Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Belmont Thumbstick

One of Sir Max Hastings' favourite pieces of kit happens to be his treasured thumbstick, and I can now proudly say that I am the owner of one myself.

A pal and follower of the blog, Stephen, most generously offered to make me a thumbstick several months ago, following my tweet about Sir Max's walking-stick.

Accordingly, I decided to mark the occasion with dinner at Deane's Love Fish restaurant in Howard Street, Belfast, last night.

Coincidentally it also happened to be the ninth anniversary of my blog.

I arrived slightly early, so I was shown to the champagne bar (which happens to be adjacent to Deane's Eipic, recently awarded one Michelin Star.

I had time for a few refreshers, viz. a Tanqueray Ten, Shortcross, and a Swedish number called Hernö (I think).

When Stephen arrived he gave me my handsome new thumbstick, made mainly of chestnut wood and antler.

It also has a distinctive, engraved, sterling silver collar.

I can only imagine the amount of time that Stephen spent on such a beautiful item; such craftsmanship.

At length we were shown to our table at Love Fish, where I had the Crevettes, Garlic butter and Sourdough starter.

I enjoyed it: Juicy, large prawns; rich butter; and a thin slice of bread.

I had Seafood Pie for my main course; while Stephen had the Galloper's Beer-battered Haddock, Mushy Peas, Tartare Sauce, and Chips.

The ambiance at Deane's is cheerful and jolly, and the staff are all very attentive and eager to please.

In fact Michael Deane was there himself last night.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Mount Stewart Visit

Charles Villiers has been a great friend and supporter of this blog for a number of years.

He has sent me invaluable information pertaining to the Stewarts, Marquesses of Londonderry, and, in particular, his close relationship with his beloved grandmother, the late Lady Mairi Bury.

Charles is a great-grandson of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Londonderry.

He recently visited Mount Stewart estate, near Newtownards, County Down (where, incidentally, he and I were both born), with his cousin Theresa (the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP) and his friend, Jonathan Caine (the Lord Caine).

Charles explains,

"WE all were visiting Mount Stewart together, which was a plan we jointly made a couple of weeks previously.

We walked around the Lake, up to Tir Nan Og which had been left unlocked in order for me to see the recently installed Headstone on my mother's grave for the first time (following her burial at Mount Stewart in 2015).

Then we went up to the Farm because Jonathan wished to see all of the eighteenth century farm buildings which are unchanged since the time of the famous statesman Lord Castlereagh growing up at Mount Stewart.

The farm buildings are currently being re-roofed by the National Trust, after the NT bought the Farm last year from my late grandmother's Trustees.

The oak trees in the demesne which are known to have been planted by Castlereagh himself.

After seeing the Farm, we then walked up to the Temple of the Winds, which neither Jonathan nor Theresa had visited before, and enjoyed the views from the Temple across Strangford Lough towards Scrabo Tower and the site of the swimming pool marked by its lone palm tree.

The two photographs were taken by Theresa's bodyguard from the Close Protection Unit, and afterwards we all lunched at the National Trust's Bay Restaurant.

Theresa and I are cousins because we are each descended from two brothers of the 4th Earl of Clarendon, namely the Hon Thomas Villiers MP (me) and the Hon Edward Villiers (Theresa).

Some people may think the Villiers family is wholly English, though in fact it has long standing Irish connections dating back to Theresa's and my direct ancestor, Sir Edward Villiers MP (1585-1626), who was appointed Lord President of Munster; and who lived, died, and was buried in Youghal, County Cork."

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Ancient DJ

Think I'm alluding to Jimmy Savile? Or the oldest swinger in town?

Try again.

Timothy Belmont alludes to the venerable old dinner jacket, a mere 83 years old.

It's priceless, to me at least. Everything has a price, I suppose.

I wouldn't accept a thousand pounds for my old dinner jacket; nor two thousand pounds.

The eager bidder would be required to pitch considerably higher. It's not for sale anyway.

It was made in August, 1933, consisting of heavy flannel or Barathea wool, with one button fastening at the front; ventless at the back.

It boasts a very wide, ribbed silk lapel and has four, functional buttons on each sleeve; one inside pocket and two outside pockets.

First published in June, 2008.

Friday, 4 November 2016

New DL


Mrs Joan Christie OBE, Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim, has been pleased to appoint:

County Antrim

To be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County, her Commission bearing date the 19th October, 2016.
Joan Christie
Lord Lieutenant of the County

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

La Scarpetta da Mariò

I've been yearning for some good, fresh pasta lately and there just happens to be a fair selection of Italian restaurants in Corralejo.

