went to live out his days in Kilkeel, acquiring a wife and child with whom he lived in Newry Street.  He is said to be buried at the Burial Banks alongside the former Kilkeel Workhouse.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 22 February 2017


Rostrevor, on the shore of Carlingford Lough, is a handy gateway to the Mountains of Mourne, approaching them from the south.  The name of the village is said to derive from Rose, the wife of Sir Edward Trevor, who married her in 1612.  Trevor was a key member of a Welsh dynasty who met Rose, daughter of the Archbishop of Armagh, while on military service in Ireland, and the land around Rostrevor was an estate he acquired there. 

Among the points of interest around the village is the Cloughmore Stone (Big Stone) just outside the southern end of Rostrevor.  This large granite boulder is thought to have been transported from Scotland during the last Ice Age, although according to legend it was tossed over from the other side of the Lough by a giant.  Being 1,000 feet above the Lough, it is worth the walk up to the stone for the views, in addition to which there is a local tradition at Easter in which the locals roll Easter eggs down the slope from here.  On the Kilbroney road above the village are the remains of the 6th century church of StBronagh.  The church is known for the ghostly ringing of a bell, even though there has been no bell in use there since the monastic community set up at the church came to an end.  On Shore Road is the Ross Monument, originally erected in 1826 and restored in 2008, in honour of local hero Major General Robert Ross, whose military adventures included a victory over American forces at Bladensburg, Maryland, during the War of 1812. 

For an energetic walk, head up into the mountains, where there are attractive walking routes through Rostrevor Forest.  Or if you have kids in tow, head over to Kilbroney Park, where the Narnia Trail brings the famous C S Lewis stories to life, with themes including The Tree People and The Beaver’s House.  Fans of ancient sites should head out to the Kilfeaghan Dolmen, about 3 miles out of the village.  This Neolithic portal tomb is about 5,000 years old and has one of the biggest capstones in Ireland, weighing 35 tons.

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Photo by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 14 February 2017


The Northern Irish town of Warrenpoint faces the Republic of Ireland across the waters of Carlingford Lough.  The town sits at the mouth of the Newry Canal where it empties out into the Lough, and it is also near the foothills of the Mountains of Mourne.  There are lovely views from the seafront of the mountains meeting the sea.  The town was planned and built on a grid system at the beginning of the 19th century, and by the mid 1800s its timber trade with North America and Canada had turned it into a prominent port.  It was also an important centre for markets and fairs. 

Nowadays the town is a popular seaside venue, with a range of restaurants and watering holes plus an amusement park in the summer.  Above the town is a track called the Bridal Loanen, and at the entrance to this is the Coronation Stone of the Clan Magennis, once one of the most powerful families in Ulster.  This was where the chieftain of the Clan was inaugurated, surrounded by all those who owed him allegiance.  Just outside the town, beyond the WarrenpointGolf Club, is Narrow Water Castle, a 16th century tower house which, as its name suggests, occupies a riverside site on the Clanrye River a mile from where it enters the Lough.  The site was originally fortified in 1212 by Hugh de Lacy, 1st Earl of Ulster, in a bid to protect nearby Newry from river attacks, but the original castle was destroyed during the 1641 rebellion.  The castle was the scene of a tragic event during "the Troubles", when 18 British soldiers were killed in an ambush by the Provisional IRA.  Nowadays it is the scene of happier events, as it is a popular wedding venue.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Ardfern, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 24 January 2017


St Martin’s is the third largest inhabited island on the Isles of Scilly, and its three settlements are imaginatively named Higher Town, Middle Town and Lower Town.  The island houses the Scillies’ only Ordnance Survey triangulation station, and nearby is a striking red and white striped tower with a conical top known as the Daymark which, though erected in a relatively recent 1683, is a Scheduled Ancient Moument.  Being the most northerly island in the archipelago, the Daymark is the first thing passengers crossing from the mainland catch sight of when approaching the Scillies.  In spite of its diminutive size, St Martin’s manages to find room for a vineyard, the most south-westerly in England.  There are tours available in the summer months.  Another popular activity on the island is the seal snorkelling for those who want to get up close to these lovable creatures.  Other than that, there is a pub, a fish and chip restaurant and a scattering of accommodation options, but the main attraction here is the natural beauty and the wonderful views.

St Agnes includes the southernmost settlement in England, at Troy Town Farm.  A sandbar connects the island to another island called Gugh, so that at low tide they become one island, though the sandbar disappears at high tide, cutting off Gugh’s three residents.  St Agnes is the island to head for if you are a birdwatcher, with over one-third of its area designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  September and October are the busiest birdwatching months, jokingly referred to as the “Scilly Season”.  Many “firsts” have been spotted, including a number of ‘vagrant’ birds.  As for flora, Wingletang Down is the only place in Britain where the fern type ‘least adder’s-tongue’ can be found.  The area is also notable for its ancient sites: over forty Bronze Age cairns have been found there.  For overnighters, there are a small number of bed and breakfasts, and refreshments available from several outlets including the island’s only pub.

Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Scillies archipelago, but in spite of its size there is a marked contrast between the wave-battered west coast and the tranquillity of the sheltered side facing Tresco and of Rushy Bay in the south.  The island is also big enough for a hill, Samson Hill, with its Bronze Age cairns.  Added to which it boasts a bar hailed as one of Britain’s best boozers by Jamie Oliver, and an award-winning hotel with the misleading name Hell Bay, which belies the luxurious offerings therein.  The name comes from the adjacent stretch of coastline which has received a battering over the years by waves crashing in from the Atlantic.  Bryher has even done a turn on the big screen, being the backdrop for the film Why The Whales Came, based on a book by regular visitor Michael Morpurgo.   

Map of the area. 

St Agnes from St Mary's, by Barbara Ashley

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Hell Bay, Bryher. Photo by Ian Davison, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 9 January 2017


In an archipelago known for its subtropical climate, Tresco is the most subtropical island of them all, largely courtesy of the TrescoAbbey Garden, a riot of palms and other exotica set alongside a ruined 12th century priory, and including a collection of ship figureheads in the Valhalla Museum.  The gardens were started by a Hertfordshire squire called Augustus Smith who leased the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1834, and who built Tresco Abbey as his home beside the existing ruins. 

Tresco is  just two and a half miles long and a mile wide at its widest point and is one of just five inhabited islands out of the 200-odd islands which make up the archipelago. For such a small piece of land Tresco has seen a surprising amount of action in the past, with three English Heritage properties acting as reminders of the island’s history.   The Old Blockhouse, also known as Dover Fort, was built in the mid-16th century by the government of Edward VI as protection against attack by the French.  The fort was occupied by the Royalists following the English Civil War and was attacked by Parliamentary forces in 1651.  King Charles’s Castle was another initiative of Edward VI,  and was garrisoned by Royalists during the Civil War.  Following the attack in 1651 a third fort was built called Cromwell’s Castle.  This round tower overlooking the stretch of water between Tresco and Bryher is one of Britain’s few surviving Cromwellian fortifications.

Meanwhile, for nature lovers there are two fresh water pools near the Abbey Garden with several hides for watching birds such as dunlins and plovers.  The pools are visited by migratory birds during spring and autumn.  For those who can’t bear to leave this balmy paradise, there is accommodation on the island as well as a number of refreshment options.  Tresco can be reached via a short boat crossing from the main island in the archipelago, St Mary’s.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Darren Smith, via Wikimedia Commons