Published Tuesday, 22 October 2013
I've been re-visiting some favourite haunts, and visiting some places for the first time.
My first trip, on an unseasonably sunny Sunday found me getting up close and personal with rescued seal pups, sharks and seahorses at Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry. Before that though, we drove along the Lough Shore Road, a beautiful coastal drive which is one of Portaferry's hidden secrets. My kids enjoyed looking out for the shipwrecks that are visible at low tide as well as the views of Castle Ward on the far side of the lough.
We followed a nice healthy walk along the shorefront with a great brunch in the conservatory at Barholm, overlooking the ferry slipway.
We wandered up to Exploris for the doors opening at 1pm and for the next two hours found ourselves immersed in the fishy goings-on. I have to admit I am no stranger to the place and it has been high on my children's list of "places to go" for many years.
Indeed, it's been more important to them in recent years as they found a stranded seal pup in Donaghadee a couple of years back and phoned Exploris personnel who came out to rescue it.
They were then invited down to see the pup on its road to recovery afterwards and name it too, so they always point out its name on the seal nursery wall when they visit.
Next stop was Mountstewart House. It's another great place where kids can run about, climb trees and parents can ponder what to do when one child shouts "I've climbed too high and can't get down".
On the other side of the lough, the bird sanctuary at WWT Castle Espie has transformed itself over the years and is now a great place to head to (on a dry-ish day). It has huge wide open areas and a walking trail with plenty of opportunities to spy some of the birds that use the place as a home.
Close to Castle Espie is Balloo House, where chef Danny Millar and his team create some mouthwatering dishes in the "fine dining" room upstairs. The locally sourced venison and pork we tried was amazing, and we particularly enjoyed the French-style desserts.
To top off a stunning meal, you can now dine & stay as Balloo House have teamed up with local B&B operators including The Mill at Balloo which means you don't have to worry about driving home!
This B&B is exactly what it says on the tin. The stunning open plan living room is dominated by a waterwheel and one of the bedroom ceilings has the original mill "workings". Guests also get their own door key which makes it a real home from home.
Sometimes it's worth checking out places on your own doorstep!
© UTV News