Sunday, 28 February 2016

Belvoir Park Walk


I paid Belvoir Park, Newtownbreda, County Down, a visit this afternoon.

Belvoir was built by the 1st Viscount Dungannon; and later sold to Sir Robert Bateson, 1st Baronet.

Belvoir forest park is now in greater Belfast.

I have written quite a lot about this extraordinarily fine 18th century demesne, though little trace remains of it.

There are, however, several indicative features.

The stable-yard survives, mercifully.

retaining wall

The old retaining wall is largely intact. It stands to the east of where the mansion house stood (now the car-park).

former fish-pond

There were four or five ornamental fish-ponds below the wall, though their remains are barely discernible.

The sweeping lawn immediately in front of the house (above) is now completely overgrown.

I strolled along the old tow-path, beside the former river Lagan navigation and canal.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Orlock Hedging

I've spent the day at Orlock, a property of the National Trust between Groomsport and Donaghadee, County Down.

The former coastguard lookout stands adjacent to the public road.

This former lookout is now surrounded by residential homes.

Today our task was to construct a hawthorn hedge.

The hawthorn trees are already there; our job was to bend them horizontally, using bill-hooks and saws.

The trick is to leave a mere "strap", a sort of ligament of the tree, very thin indeed.

The tree can then be bent down horizontally so that it stays alive.

This is a most satisfying pastime.

Most of the trees were relatively large, so it wasn't as easy as it might seem.

Some of the straps broke, which meant that we had to remove the tree for firewood.

The intention is to plant new hawthorn trees imminently to fill the gaps.

We enjoyed sunny intervals today, though there was a heavy hail shower which lasted five or ten minutes.

I munched away happily on egg salad sandwiches at lunchtime.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

S D Bell's Breakfast

I usually meet my aunt at the celebrated tea and coffee merchant, S D Bell's, at 516, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast.

S D Bell's is one of the longest established family businesses still operating in the city.

It is always busy.

I normally have a pot of their Directors' Blend with a fruit scone; though today I fancied a cooked breakfast.

The Ulster Fry, cooked breakfast, is particularly popular in Bell's.

They have the smaller, five item version; or the full-size eight item plateful.

I opted for the former, and had an egg, sausage, baked beans, potato farl, and soda farl.

This was a rare treat and I devoured it heartily.

I think that in this instance I might just pip Camilla Batmanjelly to the food-trough.

Everything was tip-top and there was no greasiness, either.

It cost £4.80.

Erin, my favourite member of staff, presented it to me at our table.

I noticed another patron with the home-made stew, which looked equally good; and Ewart's haddock and chips featured on the blackboard.

Well done, S D Bell's, and long may you provide the choicest teas, coffees and food to us.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Connswater Bridge

I happened to be passing the Connswater Bridge, Newtownards Road, Belfast, this afternoon and work progresses well on the Connswater Greenway project.

The river Conn's Water is culverted on one side for several hundred yards; while, at the Connswater Bridge, beside McDonald's, a Trench Shield (or box) has been placed in the middle of the river adjacent to the bridge.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Orlock Visit

The National Trust owns a fair bit of coastline between Ballyholme Bay, Bangor, and Portavo, just beyond Orlock Point, County Down.

This townland is called Balloo Lower.

To our south is Portavo Reservoir; whereas the town of Bangor is to the west; and the Copeland Islands to the east.

Today eleven of us drove to a field close to the old coastguard lookout at Orlock, a tight-knit community comprising about forty homes, I gather.

We endeavoured to light a bonfire in order to burn old branches and grass cuttings.

It seemed to take two hours to light the fire because everything was saturated.

Nevertheless, our persistence eventually paid off.

Will was cutting the lower branches from a kind of conifer tree at the entrance to Orlock.

Fodder today for self consisted of salmon sandwiches and a beaker of coffee.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Pecking Orders

My fellow blogger has drawn my attention to the fact that I omitted to mention the Right Rev the Lord Eames, OM, in my article about the OC dinner and Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

His Grace the Duke of Abercorn is, of course, a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

The Right Rev the Lord Eames is a Member of the Order of Merit.

Sir Ronnie Flanagan is a Knight Grand Cross of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Ulster's golden girl is Dame Mary Peters, a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour and a Dame Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

New DLs


Dr Angela Garvey, Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Londonderry, has been pleased to appoint:

Dr Lucinda WATT


To be Deputy Lieutenants of the County Borough, her Commission bearing date the 8th day of February 2016.

OC Dinner

Last night I attended the Old Campbellians' annual dinner at the College.

Campbell College stands in about seventy acres, I imagine, off Belmont Road, Belfast.

My old pal Dangerfield (!) called me earlier in the day and offered to collect me.

