After mentioning Mussenden Temple in my last blog post, there seemed no better place to continue the Northern Ireland chronicles than with our visit to the Temple itself, Downhill Demesne and Portrush.
Being a National Trust property, there’s a reasonable amount of on-site information about Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne, which stand on the same clifftop towering above Downhill Beach and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In a nutshell, Downhill House was built in the 18th century for Frederick Hervey, the Earl Bishop, and the accompanying Temple was built in 1785 in order to be the house’s library. Not too shabby a view for a library, really…
In its heyday, a horse and carriage were able to pass all the way around the Temple, but years of erosion have brought it ever closer to ending up in the ocean it overlooks. Fortunately, the National Trust completed cliff stabilisation work in 1997 to ensure that it’ll be a beautiful feature on the Northern Irish coastline for many more years to come.
The Temple is much larger and more imposing than I thought it would be, and its exterior decoration and style are ornate, if a little at odds with the rural setting. However, given descriptions of his character and the decadence of the architecture which he commissioned, it’s easy to imagine that this exhibitionism is exactly what the Earl Bishop had in mind.
Some of my favourite photos of the Temple were taken looking down towards it from Downhill House itself, which is a hauntingly beautiful, fascinating shell of a building.
As much as I loved wandering inside what once would have been an incredibly grand, ornately decorated house, it made me a little sad to see how quickly it fell into disrepair having been sold to an American buyer after the Second World War. The roof was removed for financial reasons and a place so passionately designed and loved by its original owner stood little chance of remaining remotely intact after being battered by the often extreme weather on the coast.
The bones of this house hold a diverse story within them. Parts of the house were significantly damaged in a fire in 1851 with restoration only beginning around two decades later, and during the Second World War it was used to billet RAF men and women.
Whatever its history, one thing is certain: the Demesne makes for a wonderful photo or two. The estate also contains a walled garden, mausoleum and dovecote which can be accessed by the public.
Having wandered around Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne for an hour or so, we hopped back in the car and drove down the coast to Portrush, which was busy on this sunny, summery day.
If you’re in Portrush, chances are you’ll come across the Ramore line of restaurants. There are no less than six of them, and we stopped for a bite to eat in the Ramore Wine Bar which has the most amazing, colourful display of cakes and treats, as you can see below.
My favourite design was this salted caramel tart topped with toadstools, which I still wish I’d taste-tested.
Portrush itself is another picturesque seaside town with a lovely clean beach, funfair and relaxed atmosphere. It’s larger than neighbouring Portstewart, but both have their own unique charm and well worth seeing.
We whiled away an hour or two on the beautiful beach, not even thinking that getting anything more than a light golden dusting of a tan would be possible while on holiday in Northern Ireland. It’s safe to say that we were wrong. Aloe vera, anyone?
A little windswept and even more sun-kissed, we walked back to the car and picked up an obligatory summer holiday 99 with a flake before driving back to Downhill Beachhouse to see another gorgeous sunset.