Slieve donard resort and spa

This grand dame was built in 1897 as a railway hotel for weekenders from Belfast (incidentally, the former station is now a rather ornate Lidl), and now sits perfectly placed between the sea, the mountains and the Royal County Down Golf Club. The hotel has limited

capacity to 50 of its 181 rooms, and hygiene measures are reassuringly visible – from hand sanitiser stations to a socially distanced reception, requirement to pre-book dining times and suspending daily room cleaning – but don’t infringe on the enjoyment. Food and drink is excellent,

rooms well-appointed and the heritage decor offers an added level of elegance. Many guests visit primarily for the golf – the hotel has practice nets, its own buggy and access to the neighbouring course – or the spa, which has just been upgraded. It remains closed, but the pool and gym are expected to reopen on August 7. Book it: B&B at Slieve Donard Resort and Spa starts at £85 per person.

from across Ireland to test their mettle on the trails across the slieves (mountains). As we set off up a steep path on Slieve Martin, we passed families with young children, groups of teens, and hardy hikers and bikers kitted out in all-weather gear. Guide Peter Rafferty, who runs local outfit Walk the Mournes, told me the trails had become a favourite spot for people getting their daily exercise during lockdown, and with these open, untouched landscapes on their doorstep, it’s no wonder.

Peter pointed out wild heather growing by the side of the path and picked fresh blaeberries (bilberries) for us to try. Then the trail evened out and the giant granite boulder of Cloughmore – aka the Big Stone, said to have been thrown there by legendary Irish giant Finn McCool – came into view. It’s impressive for sure, but look beyond the rock

and there’s the real reason why this is one of the most popular paths here, revealing the sweeping scene of Carlingford Lough below. On a sunny day, it would have been stunning, but even though the weather wasn’t playing ball, being high up in the mountains with nothing but grey sky above and green slopes below was enough to make me forget what was going on in the world for a few precious moments. The same was true of a visit to Castlewellan Forest

Park, another oasis of calm where people were camping or biking along its traffic-free trails – though I was here for adventures on the water not on land.

28 23 JULY 2020 top tip

Tourism Ireland is running product webinars for the

trade in August. To sign up, contact trade team David

Wood or Juno Thompson on or jthompson@ Ducking through tiny

doorways carved out of stone felt like stumbling into a real-life version of The Secret Garden

The peaceful expanse of Castlewellan Lake, overlooked by a Victorian-era castle standing high on its tree-lined banks, is a favourite for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Pushing off from the edge in a two-person canoe, with guide John Keating from the on-site Life Adventure Centre to keep me on track, it wasn’t long before we were out in the middle of the water, far from the gaze of the few people strolling its banks. As we paddled out past the lake’s tiny islands and back again, I peered into the dense tangle of branches reaching right into the water’s edge for the flash of a native red squirrel, and searched the array of bright- pink water lilies for any sign of its resident otters. Alas, they were nowhere to be seen, but with so many stories of nature and wildlife flourishing during lockdown, the chances of a sighting are higher than ever. Life Adventure Centre also hires out bikes and e-bikes, which can be ridden on Northern Ireland’s roads following a recent change in the law, from £38 a day, plus £7.30 delivery in the Mournes area. All equipment

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