Monday, August 8, 2011

Lough, Stock and Teardrops

Friday we celebrated Jenn's birthday. We picked up a lovely lemon coconut cake that was absolutely delicious! I even brought home a BMW (from Avis) for her birthday. It was nice to drive for the weekend but was a little smaller than the Peugeot we had been renting and Elliot seemed to feel the squeeze in the back seat.
After another Avoca breakfast and Market trip, we dropping our goodies at home and headed back to the city for the Belfast Taste & Music Fest in the Botanic Gardens. It is an event where some of Northern Ireland's best chefs were cooking up a storm. The festival had children's activities in the afternoon. Kyra and Gavin tried their hands at Sports Stacking. The rain started so we pulled up a table and chairs under some trees and enjoyed some delicious nibbles while listening to live music. Some of the selections we enjoyed were: Strangford Prawn Fish Cakes, Local Lamb, Pepper berry Marinated Kangaroo and Crispy Short Ribs of Beef. Surprisingly, we found a tiger in Northern Ireland that loved to eat ice cream and to roaaarrrr.

Sunday morning we headed up the Ards peninsula to Mount Stewart. The grounds are popular with both tourists and locals, many brought picnics to enjoy on the lawns. They had activities that day for the kids. An Alice in Wonderland Tea Party was being held in the house and as well as crafts and a scavenger hunt throughout the grounds. Local kids had dressed in costume: a paper mache tea pot, brothers dressed as Tweedle Dee and Dum, a well executed white rabbit were some of the favourite among the many Alices. 

We toured the neoclassical house which was home to many political and society figures. It was a well done tour. Kyra's favourite item in the house was a crystal chandelier that hung in the high near a bay window. Shaped like a ship and designed by Cunard ship building company, is said to be hung at the precise height, before the trees grew between the house and the water, to look as if it was floating on the lough. Equally interesting is a piece of art that hung in the grand staircase. Painted (mostly) by George Stubbs, Humbletonian was initial painted as the horse running, beautifully showing off the muscles in action. The background and person in the picture were added later by a different artist when the owner was not happy with what he had had commissioned.  I have never seen a tour guide look so deflated when someone commented to him as they were heading up the stairs, that the horse could not have physically stood that way, both right legs off the ground. Clearly this was a moment the guide looked forward in the tour, when he would mention it, and watch a crowd of people tilt their heads and say a collections of "oh yeah"s. During the house tour we even saw Lady Rose, the resident of the house. It must be difficult to get accustomed to having groups of 20 tourist walking through your home each half hour every afternoon from March to October. 
Mount Stewart has absolutely gorgeous gardens that Gavin and Kyra enjoyed being able to explore. The mild climate around Strangford Lough makes it possible for a spectacular array of plants to be grown here. The the bark eucalyptus and myrtle trees made parts of the gardens seem like they were our of watercolour paintings. 

After a quick snack we headed up the hill toward The Temple of the Winds which promised magnificent views of Stranford Lough. Not everyone appreciated the views- regularly scheduled programing was interrupted by a preschoolers temper tantrum over a piece of garbage he was not quite ready to part with.

Castle Espie was our next stop located on the opposite side of the lough. A wetland reserve named for a castle that no longer exists, it has the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland. The grounds have a an interesting past. Before becoming the lush wetland, the grounds were rich in limestone buried under clay, both used widely for building up the area. We joined a tour conducted o
n medieval living that was very well done and brought us out to tour The Crannog to share how people would have lived 5000 years ago. Our guide made a lot of the tools himself as they would have been made in the stone age and was obviously proud to share his research and efforts with the group. Elliot noticed the atlatl right away and remembered throwing one in Whitehorse with Michael Pealow and Atlatl Mike.  

With bags of bird feed in hand we headed out to feed the birds that anticipated why we were there. Gavin, who earlier this year freaked out about a bunny looking at him seems to have mellowed a little and was happy to feed the ducks, albeit not by hand. Kyra and Elliot seemed to enjoy feeding them as well. We visited the hatchery and saw the ducklings and goslings and then got dirty in the woodland play area.

We got back into the car just before it poured again and headed home for a wonderful dinner of fresh local Hake.

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