Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Heath Trail


I revisited the National Trust's Divis and the Black Mountain this afternoon, a property situated in the Belfast Hills, County Antrim.

I spent almost 1¾ hours walking along the Heath Trail,  a distance of four miles.

The Heath Trail begins close to the Long Barn visitor centre.

This is a trail of heath and bog land, quite mucky in places, by way of a series of way markers along the route.


I spotted a murder (is this the right collective term?) of hooded crows en route; and a stonechat singing merrily at the top of a hawthorn tree.


Divis Lodge, with its temporary roof, awaits restoration.

New DL

APPOINTMENT OF DEPUTY LIEUTENANT

The Earl of Caledon, Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh, has been pleased to appoint

Colonel Hubert McAllister OBE TD
Scarva,
Co Armagh

To be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County his Commission bearing date the 25 June 2014

The Earl of Caledon
Lord Lieutenant of the County

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Cod in Breadcrumbs


The dinner today has been a very simple, fresh cod loin, coated in fresh breadcrumbs, with mashed potato, the finest Ulster butter, and English asparagus tips.

The fish was shallow-fried in olive oil for several minutes. 


The result was moist, pearl white, flaky cod, coated in crispy breadcrumbs.

Highest Ranks

It's interesting to learn that there have been several honorary appointments to the highest ranks in the armed forces, viz. admiral of the fleet, field-marshal, and marshal of the Royal Air Force:
THE QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following Honorary appointments in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces:—
Michael Cecil, Admiral the Lord BOYCE, KG, GCB, OBE, DL, as Admiral of the Fleet.

Michael John Dawson, General the Lord WALKER OF ALDRINGHAM, GCB, CMG, CBE, DL, as Field Marshal.

Graham Eric, Air Chief Marshal the Lord STIRRUP, KG, GCB, AFC, as Marshal of the Royal Air Force.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Gibb's Island


I have spent the day with other National Trust staff and volunteers at Gibb's Island, which is at Strangford Lough.

This little island - permanently joined to the mainland by a short causeway - used to be part of Delamont Park, County Down. Killyleagh is the nearest village.


Today we were undertaking general maintenance, which included repairing a fence, painting, and collecting litter.

Alas, there was a steady drizzle the whole time.

This tiny island is one of the most beautiful on the lough. It overlooks Quoile Yacht Club.

There's a rookery and heronry in the little wood at the top of Gibb's, surrounded by a wild meadow and hawthorn hedge.

I lunched on my favourite cheese & onion sandwiches.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Royalty at St George's


I grabbed the trusty two-wheeler after coffee this morning, mounted, and cycled through Belfast's Titanic Quarter, en route for the venerable St George's Market.

Security was tight on the way: There were literally hundreds of police cones or bollards at the road-side.

I parked just off Oxford Street and walked across the street, past the Law Courts, towards Victoria Street.

The police had a strict route for pedestrians, along May Street and into the Market.

There was airport-style security at the entrance and I had to take off my watch, coins, belt etc.

The atmosphere was jubilant and expectant.


I enjoyed a fine beaker of coffee from the long-established coffee and tea merchant in east Belfast, S D Bell's.


The Royal Party arrived at the main Oxford Street entrance. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Dame Mary Peters DBE, took a left turn and I managed to obtain a few photographs.

Her Majesty was looking absolutely radiant. Prince Philip, a few yards behind, certainly did not look his age.


It was thrilling to see Her Majesty, not to mention Prince Philip, so loyal and always so supportive of the Sovereign.

*****

I took my leave and cycled to North Street, where I ambled in to a second-hand book shop, seeking more books by Robin Bryans.

I was in luck! I eventually found No Surrender: An Ulster Childhood, published using his nom-de-plume, Robert Harbinson. It cost me £3.

Ulster: A Journey


Serendipity is "the gift for finding valuable objects of art etc by chance", according to my treasured Nuttall's dictionary.

In this case, it was a modest, second-hand paperback book: Ulster: A Journey Through The Six Counties, by Robin Bryans.

We were staying at a hotel in Puerto Pollensa, Majorca, in 2004.

In the residents' lounge there was a shelf containing magazines and books which other residents weren't taking home with them, and I discovered this wonderful little paperback.

Its origin was the Norfolk County Library, of all places!

It was dated the 10th January, 1992, and stamped "Withdrawn For Sale, 30p".

This isn't  really a guidebook: it's an anecdotal travel book, the author's personal and intimate journey through some exceptionally interesting parts of the Province.

Bryans had a wonderful way with words, to the extent that much of his prose sounds poetic in its composition, if that's not a contradiction in itself.

It was first published in 1964, though my edition is dated 1989.

It's always a joy to read it; in fact I'm reading it again at the moment!

I must look out for some more of his books.

First published in March, 2010.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Queen in NI


THE QUEEN and The Duke of Edinburgh today visited Northern Ireland and were received at Belfast City Airport by the Rt Hon Therea Villiers MP (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) and Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast (Dame Mary Peters DBE).

Her Majesty and His Royal Highness proceeded to Hillsborough Castle, County Down, where they were greeted by the Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, Mr David Lindsay.