Several years ago I dined at a charming little restaurant called La Scarpetta da Mariò, tucked away discreetly in a quiet shopping centre close to the town centre.

Mariò himself was master of ceremonies, to the extent that he personally attended to patrons, spending a few minutes reciting the special meals available.

Quite a rigmarole in fact.

La Scarpetta moved to new premises more than a year ago, at the Plaza, 62, Avenida Nostra Senora del Carmen.

The new restaurant is considerably larger and, as a consequence, less intimate.

I like it, though it has lost a little of the former premises' charm; and Mariò has ceased the rigmarole (which I don't mind, frankly).

The new restaurant was very quiet when I arrived, though I tend to dine early so this was perhaps to be expected.

I was shown to a table at the far end initially.

I have experienced this treatment before, so before I settled there I scanned the room for a preferable table and noticed one I fancied at the window.

Seated at the window table, I perused the Italian menu and ordered the Torta Sfoglia agli Asparagi , fresh asparagus cooked in butter, with Parmesan and ricotta cheese, aromatic truffle, encased in a rich puff pastry.

For my main course I had the Tagiatelle ai Pomodorini Calabresi e Porcini, pasta with sun-dried cherry tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, a bit of chilli pepper, porcini mushrooms and basil.

The asparagus tart was very good: moist, light, full of flavour; with a fine little garnish and sweet balsamic vinegar.

The pasta was good, too: fresh, appropriately cooked, complemented by the sun-dried tomatoes and basil.

The bill, including a soft drink, came to €20.10.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Brackenber Memorabilia

A fellow Old Brackenbrian has kindly conveyed several nostalgic illustrations which, I hope, are of considerable interest to others.

I have sought old photographs of the School for some time, so it gives me great pleasure to share these illustrations with readers.

Brackenber House Preparatory School (above) was located at Cleaver Avenue in Belfast.

The scarlet cap and striped tie are on the right. 

First published in June, 2009.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Post Tardiness

Fret not, dear readers. The posting this morning was later than usual because I'm not using my normal BT connection.

The wifi where I happen to be can be, shall we say, hit or miss.

I shall try to post articles during the evening, when I tend to have a more reliable connection.

I dined at an old favourite earlier: Avenida Restaurant, Corralejo, Fuerteventura.

The food is relatively simple and unpretentious, as is the restaurant.

The standards, however, are first-rate.

My chicken escalope, served with crisp and dry chips, lettuce and tomato slice, was as enjoyable as ever.

Always order a half portion, lest you have the appetite of a hippopotamus.

One is brought a complimentary basket of fresh bread and strong alioli (my preference).

The bill came to a mere €5.90: a bargain.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Prince Edward In NI

The Earl of Wessex, Trustee, yesterday carried out engagements in Northern Ireland to celebrate the Diamond Anniversary of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim (Mrs. Joan Christie OBE).

His Royal Highness met young people participating in the Grass Roots Challenge, at Hillsborough Castle, County Down.

The Earl of Wessex visited a Probation Board Project at the Book Reserve, 407 Lisburn Road, Belfast.

His Royal Highness afterwards visited Belfast Activity Centre, Barnett's Stable Yard, Barnett's Demesne, Malone Road, Belfast, and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast (Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle CBE).

HRH later visited Strangford Integrated College, Abbey Road, Carrowdore, Newtownards, County Down,and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of County Down (Mr. David Lindsay).

His Royal Highness yesterday evening attended a Dinner in County Down.

TODAY His Royal Highness visited Ballyclare High School, Ballyclare, County Antrim.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Island Taggart Visit

Island Taggart is one of the largest islands on Strangford Lough, County Down.

Today we all mustered at Balloo, Killinchy, and motored the short distance, via Rathcunningham Road, to the quay.

This is a cul-de-sac which terminates at Rathcunningham Quay.

From here, Simmy Island and Ringdufferin are adjacent.

About ten of us boarded the little motor-boat from the quay and made the five-minute trip over to Taggart in two runs.

This island has been a property of the National Trust since 1985, when it was donated by Patrick and Kathleen Mackie.

There is a derelict farmstead in the middle of the island, which was used for the film production of The December Bride (by the Ulster author, Sam Hanna Bell).

Taggart is about 85 acres in extent.

