Sunday, 31 May 2015

Minnowburn Visit

Warden's office

I paid a visit to the National Trust's Minnowburn this afternoon.

This has to be one of the most captivating woodlands and meadows in the city of Belfast.

Porch at warden's office

I motored up, firstly, to the warden's office and allotments which, I'm glad to say, flourish.

Flamin' Norah

I encountered Flamin' Norah: She's hot!


Tomasz's patch thrives, with abundant strawberry plants.

Noble strawberry leaves

Thence I drove along the narrow, winding road (full of potholes, Roads Agency) to the main car-park.

The sun was shining so I made a beeline for Piccolo Mondo, which serves fresh pizza, coffee, and other beverages.


They told me that their restored Citroën van is forty-one years old, almost as old as self (!).

Inside, it has a genuine wood-burning pizza oven.

I was very tempted to have a slice of pizza (slices cost about £2), though settled for a cup of their jolly fine coffee instead.


Malone House

There's an admirable prospect of Malone House from Minnowburn's Rose Garden at the top of the hill.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Isle O'Valla House

Garden Front in 2013

ISLE O'VALLA HOUSE is located to the south of the village of Strangford, County Down.

It lies within the townland of Cloghy, on the coastal Ardglass Road.

This is a tall, austere Georgian house with three bays, three storeys, quoins and a large fanlight above the front door.

Southern elevation in 2013

This property was originally built as a Charter School ca 1817.
Irish Charter Schools were operated by The Incorporated Society in Dublin for Promoting Protestant Schools in Ireland. The Charter Schools admitted only Roman Catholics, under the condition that they be educated as Protestants. 
The first Charter School in Strangford was established some time after 1746, with a grant of £500 (about £86,000 in value today) from the Earl of Kildare (either the 1st Duke of Leinster or his father).
The Dowager Countess of Kildare later donated 22 acres of land for the School.

The Charter School was rebuilt in 1817 at a reputed cost of £4,000, the equivalent of £267,000 in 2010.

Eastern elevation in 2013

When the Charter was rescinded in 1832, the property was most likely given back to the Kildare estate.

It was leased to the Rev Samuel Livingstone, who began his own school for local children.

When the School closed, Isle O'Valla House became the residence of Captain the Hon Somerset Ward JP, fifth son of the 3rd Viscount Bangor.

In 1910, Isle O'Valla was acquired by the family of McCausland, of Downpatrick, hoteliers.

Frank McCausland lived and farmed at Isle O'Valla House.

Following Mr McCausland's death, the property was bought by a family called Lowe.

Isle O'Valla House has been derelict and virtually ruinous for many years and, to my knowledge, has remained uninhabited for several decades.

Its future remains uncertain.

First published in July, 2011.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Riverside Landscape

A section at river Conn's Water: May, 2015

Work is continuing along the river-bank beside Mersey Street Bridge, as part of the Connswater Greenway Project.

The section above is at King George V Playing-Field and The Oval football ground.

It runs from the bridge to Victoria Park.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Royal Visitors


The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall have begun a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

Their Royal Highnesses will visit St Patrick's church, Donegall Street, Belfast, where they shall meet a cross-section of parishioners and clergy.

Later TRH will visit east Belfast, including Ballyhackamore.

Their Royal Highnesses will have private audiences with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

A Lidl Bit of Chocolate


Lidl are running a major television advertizing campaign on the Mainland. I know, because I watch ITV's London region.

In comparison with other similar ads, theirs are quite impressive, focusing on the virtues of Quality and Value.

They play with the name, too, by talking about "a Lidl bit of Greece", and so on.

I have to say that I pop into my local Lidl fairly regularly.

I use all the supermarkets, depending on where I happen to be. Belmont embraces Democracy (!).

They sell a plain chocolate called Bellarom. Is it manufactured in Germany?

The one I buy comprises 74% cocoa.

It is excellent; to the extent that I personally find it hard to tell the difference between it and Lindt's 70% bar which, I think, costs about £1.79 or thereabouts.

Certainly until now the Lindt 70% has been my preferred choice.

The Bellarom cost me 79p for one 100g bar.

McCutcheon's Field

Groomsport from McCutcheon's Field

I spent yesterday with other National Trust volunteers at a place known as McCutcheon's Field.

This comprises several acres of coastline at Brigg's Rocks and close to Sandeel Bay, in north County Down.