HM was introduced to Mr Michael Day, Chief Executive of Historic Royal Palaces.

The Queen had an audience with the First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA.

HM also had an audience with the Deputy First Minister, Mr Martin McGuinness MLA.

Prince Philip held a reception for 75 Gold award recipients of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

Glyndebourne Opera


The intention had been to view Tropic of Cancer on BBC2 last night; followed by Antiques Roadshow.

However, I switched channels, to BBC4, and began watching a documentary called Glyndebourne: The Untold History.

How glad I am that I saw this wonderful programme. It was utterly fascinating.

They are celebrating their 80th anniversary this year, 2014.

John Christie CH MC, a remarkable character, was, of course, the founder and driving force behind Glyndebourne's opera.

His grandfather was William Langham Christie (a distant cousin of the Langham Baronets).

The Christies are still seated at Glyndebourne (near Lewes, East Sussex) today, and of course that excellent opera festival flourishes.

Northern Ireland used to have a country house opera season for three weeks in June, for almost thirty years, Castleward Opera.

It did have plenty of individual support and I was very fond of it.

A few years ago, funding for Castleward Opera was withdrawn by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

It's just a shame that they didn't have more private or philanthropic sponsorship.

I have no idea whether Glyndebourne Opera receives support from the Arts Council of England; perhaps they don't need it.

There's been a void in Northern Ireland since Castleward opera ceased, however.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dundarave For Sale


The stately Dundarave House and estate, beside Bushmills, County Antrim, and within close proximity to the Giant's Causeway, is for sale.

I have already written about Dundarave House and the Macnaghten Baronets.

The sale includes 549 acres of land.

I was aware of the imminent sale several months ago.

Leinster House Trip

I spent the day in Dublin yesterday. A party of us were there to visit the former town residence of the 1st Duke of Leinster, Leinster House.

Leinster House has been the seat of the Irish parliament since 1922.

So I made an early start for the 8am train from Belfast to Dublin, which arrived on time two hours later.

We walked in the glorious sunshine from Amiens Street to St Stephen's Green, were we sat outside the Cliff Townhouse and enjoyed coffee.

The city of Dublin never fails to impress one with its marvellous Georgian buildings and architecture.


Leinster House, which has been described as a ducal palace due to its grandeur and imposing presence, is at Kildare Street.

Kildare Street was named after the Earls of Kildare, afterwards Dukes of Leinster, the premier Dukes, Marquesses and Earls of Ireland.

I have already written at length about the FitzGeralds, Dukes of Leinster, and their County Kildare seat, Carton.

It was by far the grandest private residence in the Irish capital during the Georgian era.


Today there is little or no sign of the ducal trappings, no coronets, nor armorial bearings, nor anything to suggest that Leinster House was a ducal palace, other than its undoubted grandeur and history.

I was particularly interested in the former ball-room, now used as the senate chamber. I was captivated by the magnificent plasterwork of its ceiling.

The double staircase, too, which leads up to the ball-room, is impressive.

the former dining-room is now used as a meeting-room for senators.

We left via the back entrance, which passes through the Leinster Lawn, the former gardens of the House.

There is still what appears to be a steep ha-ha in middle of the garden, opposite the back entrance.


There's even a statue of Prince Albert positioned discreetly at the edge of the gardens.


WE LUNCHED at Hugo's, a wine-bar which is located in Merrion Row.

Many of us - there were seven in our party - had the hot duck wrap with salad and a basket of fries; some of us had the County Wexford strawberries and cream for dessert.

Following three bottles of wine, we were all in a rather jolly mood, fortified for the trip back to Northern Ireland.

Leinster arms courtesy of European Heraldry. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Ridge Trail

I've spent over three hours today at Divis and the Black Mountain, a property of the National Trust, in the Belfast hills.

The car-park was almost full, though I was fortunate enough to find a vacant space immediately.


I was eager to walk the Ridge Trail, a brand new track created this year, 2014.

The Ridge Trail is a gravel and stone pitch track which runs for just over four miles, including two stiles and a handsome new wooden bridge which traverses the Colin river.


This new trail is impressive. I admired the large stone slabs - roughly a square yard in size, though they vary.


The Trust has done an absolutely admirable job in this new path, and I'd strongly urge anybody who hasn't already been, to pay it a visit.

Divis Lodge from the Ridge Trail

At the termination of the Ridge Trail, I decided to carry on to the Summit Trail, which ascends Divis Mountain, a large hill of 1,562 feet.

*****

BACK at base - the Long Barn, where there is a visitor centre - I bought a hot chocolate drink from the vending machine, sat outside, admired the natural beauty of the hills, and chatted at length to a member of staff.

Incidentally, she offered me a copy of Divis and the Black Mountain, local history and memories by Liz McShane. I was very grateful for this and look forward to reading it.

The National Trust has ambitious plans for this property, including the restoration of Divis Lodge, as and when funding becomes available.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Birthday Honours

Heartiest congratulations to everybody who received awards in the Birthday Honours list published today, especially those from Northern Ireland.

The NI List can be viewed here.