Old orchard at back of farmhouse

Today we were cutting down gorse bushes.

I had my favourite cheese-and-onion sandwiches for lunch.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Glorious North Antrim

I've already said it many times though, for the benefit of new readers, I shall reiterate and reaffirm my great fondness for the village of Bushmills in County Antrim.

I stayed at my aunt's holiday home in Portballintrae for a few days and, driving past the little railway halt, a huge - not to mention grand - marquee came into eyesight in a large field beside the river Bush.

It was directly opposite the Bushmills Inn Hotel.

I should fill you in on a few preliminary details first.

The landlords of Bushmills and the entire area used to be the Macnaghten Baronets, of Dundarave estate (beside the village).

The Macnaghtens owned about 6,700 acres of land during the Victorian era, including the Giant's Causeway.

A few years ago the present Baronet sold his estate, including Dundarave House, to Dr Peter FitzGerald CBE, founder of Randox Healthcare.

Dr FitzGerald's plans for the development of his land (now 1,300 acres) include corporate hospitality, shooting, fishing, and his personal passion, polo.

Still with me? The massive marquee outside the village was erected by Randox for a charity polo tournament in aid of - correct me if I'm wrong - The Prince's Trust.

I had been informed of the cost of the tickets and speculation that a member of the Royal Family might attend.

Belmont, dear reader, was a mere bystander.

I did spot Mrs Joan Christie OBE, the Lord-Lieutenant of County Antrim; and the local constabulary looked exceptionally smart, wearing shirts and ties etc.

Speaking of the Northern Ireland police, they have a very good pipe band.

They marched proudly along the field, entertaining the spectators.

Judging by four flags flying from the marquee, there were four teams, namely, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Irish Republic, and South Africa (I gather that Dr FitzGerald's sister is a horse-trainer or owner there).

Basement room at Downhill House ca 1930s

EARLIER in the day I motored through Coleraine and over the river Bann to Downhill Demesne, a property of the National Trust.

Downhill House, Castle, or Palace, whichever you prefer, was a seat of none other than the Right Honourable and Right Reverend Frederick Augustus Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry.

Let's abbreviate that to the Earl-Bishop.

The Bishop's Gate

I parked outside the Bishop's Gate, had a chin-wag with the staff in the lodge, and ventured forth into the glen.

Not, however, before I paid homage to the headless statue of the Earl-Bishop's brother George, 2nd Earl of Bristol.

The Earl-Bishop erected a magnificent mausoleum or monument to his brother (and patron) in the grounds, within eyesight of Downhill House.

The 2nd Earl's statue stood within this monument.

I walked towards the coastline, where the roofless shell of a belvedere or summer-house now stands.

It was built for one of his daughters, the Lady Mary Hervey (who married the 1st Earl of Erne).

Back at the Bishop's Gate, where the stonework is embellished with an earl's coronet, crests, mitres etc, there is a secondary entrance in the form of a tunnel, for the use of servants and tradesmen.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Portballintrae Visit

I spent a few hours at the Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae, County Antrim, last night.

I had a Nero Wolfe detective novel and, of course, the iPad.

The Bayview Hotel is well established in the village and, in my experience, the staff are generally very welcoming and friendly.

Earlier in the day I'd been to the seaside resort of Portrush, in the same county.

I sought a full-size wetsuit and tried on one that fitted me like a glove, so decided to buy it.

Back at the hotel I was reliably informed that the healthcare company, Randox, is organising an event in a large field beside Bushmills, beside the river Bush.

An enormous marquee has been erected and I'm wondering if this would be an equestrian event, such as a polo match.

I motored into Coleraine, County Londonderry, this morning.

I'm fond of Coleraine, particularly the Diamond where the town hall is situated.

There's a very strong wind blowing today, so I may not christen the wetsuit (!)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

On Gibb's Island

I was at Ballyquintin last week; and yesterday was spent with a dozen National Trust Strangford Lough volunteers at Gibb's Island, a truly beautiful property beside Delamont Country Park, County Down.

The closest village, Killyleagh, is merely a few miles away and is worth a detour itself, with the romantic, turreted Castle (private) and the celebrated Dufferin Inn a stone's throw away.

As many will know, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, is also the Baron Killyleagh.

The term "island" is perhaps a slight misnomer for Gibb's nowadays, given that there's now a permanent causeway and track which lead over to it.

No matter; it's one of the most picturesque places in the county and certainly in Strangford Lough.