There's a holiday park here called Windsor Caravan Park.

The field is close to Groomsport.

We were gathering old gorse cuttings and burning them.


Squill

We've been clearing gorse here for a few years. It will be impossible to eradicate it completely, because it's so abundant (gorse is beautiful at this time of the year anyway).

However, some clearance encourages lovely wild flowers to blossom, including squill.

I had banana sandwiches today, made with my favourite granary wholemeal bread and Ulster butter.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Shortcross Event


I was invited to Shortcross Gin's Signature Serve event last night in Belfast.

I have mentioned Shortcross Gin on a number of occasions on this blog and extolled its outstanding virtues; especially since it is distilled in County Down at the Rademon estate.


The cocktail party took place at Sixty6 cocktail bar, 68 High Street (formerly the executive offices of a bank).

As we entered we were offered champagne cocktails just inside the door.

This club retains the feel of an old directors' boardroom or dining-room, with plasterwork ceilings, fireplaces and so on.


Sixty6 is spread throughout the first, second, and even third floors of the building.

When I entered the room on the first floor it was busy already. I managed to start chatting to a pretty girl who was seated at the side of the room; and there we remained for quite some time.


Fiona and David, the proprietors of Shortcross Gin, were perfect hosts and introduced me to quite a few guests.


During the evening trays of sumptuous canapés were offered to us: the Belmont nose-bag quivered with joy.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and I'd merely wish to express my gratitude and appreciation to Fiona and David for such a delightful evening.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Florence Court Visitor Centre

The new visitor centre is opening at Florence Court estate, County Fermanagh, is opening this summer, 2015.

Florence Court is a property of the National Trust and was the ancestral seat of the Earls of Enniskillen.

The new centre will be adjacent to the Walled Garden and shall be the entrance point for all visitors to the estate and forest park.

It was funded by the Northern Ireland Forest Service, which handed over the management of the forest park to the Trust recently.

In April, 2014, Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visited Florence Court.
In an effort to increase the visitor experience at Florence Court, and bring further economic benefit to the area, TRH were briefed about a new partnership between the National Trust and the Forest Service, which will result in the creation of a new Visitor Centre facility, which it is hoped will provide visitors with a seamless experience at Florence Court.
TRH were invited to view the proposed plans for the new Visitors’ Centre.

*****

THE SUMMER-HOUSE at the top of the Pleasure Gardens, near the mansion-house, was sadly destroyed by arson in 2014.

However, the great news is that it is to be rebuilt by the two brothers who erected it in 1993.

This charming little gazebo would not have been possible without the assistance of generous donations from supporters and Members' Associations throughout the Province.

So far, more than £3,500 has been raised for the #RebuildOurSummerHouse campaign, led by The Impartial Reporter newspaper.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Bay Tree


I met my aunt and cousin this morning in Holywood, County Down, at The Bay Tree café and restaurant.

I'm still fond of this captivating establishment in the town.

One of my cousins has been in Northern Ireland for the weekend and I took the opportunity of catching up with her.


The others had cappuccino coffee with the renowned cinnamon scones, while I opted for fine wholemeal toast, served with home-made marmalade and Ulster butter.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Et In Arcadia Ego


I cycled into town on the trusty two-wheeler this morning.

Having parked the bike at Donegall Place, I ambled over to Bedford Street in order to have a look at Windsor House.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the scenario, Windsor House is the tallest building (with the Obel Tower) in Northern Ireland.

Its main entrance is in Bedford Street and it is bounded by James Street South and Franklin Street.

Thence I made a beeline for the splendid Linenhall Library in Donegall Square North, where I unearthed a 1960s street directory.

Windsor House seems to have been named after the Windsor Building Company, which had its offices at the corner of Franklin Street.


A street directory of 1860, however, lists John Workman & Son.

Interestingly, Bedford Street ran from Howard Street to "Old Lisburn Road" in those days.

Mr Workman's residence was Edgcumbe House, Strandtown. 

En route to the two-wheeler, I made my stately (!) way along Queen's Arcade, where my attention was drawn to the brand new Good Food & Wine Company, which has a charming food hall, tea-house and brew bar.


The tea-room is upstairs, directly overlooking Lunn's jewellery shop.

I gather that the directors of the Good Food & Wine Company ~ Nicholas Lestas and Michelle McNicholl-Lestas ~ have been in business for over fourteen years.


