Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Titanic Quarter Halt

Ever intrepid, Timothy Belmont cycled into town this morning and, parking at Victoria Square, I ventured into the shopping centre, where I had coffee in Caffe Nero.

Afterwards, I ambled in to the Apple store to chat with staff about the iPad (seemingly the iPad 3 is being introduced imminently).

I'm having some pals over this weekend, so I ventured in to Marks and Spencer's food hall for "nibbles", viz, battered scallops, cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, onion rings, profiteroles and a rather tasty-looking French tart. Ha! 

I threw a few bottles of Chateau Gillet Bordeaux into the basket, too.

I cycled home via Sydenham Road, Titanic Quarter. The Bridge End railway halt (top) is being renovated and re-branded Titanic Quarter Halt in April. There is a ramp for easy access by bike or wheel-chair.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

For Pat

My dear friend Pat is in hospital. Pat has been a close friend of the family since I was born. My mother and Pat were pals when they were girls.

Cognizant that Pat has always held a passion and adoration for flowers; and that they are banned from many hospitals, I have selected a floral card, viz. a picture of Nymans Garden in West Sussex.

I visited Nymans last autumn with my cousins.

I'm also bringing a little "Juicy Fruit" box containing pieces of apple, pineapple and strawberry. It even has a little plastic fork. Pat has lost her appetite.

Get well and get home soon, Pat. You have many friends who are thinking of you.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Red Squirrel in NI

The red squirrel is native to Northern Ireland, but its future is increasingly uncertain as the grey squirrel increases in number throughout the United Kingdom.

The red squirrel population is once again under severe pressure with local extinctions of reds and their replacement with greys being the recent trend in woodlands throughout the British Isles and other parts of Europe.
  • They do not hibernate over winter.
  • They store nuts in the ground in Autumn.
  • They can live to six years of age.
  • Young are called kittens.
  • They live in a drey made of twigs, leaves and moss built in a tree.
  • They can swim.

Threats to red squirrels include:

  • Greys are known to have spread a lethal pox disease to the reds in parts of the UK.
  • Competition for food sources from the increasing number of grey squirrels.Habitat loss and fragmentation – broad-leaved, mixed and coniferous woodland may be important red squirrel habitat.
  • Increasing volume of road traffic causing road deaths.Predators such as birds of prey, for example goshawks and pine marten.
  • Domestic cats are also a threat when squirrels go into gardens to feed.

The grey squirrel appears better able to exploit deciduous and mixed woodlands, utilising large tree seeds such as hazelnuts, acorns and beech mast before fully ripened. This ability gives the grey better breeding prospects and adult survival than the red in these woodlands.

Another factor giving greys the competitive edge is their lower susceptibility to a disease known as Squirrel Pox Virus. They may carry the disease and contribute to its transmission to red squirrels, with fatal consequences.

Instances of red squirrel death attributed to the virus has occurred in many parts of the UK.

Unlike the grey squirrel, red squirrels can survive in coniferous forests with their much smaller seeded tree species, and this specific habitat is often deemed a safe haven for reds. Neatly stripped conifer cones, perhaps piled up at a convenient feeding stump, will betray the presence of red squirrels in a conifer wood

A survey in 1995, included 261 sites, showed that while there was a great deal of overlap in the distributions of red and grey squirrels. Red squirrels clearly predominated in upland areas, where there was the greatest amount of coniferous forestry, and were virtually absent from the lowland areas to the north and south of Lough Neagh.

In contrast, grey squirrels occurred ubiquitously across the southern half of Northern Ireland and, west of the River Bann, as far as the north coast. At that time County Antrim was the only area without a large grey squirrel population.

Another survey, in 2002, looked at 80 sites mainly in interface areas, where both species were known to exist. Disturbingly, it identified an overall increase in the distribution of grey squirrels, particularly in the Limavady/Dungiven area, and to the south and west of County Antrim, where grey squirrels now occur widely between the River Bann and the Antrim plateau.

Counties Fermanagh and Tyrone still provide a relatively safe haven for red squirrels because of the large areas of forestry, although grey squirrels have either become established or replaced reds in forests in the Clogher valley and east Fermanagh.

In the same period in County Down grey squirrels have become established in Tollymore Forest Park and neighbouring Donard forest next to Newcastle, County Down; while Hillsborough forest, near Lisburn, and Narrow Water forest, near Warrenpoint, now have substantial populations of grey squirrels.

