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Two houses at once, somehow contained within the same building


Two-sided House
Old Castle Ward
Walking Trails
In the past, if you were a rich family, you had to have a house. A big one, with lots of land, so you could show everybody just how rich you were. The problem was, how did you decide what style to build it in?

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
The Ward family of Northern Ireland had particular trouble making up their mind. They liked both the classical Palladian style, and the more dramatic features of Gothic architecture. Eventually, they solved the problem by deciding not to decide. They built a house that used both approaches at once.
The front of the building, then, is rigidly Classical, with formal pillars and determined symmetry. The rear side of the house is Gothic, with pointed windows and fairytale parapets. That, however, is just the beginning - the divide runs much deeper than just the exterior. It spreads through the entire manor, effectively chopping the place in half. This is a building with an identity crisis.

The classical side of Castle Ward.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board

The gothic side of Castle Ward.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
The Classical side of Castle Ward is theoretically male, and is furnished with a traditional conservatism. This is the location of the hall, where guests would first enter, and the dining room, where they'd begin an evening's entertainment. After dinner, as the sun began to set, they'd be confronted with the house's alter-ego. Its Gothic half is female, and decidedly more flamboyant. Here, guests would find the shameless opulence of the saloon and the boudoir. The latter is particularly notable for the dramatic curves of its ceiling, which are based on a chapel at Westminster Abbey.
Outside, things get a little more normal, but only slightly. Like many 18th century mansions, Castle Ward is surrounded by a walled demesne. This enclosed area of land contained everything the household needed to function, like a laundry, a farmyard and even a water-driven corn mill. This place is special in that it's one of the best remaining examples of a demesne on the entire Irish island. It sprawls out over a huge 820 acres.
One of the oldest structures is the 16th century tower house, known as Old Castle Ward. It acts as a reminder of the less peaceful times before the main house was built. Back then, the estate was still owned by the affluent Ward family, but they had to be careful to protect their land. The tower watches sternly over the adjacent gate, making sure that everybody who came in had permission to do so.

The Tower House at Castle Ward
Photo Ardfern
The stable yard, meanwhile, has been converted to include a more modern interior. It now contains a restaurant and shop, selling organic soups and second-hand books. Outside, a children's adventure playground entertains the young ones.
The buildings are surrounded by the seemingly endless landscaped gardens. During the spring they're covered with vast carpets of bluebells, while the autumn brings darker colours. Walking trails snake their way through the woodland, leading towards some unexpected sights. You might stumble across a pretty farmyard, or a made-made lake. Even more memorably, some trails bring you suddenly face-to-face with the vastness of Strangford Lough.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Visitor Information
Castle Ward is open daily, 10am to 5pm (House open March to October from 11am). Entry costs around £6 for adults, £3 children, £15 families. Strangford, Downpatrick, County Down BT30 7LS. Tel: 028 4488 1204

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