A lively fire was blazing in the vestibule, where we met the President of the society, Bill McKelvey.

Having relieved myself of the overcoat, we made a beeline for the makeshift bar which was located in the central hall.

I rather enjoy these reunions, seeing old, familiar faces again.

I had a good chin-wag with Richard Sholdis, whose family once lived in the Mourne Mountains beside Spence's River.

I reminisced about my uncle's cottage, the well in the moor behind it, how we obtained water with a metal pail; and when the Sholdises arrived, how they let us use their outside tap for fresh water.

The good old days!

I was pally with his younger brother, David.

Eventually we all trooped in to the dining-hall, a large chamber with a lofty, vaulted ceiling.

Needless to say, the grub was good; the company, convivial.

Our guest speaker was Sir Ronnie Flanagan, GBE, QPM, Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary from 1996 until its demise in 2001.

I met Sir Ronnie earlier in the evening and recounted an anecdote about Sir John Hermon, OBE, QPM, a predecessor of his in the RUC.

As a matter of fact, as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE), Sir Ronnie is the third most highly decorated person in Northern Ireland, afte the Duke of Abercorn, KG, and the Right Rev the Lord Eames, OM.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Orlock Hedging

Orlock Point lies between Groomsport and Donaghadee in County Down. It is almost opposite Portavo reservoir and estate.

The Copeland Islands are directly opposite.

Pheasants proliferate here, clucking and wandering about the fields.

One dominant feature of the landscape at Orlock is an ugly, man-made structure, a concrete water-tower, on the top of a hill.

There were a dozen of us again today, at a field near the Point.

At one side of this field there's an old stone-wall with hawthorn trees growing alongside it.

This wall has a herringbone pattern.

Our task today was to clear the ivy and debris from the wall, which has a two-foot ditch.

The photo is self-explanatory, as to my lunch; in fact the mug was purchased at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, thirty-five years ago.

Our truck got stuck in the mud, so we all had to get behind it and do our duty.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Brackenber Tie

Do any readers happen to have a Brackenber House School old boys' tie?

They are virtually impossible to obtain now, obviously because the school closed down decades ago and the ties are obsolete.

One or two old boys have asked me about it, so I'm wondering if there are any in a drawer or attic.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Brackenber House Annual Dinner

Given that the weather was somewhat inclement in Belfast yesterday, I took a cab into town for the annual Old Brackenbrian dinner at the Ulster Reform Club.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Brackenber, it was a prep school at Cleaver Avenue in Belfast.

I was there from about 1971 till 1973 or 74.

The Reform Club is one of Belfast's most venerated institutions: heavy oak panelling; thick, opulent carpets; vaulted ceilings; decent plasterwork; leather armchairs.

You get the idea.

This is the last remaining Victorian gentlemen's club in the city (actually ladies are very welcome now, too).

The Club used to have accommodation for members, though I think this ceased in the 1970s.

Gordon Harvey greeted me on the top floor and I entered the dining-room, overlooking Royal Avenue.

Johnny Knox hailed me as I entered, "Ah, it's Lord Belmont!"

There was a 1970s cine film being shown on the television screens of the school and games days, several teachers, viz. Mr McQuoid, Mr Bull, Miss Rankin, and so on.

I relished the grub, as ever.

We tucked in to spiced parsnip soup with chive oil and freshly baked bread; lamb shank braised with vegetables and red wine, served with a gravy of pan juices; Chef's selection of vegetables and potatoes; home-made deep-filled apple pie with cinnamon cream; and tea or coffee.

I was fortified with a glass of port for the speeches.

There were sixty-two old boys this year, a very commendable turnout given that the school closed down and was demolished many years ago.

I have another old boys' bash next Friday, this time at Campbell.

I must give the old DJ an airing.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Ballymacormick Day

We (National Trust Strangford Lough Group) spent a good part of yesterday at Ballymacormick again.

Ballymacormick is a stretch of coastline near Groomsport, County Down.

Once again, we were burning and cutting gorse.

There's a considerable amount of it. Much of it has become so well established that the stumps are large enough for firewood.

A dozen of us made good progress; it was dry with sunny intervals; and the stonechats were never far away.

As usual, we had a good natter at lunchtime. I had my favourite cheese & onion sandwiches with tea.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

New Privy Counsellors

THE QUEEN has been pleased to approve the recommendation to appoint Sir Ronald Weatherup and Sir Reginald Weir as Members of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council.

The Rt Hon Lord Justice Weatherup was called to the Bar in 1971, took Silk in 1993 and was appointed a Judge of the High Court in Northern Ireland in 2001.

The Rt Hon Lord Justice Weir was called to the Bar in 1970, took Silk in 1985 and was appointed a Judge of the High Court in Northern Ireland in 2003.