Of particular concern is the spread of greys into the Glens of Antrim, one of our strongholds for red squirrels in Northern Ireland, in the last 3-5 years.

The well known and loved red squirrel population at Belvoir Forest along the Lagan Valley in Belfast has been pushed almost to the point of extinction as greys have moved into their territory.

This gives particular cause for concern because, due to its large broad-leaves and mixed species composition, the forest is an attractive destination for grey squirrels moving along the wooded banks of the River Lagan and its feeders.

I have spoken to my colleague Craig McCoy:

"I’m not too sure about the exact range of the red squirrels. Although they were province-wide some years ago, they are steadily being pushed back by the greys. There are still a few strongholds for reds, however: Fermanagh, Ards Peninsula, Tollymore, Belvoir Forest,the Glens of Antrim and, I imagine, several others.

However, the greys are advancing on all fronts and, each year, the reds are getting fewer and their range decreasing. It is almost a lost cause. The Red is one of our Biodiversity Action Plan species and a few years ago, the Government set up a group to try to think up a strategy to protect it.

There had been some talk of controlling the greys in buffer zones around the remaining red populations but I don’t know how successful this has been. The last I heard, there had been suggestions to keep a breeding population of reds in Belfast Zoo".

Craig suggests that one idea worthy of exploration could be to create so-called "island sites", or colonies, in the Province for our red squirrels, including selective islands in Lough Erne and Strangford Lough. This would necessitate the introduction of the species to an island or even a peninsula.

I gratefully acknowledge the Ulster Wildlife Trust as a source of my information. First published in February, 2011.

Mount Stewart Seminar


I attended a National Trust Staff Conference today at Mount Stewart, County Down. About one hundred staff and volunteers were invited.

The purpose of today's meeting was to explain the £6 million Mount Stewart Conservation Project at length, embracing Edith Lady Londonderry's vision for the gardens.

We gathered in the surroundings of the magnificent marble Hall.

The Trust is embarking on the most significant renovation of the House in its history, addressing serious structural defects, subsidence, damp and drainage; upgrading electrics, plumbing, fire, security and conservation controls.

Additional conservation work in order to enhance the visitor experience, including the opening-up of the basement; the gallery (which has subsided by four inches since the 1950s) above the Hall; and even part of the roof to visitors. More rooms will be open to visitors.

A provisional joiner's workshop is being erected adjacent to the coach-house for the three-year project.

Interestingly, Mount Stewart House consumed 1,000 litres of heating fuel per week. It now uses biomass as the principal energy source.

We enjoyed an informal lunch in the Restaurant consisting of some delicious soup and fresh sandwiches.

After lunch, we went for a walk in the demesne, round the lake.

This was a good opportunity to meet other colleagues for an informal chat.

Friday, 24 February 2012

New DLs

Appointment of Deputy Lieutenants

Robert Scott Esq OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Tyrone, has been pleased to appoint

  • James Hamilton-Stubber Esq, Fivemiletown, County Tyrone
  • William James Baxter Esq QPM, Newtownstewart, County Tyrone 

To be Deputy Lieutenants of the County, his Commission bearing date 18 February 2012.

Robert Scott, Lord Lieutenant of the County
17 February 2012.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ivory Cafe Bar

Well Timothy Belmont has had a trying and somewhat unsettling day, so I've treated myself to a glass of champers and Walter's Smoked Salmon open sandwich in the Ivory Cafe Bar at House of Fraser's Belfast store.

The champers, a brand I'm unfamiliar with, is available by the glass. I am no connoisseur of champers, though this stuff is well-chilled, not too dry and fruity. 

The smoked salmon salad consists of un-buttered wheaten bread, Walter's finest salmon, mixed lettuce leaves, grated carrot and onion. Simple and wholesome.

I cycled in on the trusty two-wheeler and locked it at a cycle stand in Victoria Square.

Today, on the old list, are the families of Palmerston, Leslie and Bernard for research.

It's really rather agreeable in this little bar; rather nice sort of crowd.

BHS Dinner 2012

The annual Old Brackenbrian Dinner was held at the Europa Hotel, Belfast, this year on Friday, 10th February. Here is a series of photographs of the function.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Greyabbey Tree-Thinning

I was with National Trust staff and volunteers today at a small wood, west of Greyabbey, County Down. It overlooks Skillin's Point and Mid Island.

