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The Trek that I would like to share with you is Mussenden Temple & Downhill Demesne.
At the time of writing this article in June 2020, the National Trust has recently opened this site to visitors following the Coronavirus quarantine – please visit their website to book your visit online in advance. National Trust entrances fees apply for this walk. Slots are being opened each week.
It would be a challenge to find a more dramatic headland in Northern Ireland than Downhill Estate. Part of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural beauty, these breath-taking views stretch across the North Coast and the cliff top walks are a favourite with locals, tourists, hikers and photographers alike.
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Starting at Bishop’s Gate entrance to the Demesne, proceed past a quaint gothic style gate lodge (private residence) and then enter the Bishop’s Gate Gardens – look out for the unusual bog garden.
At a fork in the main path, take the right track – a well surfaced woodland path and pass through a relict arboretum with many rare tree species.
At another pronounced fork, follow signs for Mussenden Temple up a steepish grass track. Through a small wooden gate proceed on to gain a majestic view of the gaunt ruins of Downhill House. At this stage you can explore the ruin.
Downhill House was a mansion built in the late 18th century. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1851 before being rebuilt in the 1870s.
It fell into disrepair after the Second World War.
The construction of the house and the Temple cost an estimated £80,000.
You can then proceed along a path to Mussenden Temple.
The temple was built in 1785 and formed part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol (or the Earl Bishop).
The temple was built as a summer library and its architecture was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome. It is dedicated to the memory of Hervey’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden.
It perches dramatically on a 120 ft cliff top, high above the Atlantic Ocean on the north-western coast of Northern Ireland, offering spectacular views westwards over Downhill Strand towards Magilligan Point and County Donegal and to the east Castlerock beach towards Portstewart, Portrush and Fair Head.
The Temple and the surrounding views are among the most photographed scenes in Ireland and when you visit it will be very apparent why this is the case.
It was once possible to drive a carriage around the Temple, however coastal erosion over the years meant that the Temple itself was in danger of being lost to the sea due to the erosion of the cliff which brought the Temple ever closer to the edge.
In 1997 the National Trust carried out cliff stabilisation work to prevent the loss of this lovely building.
Mussenden Temple gave the Game of Thrones camera crew a perfect view of Downhill Beach – which became Dragonstone in series two.
The views of Ireland’s North Coast and some of the Scottish Western Isles (Islay & Jura) on a clear day are very impressive.
Top Tip – the National Trust usually light Mussenden Temple up green to celebrate St Patricks day!
At this point, walkers can choose to retrace their steps or the more adventurous can head west (left of the Temple), making sure to correctly locate the mown grass track through the hay meadows and head for another unusual built feature – the dovecote (another circular type building).
Keeping doves was common practice on the estates.
The down and feathers were used to fill pillows and the dung was used for fertiliser, in the tanning industry and also in the manufacture of gunpowder.
They were particularly valued for their eggs and their meat, particularly in winter when meat was scarce.
From the Dovecote – a fantasy landscape of a walled garden appears.
The Bishops large household and busy entertainment schedule meant that big demands were placed on the walled garden.
It had to provide the fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchen and provide flowers for the house.
On exiting the walled garden, all paths lead back to the ruins of Downhill House, but to return to your starting point veer off to the right, just before the front of the house – following a grass track. This grass track leads to the Mausoleum and back to the gardens at Bishop’s Gate.
This walk is just over 2 miles.
Please note – National Trust entrance fees apply to this walk.
Mussenden Temple is available for wedding ceremonies – contact the National Trust for more information.
Suitable for picnics. Wheelchair access. Dogs must be kept on leads.
I do hope that you enjoy exploring these unique and striking 18th century ruins and learning about the history of its flamboyant creator – The Earl Bishop.
Top Tip – explore a bit further and walk nearby Downhill Beach. Time your visit to catch a sunrise or a sunset with the Temple resting on the cliff above. Make sure to bring your camera / phone to capture those stunning views!
You can also drive further along the coast to see the stunning beaches at Castlerock, Portrush or Portstewart.
Bring a picnic and make a day of it.
READ: Trek Report: Pierce’s Castle and Altataggart.Find Out More
Mussenden Temple & Downhill Demesne is situated 5 miles west of Coleraine on the A2 main road to Castlerock and Benone Strand.
From Londonderry and Limavady follow the A2 coast road to Benone Strand and 3 miles past Benone.
Signposted both directions, as section of the Causeway Coastal Route.
Ingrid Darragh is an amateur photographer – combining her love of writing, exploring and photography – based in Portstewart.
Her favourite thing to photograph is a North Coast Sunset.
Special thanks go to Jack Hunter for collaborating on this article.
Jack Hunter is an amateur photographer – well known for his stunning captures along the North Coast (sometimes with Ted the dog).
Follow him on Instagram for photos of his travels
Jack is also an Admin for @emerald_isle_ireland – supporting Amateur Photographers and inspiring people to explore Ireland.
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