Gibb's was formerly part of the Delamont Estate (which I've already written about elsewhere).

It's a very small island, and a large wooded area covers the entire top of Gibb's.

It is particularly popular with local dog-walkers; in fact the grass path round the island is so well trodden that there's no need to mow it.

During certain months of the year Galloway or Angus cattle graze Gibb's; and we do mow it once a year to encourage the wild flower meadow.

Yesterday we were at the top of the island, cutting down sycamore saplings and small trees; thereby encouraging the growth of other flora.

We also collected acorns for future planting.

A group of us lunched on a wooden bench directly opposite the Quoile Yacht Club.

The weather was heavenly: more akin to late summer than early autumn.

Prince Henry of Wales


His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales, KCVO, is the younger son of the Prince of Wales and is fifth in line to the Throne.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Brackenber Images

Do any readers possess photographs of Brackenber House School?

There are bound to a few colour ones from the time before the house was demolished.

Could you have a look at an old album, perhaps, and send it to me by email?

Thank you.

Friday, 9 September 2016

New DLs


Mr David Lindsay, Lord-Lieutenant of County Down, has been pleased to appoint:-
  • Mr Peter Campbell CONWAY, Warrenpoint, County Down
  • Professor Neil McCLURE, Holywood, County Down
To be Deputy Lieutenants of the County, his Commission bearing date 2nd September 2016.

David Lindsay
Lord Lieutenant of the County

Monday, 5 September 2016

New Belfast DLs


Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE, Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast, has been pleased to appoint the following to be Deputy Lieutenants of the County Borough of Belfast, their Commissions bearing the date, the 31st day of August, 2016:-
  • Professor Alastair Samuel ADAIR, CBE, Newtownards, County Down
  • Mrs Judith Mary EVE, CBE, Newtownbreda, Belfast
Signed: Gary Smyth MBE, Clerk of the Lieutenancy

Friday, 2 September 2016

Madame Valerie

I spent some time in central Belfast this morning.

I had hoped to find more heraldic information about the Chearnleys of Salterbridge, though my search in the library proved to be fruitless.

A couple of vintage advertisements in an early 20th century Burke's amused me.

Even the apostrophe is missing on Burberry's name (the founder was a certain Thomas Burberry), so this poor grammatical habit began many decades ago.

I don't suppose too many readers shall recall Hooper & Co of 54, St James's Street.

I did, however, nip into Mark and Spencer's Donegall Place store and made a beeline for the food hall.

On the way home, I passed the new Patisserie Valerie café, located opposite City Hall, at Donegall Square West, where their display of hand-made cakes proved to be irresistible.

I fancied the Mixed Berry Tart.

Incidentally, Patisserie Valerie was established in 1926 by Madame Valerie; and her first café was situated at Frith Street, London.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Castle Ward Walk

The Sunken Garden and Castle Ward House

I spent a glorious afternoon on Sunday, 28th August, 2016, at Castle Ward estate, County Down, a property of the National Trust.

I arrived just before noon and, parking the two-seater in the main car-park, stretched the legs on a circuitous route round the outside perimeter of the courtyard.

When I reached the stableyard the shop was open, so I spent some time browsing.

They have a very good selection of books and other National Trust merchandise at this property.

I purchased a small book called How To Read Buildings: A crash course in Architecture, by Carol Davidson Cragoe.

The café had just opened, so I ordered the fresh vegetable soup and a slice of brown bread, and brought it outside to the sunny courtyard which, by the way, has free wifi.

After lunch I tightened up the laces on my walking shoes and ventured forth, along the estate's Downpatrick Avenue, towards Downpatrick gate lodge.

I think this used to be the main entrance, if the rather grand, elaborate gates are anything to go by.

The little lodge boasts the armorial bearings of the Viscounts Bangor on its gable wall.

The crest, a man's head adorned with feathers, is missing. A little hole where it had been attached to is visible.

Thence I passed the gates and continued along the avenue, past the Mallard Plantation, until I came to a gate.

This townland is known as Tullyratty.

I walked along a narrow track or trail, passing many plump, ripe, wild blackberries and, would you believe it, raspberries.

I indulged in several of the juicier ones and advanced along the path.

It leads through woodland and emerges, eventually, in a clearing at the former gamekeeper's cottage, now called The Bunkhouse, I think.

Former gamekeeper's cottage

Revisiting Castle Ward is always nostalgic for me, since we spent twenty-five summers at the caravan park at the edge of the demesne closest to Strangford.