There were about eight of us today. We were thinning young trees, estimated to be ca twenty years old.

Two chain-saws, loppers and hand saws were used.

The weather was ghastly all day, though quite mild. There was abundant wood, so we all took sackfuls of it.

I expect to attend a Presentation Day at Mount Stewart on Saturday, 25th February, where lunch will be provided by restaurant staff.

Tree felling and removal is quite laborious work, so I'm ready for a good meal at home; and I have a home-made spaghetti Bolognaise and home-made coleslaw on the menu, with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Well Said, Paxman

Well done, Mr Paxman, for speaking out in support of our nation and the glorious British Empire. I salute you.

The BBC Newsnight presenter has turned his fire on his own paymasters with an out-spoken attack on the BBC’s spending.

He likened the corporation to a declining empire over its lavish use of licence fee-payers’ money to fund building projects.

In an interview for the Radio Times, Paxman questioned the logic of moving the BBC out of its west London Television Centre base to the newly renovated Broadcasting House in central London:

 “No, they’re all far too politically correct, I’m afraid." 

But he added:
“Funny though, isn’t it, that they always said that the way you know if the British are going to decolonise is when they start building massive government buildings – that was certainly the case in India. And the BBC’s much the same. What organisation – at a time when it has no money, allegedly – would move from cheap square footage in west London to Oxford Circus?”
The veteran broadcaster said it was “nothing short of a scandal” that the history of the British Empire was not taught more widely in schools, and that it was dismissed as a “thoroughly bad thing”. 

Timothy Belmont wholeheartedly concurs. 

Paxman said:
 “I think there is a belief that there is only one way to view it, and that therefore we can pass an easy judgement on it. There are lots of things that we should think were appalling, because they were appalling. The slave trade is a case in point; the opium trade is another one. But the idea that that is a complete picture is the thing that I quarrel with, and seems to be the basis of the judgement that it was all a bad thing. And because it was a very bad thing, we don’t need to think about it any more. It’s all parcelled up and consigned.”
He also criticised former Prime Minister Tony Blair over his public apologies over our role in the Irish potato famine and the slave trade:
“You should apologise for things that you have done, that you recognise that perhaps you shouldn’t have done or regret; but apologising for things that your great, great, great, great-grandfather or grandmother did, seems to me a complete exercise in moral vacuousness."

Wessexes in West Indies

The Earl and Countess of Wessex are beginning an overseas tour of the West Indies from 21st February to the 7th March, representing The Queen in the year of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee.

TRH will begin in St Lucia, where they will join the 50th Anniversary Independence Day celebrations, attending the Parade and watching a youth performance.

Other highlights of the tour include Their Royal Highnesses’ visit to the Barbados Parliament where they will receive a Joint Address by both Houses, a visit to the Princess Elizabeth Centre in Trinidad and Tobago, built with funds given to The Queen as a wedding present, and a visit to Montserrat, where TRH will see the Island’s ongoing recovery from the devastating effects of the volcanic eruption.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Lady Mairi at Home

The late Lady Mairi Bury (1921-2009) in the Smoking Room (private) of Mount Stewart with her grandson Charles Villiers and her great-granddaughter, Clarissa Villiers.


Lady Mairi's parents were the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Londonderry. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

RVO Appointment

17 February 2012

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

To be a Commander:

The Right Rev Graeme Paul KNOWLES; on the relinquishment of his appointment as Dean of St Paul’s.

(To be dated 9 February 2012.)

Saturday, 18 February 2012

At the Fireside

A cosy little peat fire burns cheerily in the reception area of the Bushmills Inn, County Antrim.

I am enjoying a small shandy; the two-seater is parked outside.

This splendid historic inn is one of the finest hotels in Northern Ireland.

A Flash in the Pan

Bushmills has a good reception with BT Openzone, which I'm using presently.

I had intended dining at Tartine, the Distiller's Arms, in Bushmills, County Antrim, last night. I may dine there this evening.

Instead I jumped in to the two-seater, motored into the village, and ordered a cod and chips - the great British marriage made in heaven - from a renowned establishment called Flash In the Pan, on the main street of Bushmills.

Suffice it to say that, to my mind, this was the best cod and chips Timothy Belmont has sampled for a very long time - and that is saying something.

You must wait while they prepare the ingredients freshly to order. I waited for seven or eight minutes last night.