Friday, 13 June 2014

James Street South

I managed to spend half an hour at the venerable Linenhall Library, prior to my other engagements.

I imagine it's a five-minute walk from Donegall Square North to James Street South, or number twenty-one, James Street South, to be precise.

I was filled with great anticipation for my very first visit to The James Street South Restaurant.

Arriving early, after midday, I was greeted and promptly shown to my window table.

One of the first things that caught the beady eye was the little box hedge outside the window, which affords privacy and discretion to patrons. I liked this.

This building was formerly a warehouse, and I could see the markings where horizontal bars used to protect the window.

The staff here are charming. Nothing is too much trouble and customers are treated with great courtesy.

I opted for the a la carte menu. First of all, though, I ordered the Shortcross Gin, served in a tumbler with a shaving of orange peel.

ShortCross Gin is as good a premium gin as I've ever tasted. It has a splendid blend of aromatic botanicals and is distilled locally at Rademon estate, near Crossgar, County Down.


I ordered the English Asparagus, Portavogie Langoustine & Orange Hollandaise Sauce (£7.50) as my first course.

This was flawless: really fresh, tender langoustines resting on a little bed of the sauce.

The nose-bag was positively humming with glee by this stage.

My main course came promptly, too. I chose the Wild Turbot, Comber Potato & Watercress Velouté (£18.50) and a side dish of buttery champ, which came in a miniature copper sauce-pan.


It's widely known how fond I am of good butter (!), so they were generous with it.

The fish was - like the langoustines - cooked to perfection. The Comber potato was served in tiny dice; the velouté subtle.

For pudding, I had the Rosewater Marshmallow, Rhubarb and Custard (£6.50).

This exquisite dessert was served in a tallish, circular dish in layers. The waitress described the various layers to me.

I have to say that this has been one of the finest dining experiences I've enjoyed in Belfast.

The food is served with great diligence and attention to detail.

I gather that the Restaurant is having a major refurbishment later this summer.

I left at about one-thirty. I rounded the bill up, to £60.

*****


THE ULSTER HALL is a few minutes' walk from James Street South, on Bedford Street, so I walked, presented my ticket, and made a bee-line for my favourite seat in the balcony.

There was a BBC Radio 3 Invitation Concert this afternoon. Our excellent Ulster Orchestra was conducted by the celebrated Howard Shelley OBE.

The programme today was the music of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).

The soloist in the Organ Sonata Number Two "Eroica" was David Leigh, Assisitant Organist at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

MVO Appointment

Diamond Jubilee State Coach in 2014

10th June, 2014

THE QUEEN has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Royal Victorian Order:

MVO

To be a Member:

William James FRECKLINGTON, OAM, for coach building services to The Queen.

(To be dated 1 June 2014.)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

GM Dinner

The dinner with Godmother went well. There was very little left, except that far too much Eton Mess had been made.

There's a large bowl of the remainder in the fridge.

The classic prawn cocktail was great: shredded lettuce; king prawns and pineapple chunks in seafood sauce; lemon wedge. Very simple, really. I like the addition of pineapple.

Number One nose-bags were attached for the evening's main event: The Duck.

Godmother did like the slowly-cooked duck legs in an orange sauce, accompanied by lovely little new Jersey Royal potatoes, cauliflower cheese, and fine English asparagus tips.

I was so preoccupied with other details that I omitted to take a photograph.

As ever, the Eton Mess was yummy and a treat; very rich, of course, with all that whipped double cream.

We washed it all down with some burgundy.

Although it wasn't strictly necessary, I had lit a cheery little fire for the evening.

I am particularly fond of slow-cooking, incidentally. Meat becomes so wonderfully tender and easily digested, too.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Nugent's Wood


I've spent a lovely day with nine other National Trust staff and volunteers.


We were at Nugent's Wood, which lies along the shore to the north-west of Portaferry, County Down.


Our task today was to erect twelve bird-boxes and six bat-boxes; and we had a rung-ladder for this purpose.


The boxes were placed on the trees at a height of between 12-15 feet.


The Shore Lodge, which is at the entrance to the wood, is derelict and neglected, quite astonishing for a charming little building with such a fine prospect of Strangford Lough and Castle Ward.

Royal Visit

I'm delighted to learn that The Queen, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, will visit Northern Ireland for a series of public engagements between the 23rd June and the 25th June, 2014.

Belmont: Swimmer

You shan't be totally surprised to know that I've been swimming since I was a little boy. My father taught me.

He was a competent swimmer himself.

Actually, swimming is essentially an intrinsic part of my life.

Usually I swim two hundred lengths of the pool, or 5,000 metres, per week.

I invariably swim the front crawl, non-stop, which takes me over forty minutes.

I've got through too many pairs of swim trunks, goggles and nose-clips you'd care to mention.

The trunks are Speedo; as were the clips till quite recently, when I changed to a company called Zoggs.

I'm presently using Zoggs goggles, too. They are an excellent fit and seal my eyes very well from even the merest drop of water.

However, like the rest of them, they still tend to mist or fog up, despite anti-fogging liquid.

Ha ha! Isn't it a wonder that my feet aren't webbed?