Much of this work has involved the development of the Food Sector in Northern Ireland.

The Good Food & Wine Company was established in January, 2012.
Michelle McNicholl-Lestas, Bsc (Hons), MBA, AMCIPS, MIMC, is a company director for both The Good Food & Wine Company and Lestas Consulting. Michelle is a successful entrepreneur and business owner, having successfully grown her business from scratch.
She is currently a member of the NI Council for The Prince's Trust and author of a number of published articles on current affairs in Northern Ireland for established business journals and newspapers, and is also an appointed Mentor, non-executive director and Interim Manager with InvestNI.

Nicholas Lestas, (BSc (Hon), MBA, Diploma in Marketing is also a company director for both The Good Food & Wine Company and Lestas Consulting.

He has a strong business ethos, spanning over 30 years, and a keen interest in local food development.
In 2004, the President of Cyprus bestowed the position of Honorary Commissioner for Cyprus in Northern Ireland to Nicholas, a permanent position geared to facilitating stronger economic and political links between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

9-15 Bedford Street, Belfast

Windsor House ca 2015

MARCUS PATTON OBE, in his invaluable historical gazetteer of central Belfast, describes numbers 9-15 Bedford Street thus:
In 1852 a new stone warehouse had been built on this site for Messrs Robert and John Workman, linen and muslin manufacturers, by Charles Lanyon. One of the first developments in the street, this was four storeys high with channelled ground and first floors, central first floor balcony, arched tops to third-floor windows, outer bays set slightly forward, and chimneys rising above deep eaves.

The Workmans' warehouse was demolished in the early 1970s and construction began on Windsor House.


Windsor House remains the tallest commercial office building in Northern Ireland (after the Obel Tower), measuring approximately 262 feet in height.

The Bedford Street frontage of the main block is relatively narrow, though the building extends backwards along Franklin Street for a considerable distance.

In 2015 it comprised approximately 122,500 square feet, set over ground and twenty-two upper floors.

Most of the floors extend to about 5,300 square feet.

The building incorporated a double-deck car park at ground and first-floor levels, with 96 car-parking spaces accessed via James Street South.

The external walls were of a mosaic-covered, prefabricated concrete cladding with a steel and reinforced concrete structure.

A concrete mineral felt-finished flat rood covered the building, capped with a communications mast.

It is served by five high-speed lifts from the foyer.

Windsor House was purchased in 2015 by the Hastings Hotels group.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Cairnburn: 1903

Norwood Tower
A FICTIONAL TALE OF A DAY-TRIP FROM BELFAST IN 1903

I have just come from the magnificent new City Hall being built in Donegall Square, Belfast.

The old Linen Hall has been razed to the ground and the new edifice is taking shape very nicely indeed.

The coronation of our new King, Edward VII, has taken place. Old Queen Victoria rests in peace.

I've taken a Hansom cab to an up-and-coming area near Belfast known as Strandtown.

I'm visiting the Ewarts at their fine home, Glenmachan.

Glenmachan House

The cab driver is taking me via a semi-circular road to a junction with Cairnburn Road, and I alight there in order that I may stroll the rest of the way.

These country roads are narrow: another cab passed us as it turned up the drive of Norwood Tower, the Hendersons' rambling Tudor-Revival mansion, and my cab-driver had to slow right down to avoid it!

Norwood Tower has two gate-lodges, each about a quarter of a mile apart.

The first lodge we passed on this circular road was a little beyond the entrance to Clonaver House, the Hendersons' former dower house, which now belongs to James Girdwood; while the second lodge was almost opposite Ardvarna House.

The Henderson grounds are extensive and extend to the top of Circular Road.

It is said that they own fifty acres.

The gate lodges are both battlemented, while the house, set in a landscaped park, is dominated by a lofty, castellated tower.

Passing Norwood, I notice a gardener working in the grounds with a scythe; and a paddock with a number of horses grazing.

On the left-hand side of the road, the first gate-lodge belongs to Ardnagreena House, home to the solicitor, Charles Black; and further along, we pass Ballymisert House's gate lodge.

Ballymisert, I am told, belongs to the tea merchant, Masterson.

My cab reaches the top of the hill, and we veer left as we pass yet another gate lodge for Garranard House which belongs to William Patterson, who is the proprietor of a flourishing ironmongery business.