The takeaway I ate last night was superior to any I've had in Belfast, without singling out any particular establishment.

It cost £5.80, I think. How does that price compare?

Friday, 17 February 2012

New Photographs


Timothy Belmont has been motoring in County Londonderry today. I have visited two country houses, Lizard Manor and Beardiville which, I believe, is only just in County Antrim; and encountered nothing but kindness and generosity from the owners.

I have taken some interesting photographs of these houses. Lizard has a tennis-court, albeit disused, beside the walled garden.

I will be posting a modest article about Lizard Manor quite shortly.

As ever, I'm so grateful to the owners for kind permission to take the pictures of these historic Ulster homes.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Long John!

Who is serving behind the bar of the Bayview hotel? None other than John McCurry, surfboarder extraordinaire; the best barman in County Antrim!

John is pictured with John-John.

Ramore Wine Bar

I have just had a very good meal at the Ramore Wine Bar in Portrush, County Antrim. Their system works well here, whereby one orders one's meal at the counter, pays, and waits at the table.

I ordered fillet of beef with chilli sauce and salad, enclosed in pitta bread. My side orders were real French-fried onions and Parmesan fried potato cubes; with a small glass of chilled white wine. It cost about £17, including the tip.

Despite half-term and noisy offspring, I enjoyed the whole experience hugely, as ever. Table 26.

One word of dissent: About time Ramore offered its patrons wi-fi. I brought the netbook and was unable to receive any reception at all.

So Timothy Belmont is presently installed in an armchair at a log fire in the Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae, County Antrim.

And I am in good company: Darren Clarke and Allison Campbell are twelve feet away, with friends, enjoying a drink.

Scots Independance

I concur wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister about Scotland and Scottish independence. The United Kingdom would be all the poorer - and I don't mean in a fiscal sense - without Scotland and the Scots.

We recognize the rich sense of heritage and culture that Scotland brings to the rest of the Kingdom.

It would indeed be deeply sad.

I make absolutely no apologies for reaffirming my commitment and belief in the United Kingdom.

Personally I believe that the people of Scotland, especially those without any strong feelings about the Union, ought to think long and hard about their future. Is it as an independent state within the European Union and the discredited Euro?

Scots nationalists ought not to assume that they will be entitled to the entire benefits of North Sea oil, either. They are better off remaining within the UK.

Robin Castlereagh

Charles Villiers has sent me this image of a Greetings card, sent on the occasion of the 21st birthday of their son Edward Charles Stewart Robert (Robin) Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, afterwards  8th Marquess of Londonderry DL.

The 8th Marquess was Lady Annabel Goldsmith's father.

It is dated 18th November, 1923. 


The 7th Marquess and Marchioness were Charles Villiers' great-grandparents.

The image includes a photograph of Mount Stewart, their County Down seat.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Gorse Assault!

I have been on Island Taggart all day. Ten of us gathered at Thompson's Quay, Rathcunningham Road, near Killyleagh, County Down, and spent the day on the ninety-four acre National Trust island on Strangford Lough.

It is opposite Simmy Island.

We were cutting down gorse, lots of it. The island is overwhelmed with gorse bushes, to an extent. So, armed with two chain-saws and a long-handled circular saw, we lit a series of fires and burned the cuttings as we progressed.

We ate our sandwiches close to the pond, which is adjacent to a ruinous cottage.

Alan had his trusty Kelly Kettle.

I had brought along a dozen chocolate chip mini muffins for everybody. Young Timothy Belmont has his moments, you know!

We all shared the gorse logs, and I took three sackfuls.

So I am home, a tad weary, with a slightly sore neck. A couple of snifters of gin will remedy that.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Royal Victorian Order Luncheon


Monday, 13th February, 2012

A luncheon was held in Northern Ireland for members of the Royal Victorian Order, at the Ulster Reform Club, Royal Avenue, Belfast.

Grace was said by Miss Valerie Steele.

The Loyal Toast to HM The Queen, and to the Grand Master of the Order, was proposed by Lieutenant-Colonel Denys Rowan-Hamilton.

The Vote of Thanks was proposed by Mr Eric Rainey.


