Nestled along the inside shore of Strangford Lough in County Down is a rare hidden gem; the Mount Stewart Estate. Ancestral seat of the Londonderry Family, the estate is now managed by the National Trust, and it boasts one of the best gardens in the UK.
It is about 20 minutes from our house, and we visit frequently through the year. There was a break in the rain today, if not the clouds and as the weather has been dreadful this winter it’s been a while since we last visited; so we donned our wellies, grabbed the dogs and went for a walk.
The recent storms have been hard on the woodland, and that is immediately obvious as you make your way around the lake. It’s a work in progress, and you can see recently felled trees, in parts neatly cut, but in other places jagged breaks where the wind took it’s toll.
For regular visitors, you would notice a lot more light around the lake now, as a lot of work has already been carried out.
I was pleased to see that the Cork Oak survived. As far as I am aware, it is the most northerly example of it’s type, normally these trees grow much further south, where the cork bark is harvested for wine production. I have a particular fondness for this tree, as a few years ago, I noticed a pine sapling growing epiphyticaly on one of the upper branches. The light makes it a bit difficult to see in the photo, but if you look at the second fork in the trunk, and then up, you may see some whip like branches with needlelike leaves that look ‘wrong’, thats it.
The problem is once the pine is established it will become too heavy for the oak branch to support. At that stage if it breaks, then the way is open for virus and disease to set in. I’m very protective of this Cork Oak, as you can probably tell.
Each year a brace of swans try rearing a brood, two years ago the brood were all wiped out but last year was much more successful and a couple of the cygnets are almost fully grown now. They look like they are doing well.
Following the lake on round shows signs of a few more trees down, which will have hit the population of red squirrels that live here. Although we were there too late in the day to see them I did see signs
These are acorn husks, that a squirrel has opened. If a mouse had opened this, the acorn would have a round hole nibbled round the bottom, but a squirrel had the strength to split the shell in half, you see it even better with hazel nut shells which split cleanly.
Throughout the grounds there are various types of pinecones that have been stripped of the little oil rich pine nuts inside.
All around there are signs of life as early buds start to show and even blossom. It won’t be long, maybe a couple of weeks before this area is a riot of colour and scent
This was just a brief walk round the lake while the rain was off. But in a few weeks time when the real spring blooms are in full glory I will be back to do the estate a bit more justice and show you the formal gardens and the house.