OPPOSITE PAGE: Murlough Bay Beach, near Newcastle; Castlewellan Forest Park mountain bike trails; Katie on a hiking tour with Walk the Mournes THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: Cloughmore Stone; Castlewellan Lake; Royal County

Down Golf Course; Montalto Estate PICTURES: Outdoor Recreation NI; NITB Photographic Dept; David Cordner

is sanitised between uses, and the centre – set in the estate’s former buttery – is open only to those with a booking to ensure hygiene standards are maintained.

GENTLER PURSUITS If that all sounds too much like hard work, this region has plenty to offer those who like to go at a slower pace too. Castlewellan is better known in gardening circles as the home of Northern Ireland’s national arboretum and Annesley Garden, so named for the influential family that once owned much of the surrounding area. With so many rare tree and plant species in one small space, this is a delight for anyone with a gardening bent. Yet even though I’m not green- fingered, strolling past its cloistered walls draped with brightly coloured blooms and ducking through tiny doorways carved out of stone felt like stumbling into a real-life version of The Secret Garden. Families looking for an outdoor escape might prefer to take the

short drive to Montalto Estate, another beautifully landscaped lakefront demesne open to the public. Its forest trails and exotic blooms are more compact, making it manageable for little legs, plus the owners have used their recent closure to upgrade children’s play area the Low Wood with a treehouse and rope bridges. The other pastime for which this

area has earned renown is golf, thanks to the Royal County Down Golf Club, whose Championship Course frequently tops lists of the best links courses in the world. Founded in 1889, it’s one of

Ireland’s oldest golf clubs, and many of the guests at neighbouring Slieve Donard Resort and Spa (see Tried & Tested, opposite), travel thousands of miles just to play here. Perhaps no surprise, then, that waiting lists for a tee time can be up to a year, with green fees of £270 per round – although keen golfers could be in luck as cancellations from the club’s American clientele mean those tee times could be up

for grabs once the club reopens. “Unusually, you might be able to get a tee time at Royal County Down,” says head professional Kevan Whitson. “Golfers are a pretty resilient bunch so once they can travel again, they will. But for now, you can contact the club as there may be availability at short notice.” The club is currently open to

members only, but is reviewing its plans to reopen for public bookings later in the year. “It’s one of those iconic courses, being so different from anything else,” adds Whitson. “It’s an incredibly tough challenge, but it’s beautiful. You have a sea view all the way through the first three holes, then you turn and see the mountains instead – no other links course in the world has that setting of mountains as well.” I turn to follow Whitson’s gaze

from the golf course, and there they are again, the rolling ridges of the Mourne Mountains seen from yet another glorious angle, standing steadfast and glinting in the bright mid-morning sun.



Oak Restaurant, Slieve Donard Resort and Spa The hotel’s signature Oak Restaurant serves Irish classics done to chef standards – think cabbage and bacon and tender Irish beef – with a side of sea views across the bay.

Brunel’s Restaurant, Newcastle This popular spot has reopened with fewer diners but still creates a buzzy atmosphere along with a standout tasting menu offering a modern twist on classic Irish ingredients.

Killowen Distillery, Killowen Ireland’s smallest distillery, set up by a former architect, makes small-batch gin, whiskey and poitín using botanicals harvested in the mountains. Tastings are £15 for an hour.

23 JULY 2020 29

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40