The Lord O'Neill KCVO TD (lately Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim)

Sir William Hall KCVO  (lately Lord-Lieutenant of County Down)

Julian King Esq CMG CVO  (lately HM Ambassador, Dublin; Director-General, NIO)

The Lady Carswell CVO (lately Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast)

Eric Rainey Esq CVO MBE DL,   (lately Director, Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, NI)

Lady Moyra Campbell CVO  (Duke of Abercorn’s sister; Lady-in-Waiting to HM The Queen 1964-69),  and

Commander Peter Campbell LVO OBE DL RN (Retd)   (Equerry to HM The Queen 1957-60)

Jim McDonald Esq CBE LVO JP DL  (lately The Prince's Trust; RUC GC Foundation)

Cecil Graham Esq LVO OBE  (lately The Prince's Trust)

Miss Valerie Steele LVO OBE  (NIO, retired, Private Secretary)

David Anderson Esq MVO MBE    (lately Household Manager, Hillsborough Castle)

Alfred Curral Esq MVO MBE    (lately close protection officer, RUC)

Lieutenant-Colonel  Denys Rowan-Hamilton MVO DL

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Maundrell MVO  (ex-Grenadier Guards; lately Equerry to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh)

Kenneth Eccles Esq MVO   (lately Close Protection officer, RUC, PSNI)

Samuel Fitzsimons Esq MVO   (ceremonial section, NIO)

The Earl of Erne KCVO
Sir John Gorman CVO CBE MC DL 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Populist Garbage!

Richard Kay, the columnist, quotes Maureen Lipman CBE, the well-known actress, who despairs over modern TV:
‘Most nights I sit in my living room and flick through channel after channel and there’s absolutely nothing to watch,’ she moans, before taking a swipe at some of TV’s behemoths.
No fan of Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, she says:
‘I don’t watch soaps, I don’t watch medical and I don’t care for murder.’ And as for Simon Cowell and his ilk, she asks: ‘Who at my age wants to be judged by a monster on whether you can dance on ice or sing?’
I do sympathize with Miss Lipman. Mind you, I'll happily watch Downton and selected classic detective series, viz. Brett's Sherlock Holmes, Morse, Poirot...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Downpatrick Visit


I have spent a large part of the day on a visit to the county town of County Down, Downpatrick.

My first stop was at Down Cathedral, where I photographed many antiquities in the nave, and the Cromwell (Earls of Ardglass) memorial plaque in the Porch.

The new mausoleum of the Hastings family (Sir William Hastings CBE), directly overlooking the cathedral, in the new grave-yard, has pinnacles similar to the cathedral, and a stone roof.

The nave contains many colourful coats-of-arms, of old landed county families, including Lord Dufferin, Lord Annesley, the Rowan-Hamiltons, the Halls of Narrow Water, the Kers of Montalto and Portavo, and the Mulhollands, Lords Dunleath.

I lunched at Denvir's Hotel, in English Street.

After a wholesome roast chicken lunch, my second stop was the old Downpatrick Gaol.

On display is a Deputy Lieutenant's uniform of ca 1890, thought to belong to a Graham of Larchfield.

Down Cathedral

I really must pay a visit to Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, because I wish to take photographs of the coats-of-arms of the landed County Down (Downshire, the archaic term) families emblazoned upon the walls of the nave.

I'm particularly eager to see the arms of the Ker family, of Montalto and Portavo. I am currently drafting a small article about their lineage.

Trivia Note: HRH The Duke of Kent's grandson is styled Lord Downpatrick.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Minnowburn Pond

Timothy Belmont crawled into his pit at 3am this morning; and I was up at eight-thirty, hungover, in order to go to Minnowburn, outside Belfast.

Today we were supplemented by Lagan Valley volunteers. We planted about three hundred trees, mostly for landscaping the new network of paths approaching the pond.

A beautiful rustic fence has been erected beside the path.

A craftsman from Portaferry was there, too, helping us to create a natural willow hide.

We had our packed lunches in the warden's office.

Brackenber Dinner

I attended the Old Brackenbrian annual dinner last night, at the Europa Hotel in Belfast, the second year running that it has been held there.

We all enjoyed ourselves so much that I cannot provide a true estimate as to the number of old boys in attendance; except that there must have been half a dozen large circular tables, which were all full. Our numbers are, inevitably, dwindling - we're a dying breed! - owing to the fact that Brackenber House School no longer exists.

Brackenber House was situated at Cleaver Avenue, off Malone Road, in Belfast.

There were plenty of opportunities to chat before and after the meal which, once again, was excellent. Many thanks to all concerned, including the staff at the hotel, for everything.