At last I have arrived at the junction with Cairnburn Road. I pay the cabbie a few shillings - daylight robbery! - and begin my stroll.

There are fields to the right; Glenfurlough House to the left, where James Taylor, the linen merchant, lives.

A few minutes' walk further along, I pass the red-brick labourers' cottages which belong to Glenfurlough.

These workers' cottages are beside a steep decline, where there is a pretty glen.

I cross the old bridge, surrounded by woodland and the song of birds.

From here the lane ascends and cuts through more woodland.

At the top of the road, there is a cross-roads, where the old Holywood Road traverses Cairnburn Road.

I pause and observe: the woodland and the roads are so narrow with no traffic at all, except one solitary horse and cart.

I catch a glimpse of some workers' cottages on the other side of the Holywood Road.

Immediately ahead is my destination: Glenmachan, seat of my friends, the Ewarts.

First published in December, 2009.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Ugly Duckling: III


I dined once more at The Ugly Duckling, Corralejo, last night.

For those of you who are not familiar with the narrative, this lovely little restaurant is located fairly close to the harbour, at the corner of a narrow street.

Inside there are six tables, which means that advance booking is strongly recommended, if not essential.

I made three reservations with Henrik by email from the UK, about a fortnight before I arrived on the island of Fuerteventura.

Henrik, originally from Denmark, is one of the most courteous and affable restaurateurs whom I've ever had the pleasure to encounter.

Last night I arrived a few minutes before seven-thirty, and Henrik was speaking to a family of four, who had obviously turned up without booking.

He suggested a well-known restaurant across the street, and they followed his advice.

Henrik remarked to me that on one evening recently he had to turn away forty-three people.

I chose a small table in the middle of the restaurant and Henrik immediately poured me a refreshing flute of Cava.

I was familiar with the modest and simple menu.


There are about a half-dozen starters. I opted again for the yummy Green Salad, tossed in a tangy mustard dressing.

Fresh - likely home made - light brown bread slices arrived in a basket, with flavoured olive oil and olives.

I'm not terribly fond of olives, so I dipped the bread in the oil and had it with my salad instead.

Henrik advised me that they had run out of their apple & mango juice, so I instead had a flute of Kir Royal.


Last night I enjoyed my first steak of the holiday, a good-sized fillet of beef, well trimmed and medium as I'd requested.

I had it with roast potatoes, spinach, and bearnaise butter.

I actually managed to clean the plate, though admittedly the long-suffering nose-bag was struggling: to the extent that I had to omit pudding.

At the conclusion of the meal, Henrik proudly poured me a shot of his own sumptuous licorice liqueur.

The bill came to just under €26, so I evened it up to €30 and bade Henrik farewell.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Farmacias


I visited a local pharmacy on Corralejo's main street this morning in order to buy some co-codamol tablets for a pal.

One hundred fizzy tablets cost €12.

The little blighters are heavier than I thought. Presumably the packing contributes to that, so I'll discard the packaging to save weight.

Spanish pharmacies - farmacias - or certainly the one I was in, have a remarkable robotic kind of machine in the medication room behind the counter.

One can see it operating through the clear glass.

The medication is all neatly stacked in compartments up to the ceiling, and this sophisticated machine whizzes up, down and sideways fetching customers' prescriptions.

Thence it places the orders in a shute, which terminates behind the counter in the pharmacy.

Now I have never seen anything like this in the UK.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Avenida Revisited


I recall reading a cookery book by the celebrated chef and restaurateur, Gary Rhodes. He wrote at length about the art of creating a classic French omelette.

Mr Rhodes emphasised the importance of the size of the omelette pan, viz. six inches, or fifteen centimetres if you prefer.

This would be ideal for a two-egg omelette.

Whilst in a local supermarket in Corralejo today called HiperDino, I spotted a sale of small frying-pans, the smallest being eighteen centimetres.

It had quite deep sides.

The diameter was 18cm, though it reduced in size to the requisite six inches, I judged.

It seemed sturdy, despite the metal being primarily aluminium; and of course it was non-stick.

It was on offer at about €7, having previously cost roughly €16.50.

This price proved irresistible to me.

It shall make its way back to the United Kingdom in due course.


THIS EVENING I revisited Avenida Restaurant for a half portion of their chicken escalope in breadcrumbs, with chips and salad, alioli, bread, and a glass of jolly good house plonk; all for €6.30.