Sunday, 10 May 2009

Castle Ward Drive

I'd intended to pack the stove and gas, crockery and cutlery, and a flask of tea; however, in the end we decided to go for a drive in the general direction of Castle Ward Estate in County Down.

En route we drove carefully down the tarmacked track to Gibb's Island, where I had a pleasant stroll through the wood and back by the hawthorn hedge. It's still too early in the season for the wild flower meadow; the Galloway cattle are grazing on the island for a month, though.

Closer to Castle Ward, I stopped off at Tullyratty to view the stone wall which, incidentally, looks very well indeed. I worked on it a few months ago with other volunteers.

Our next stop was the Castle Ward caravan site. It seems to be well run now and there's a full-time warden employed to run the site. He lives in a large touring caravan near the entrance with the National Trust's name and logo emblazoned on it. We chatted briefly and I told him about a wild raspberry bush that used to grow nearby; and how I used to gather the raspberries in late summer for our dessert! He didn't know about it, but seemed interested.

In the village of Strangford we parked at the Spinnaker Café. I was keen to see the menu; but, sadly, there was no menu displayed, not even inside the porch. Why do so many restaurants in the Province not display their menus?

To conclude our day out, we made for Castle Ward itself. The Estate looked wonderful today. We parked at the disabled car park behind the stable-yard - the Dowager needs a Blue Badge. We sat in the sunshine on a bench in the stable-yard, had a look in the shop; and I chatted to Natalie and Hannah, two fellow-volunteers staying at Terinichol. I strolled in to the Sunken Garden, which is being restored to its Victorian glory in stages over five years. The Eagles are now in place, keeping watchful eyes on the garden.

We finally ambled in to the Castle Ward café, which turned out to be a real disappointment I'm sorry to say. Whilst there was a good choice of sandwiches and puddings, the hot food consisted of soup, sausage-rolls, meat lasagne and vegetable lasagne. The Dowager had soup and a roll which, by the way, was dry and un-fresh. I complained about it and they brought a fresher roll. I had the meat lasagne and salad. The lasagne was too bland and flavourless for my liking. I also ordered tea for two, and I helped myself to a dessert (which looked like a sort of cheese-cake).

The tea was served in one of those ghastly, commercial-type teapots which must have held about two pints! You know the sort: they are so incontinent that a good deal of the tea pours down the side of it and causes a considerable spillage in the process. I could tell to look at it that it would misbehave.

The pudding was all right. Every time I used my spoon on it, a portion of the crumble fired on to my lap, though. It may have been lemon cheese-cake - that's a guess.

They had no price-list that I could see. There was a small black-board with about three prices on it. I had absolutely no idea as to the price of our meal. At the check-out, the bill came to £16.50, I think. I say that because I wasn't offered a receipt. I showed the cashier my National Trust Volunteer Card, which entitles volunteers to a discount, and she didn't even recognize it! She had no idea of how much discount I was entitled to; so, in the end, I was charged £15.

The person who served the soup was more interested in chatting to her friend over the counter than serving her customers. I waited while she conversed with her acquaintance. Just as well there wasn't a queue!

It is irritating that establishments, in general, do not display their menus with prices. I'm sure it is required by law on the Mainland; why not here in Northern Ireland? I know that many restaurants do willingly display their menus; nevertheless, many do not.

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