I wish I had a copy of the menu, because I am unable to describe the meal accurately. Suffice it to say that the first course consisted of a tasty chorizo and tomato soup, accompanied by wheaten bread.

With the old nose-bag firmly affixed, I got the gnashers stuck in to a most toothsome bacon chop, not your run-of-the-mill variety, either. It was complemented by mashed potato and a concoction of cabbage with other tasty ingredients.

Pudding was traditional, too: Bread and Butter Pudding, if I recall correctly!

After the meal, there were several speakers, including Howard Hastings (same year as self at Brackenber), who talked about the state of Tourism in the Province, especially in 2012.

C T Hogg MBE UD JP DL treated us all to a very entertaining speech.

An especial welcome was given to another Old Boy, Robin Eyre-Maunsell DL.

Several of us retired to the Piano Bar afterwards, where we spent another hour or so.

Unfortunately the Brackenber dinner clashed with that of Campbell College's annual dinner, also in Belfast. 

I got a taxi home before 3am.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Moss Go!



"It was a case of conservation in action at The Argory recently, as a 50-stong team of staff and volunteers came together to remove invasive species from The Argory mosses.

This was the first step in a restoration project that would help protect one of the few remaining lowland raised bog habitats in National Trust ownership.

The project - which will officially start later this month - would not have been possible without support from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency Challenge Fund.

NIEA staff were also present on the day to help remove invasives and to protect the mosses' native wildlife and conserve the area that was once used to provide peat which fuelled The Argory house since the 1800s.

The Argory mosses comprise 10 hectares of relatively intact bog and 7 hectares of cut-over bog. The original raised bog would have occupied a much wider footprint than present day, as past drainage and peat cutting has reduced its area considerably.

Since its acquisition in 1979, invasive scrub has been intermittently removed, but little other active management has taken place. The mosses are drying out and this is the initial step in a longer term restoration project.

The essential funding will allow for initial hydrological and topographical surveys of the mosses to gain important information to help develop a long-term restoration project to prevent the mosses from further drying out.

The team spent the day removing invasive scrub, including rhododendron, pine and birch from the bog. Many of the young Scots pines which were carefully removed will be planted at other National Trust sites across Northern Ireland [we've planted them already at Orlock-Portavo in County Down].

It is essential that the scrub is removed from the bog, as their growth contributes to the drying out process.

The bog needs to remain wet to provide the right habitat conditions for wet loving bog species, such as sphagnum moss, sun-dew, cranberry and the myriad of other bog plants and insects to flourish.

The Argory Mosses project is one of over 40 across Northern Ireland which have received funding from the NIEA Challenge Fund to carry out work to benefit Northern Ireland's people and wildlife.

The NI Environment Minister, Alex Attwood MLA, said:
"This is a fantastic programme which challenged local environmental charities to devise and deliver projects on a very short time-scale. I am delighted with the level of interest and the quality of the proposals. It is good to be able to congratulate the groups on meeting the challenge set by my Environment Agency. I look forward to seeing the results of all of these exciting local environmental projects."

Ian Greenaway, Head Warden of the National Trust Mid-Ulster property group, commented:
"We are delighted to be part of the Challenge Fund, which will enable us to undertake the steps to help protect and enhance the Argory Mosses, to maximise its habitat and wildlife and to make part of the area more accessible to visitors in the future."

Although not achievable within the first phase of the project, in the longer-term the National Trust hopes that this project will provide invaluable knowledge through which they can inform and educate visitors on the benefits to the environment through improved access to the Argory Mosses."

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Photographic Portrait

My friend Anneke has given me a photographic makeover, for which I am utterly delighted. Anneke takes some wonderful photographs, many from the splendid location of Narrow Water Castle in County Down.

Classic Plain Shirt by Turnbull & Asser, Jermyn Street, London


I have treated the trusty two-wheeler to a new bell, one of those Dutch-style "ding-dong" varieties. These are large and loud, though not aggressive in tone.

When it chimes, it seems to resonate for a few seconds, too.

Great stuff for the hard-of-hearing!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Timothy Belmont was out at the field all day today, planting dozens of saplings with other National Trust staff and volunteers at Orlock, between Groomsport and Donaghadee in County Down.

We began with ten, though numbers diminished to half that as the afternoon progressed.

We are making good progress: About three thousand trees have already been planted, leaving a balance of four thousand still to plant.

The eight-acre field is beside Portavo Reservoir.

Heather had brought along some jam doughnuts, so we all devoured them at lunch-time.

That is me, by the way, in the picture planting a tree.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Admiral McDowell

I discovered, quite recently, my long-lost cousins in the United States of America. They live near Washington DC.

My second cousin initially made contact with me and her father, Rear-Admiral Charles McDowell, retired  Judge Advocate-General in the US Navy 1978-80, is my first cousin once removed.

Charles's grandfather was my maternal great-grandfather.

First published in July, 2008.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Jubilee Message


Today, as I mark 60 years as your Queen, I am writing to thank you for the wonderful support and encouragement that you have given to me and Prince Philip over these years and to tell you how deeply moved we have been to receive so many kind messages about the Diamond Jubilee.

In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign and which my family and I look forward to seeing in many forms as we travel throughout the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth.

I hope also that this Jubilee year will be a time to give thanks for the great advances that have been made since 1952 and to look forward to the future with clear head and warm heart as we join together in our celebrations.

I send my sincere good wishes to you all.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Friday Jollity

I was at the Dirty Duck Ale House in Holywood, County Down, for the first time in ages last night. I was greeted by a blazing fire and my friends had already arrived.

We dined upstairs last night, at a window table overlooking Belfast Lough. I had the duck, which was served sliced atop a kind of lentil mixture; and, although it was not a massive portion, I did find it tasty.

BP had his usual scampi and chips (he left a few crumbs at the conclusion, viz. several chips and some salad, which I scooped up!); and B, BP's better half, had the salmon.

When we had finished, we were politely reminded that our table was booked for another sitting, so we took the cue and retired to the downstairs bar, where self indulged in yet more Bombay and tonic-water.

I had cycled down to the railway station earlier and left the trusty two-wheeler near the platform; however, I need not have purchased a return ticket because I hitched a lift in the taxi with the others as far as the railway halt beside the Sydenham by-pass.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Feminist Wet Blankets

Surely they must be that ghastly blend of socialist-feminist? They have banned Top Totty Blonde Beer from the Strangers' Bar at the Houses of Parliament.

What utter rot!

The Labour Party's so-called "equalities" spokesman, Kate Green, was left ''disturbed'' after seeing the 4 per cent ale's advertising in the popular parliamentary watering hole and demanded bar staff remove it from sale.

Within 90 minutes, House authorities ordered the beer to be withdrawn after Commons' Leader Sir George Young told MPs: ''Action will be taken.''

A barman told the Press Association: ''I can confirm it was withdrawn from sale at 1.30pm.''

The bitter backlash developed after Ms Green told the Commons: ''I was disturbed last night to learn that the guest beer in the Strangers' Bar is called Top Totty and there is a picture of a nearly naked woman on the tap.''

Chilly Journey

I rode into town this morning on the trusty two-wheeler, the first tome I've been out on the bike for quite awhile. Despite wearing my heavy British Warm overcoat, thick jumper, cords, scarf and gloves, the old finger-tips were aching with the wind-chill.

I locked the bike at Fountain Street and ventured into the venerable old Linenhall Library, where I researched the Wilsons of Maryville and the Nugents of Portaferry.

The ancient fellow-swimmer, Robert, was reading a newspaper on the first floor, so we had a brief chin-wag.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Open Day

I have spent an interesting lunch hour at a post-graduate open day in Belfast, under the auspices of the Queen's University.

Although the seminar was held at 53 University Road, I stupidly turned up at 53 Malone Road instead! Hence, I was about fifteen minutes late.

We were presented with an illuminating lecture, and a touch of humour thrown in, by one of the staff in the Department concerned.

Afterwards, we had the opportunity of meeting some of the staff, who were all most agreeable and helpful.

Tea, coffee and fresh sandwiches were provided (much to my glee).

Portillo's Travels

Timothy Belmont has not missed one episode of that splendid BBC series, Great British Railway Journeys.

Of course, the Right Honourable Michael Portillo, as a former Cabinet Minister and one of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, does the job marvellously.

This evening Mr Portillo, armed with his trusty Bradshaw's Victorian Railway Guidebook, arrives in Northern Ireland, as part of his grand railway tour of the British Isles.

His first stop is County Armagh, where Michael visits the city of Armagh and its observatory; and Downpatrick, in County Down.