On Tuesday a group of budding explorers set off from Belfast and our destination was Portaferry.
This is an amazing part of Northern Ireland, about 45 minutes from Belfast and steeped in history. Our base and first stop was the family run The Portaferry Hôtel.
Mary and Cathal have brought a real homely and family feel to this splendid, quaint, compact and nautically themed hotel. On arrival we checked into our well manicured rooms and then congregated in the bar for coffee and freshly baked scones, butter, jam and cream!!
First stop on our whistle stop tour of the Ards Peninsula was the recently refurbished Explores Aquarium which is owned by Kieran and Edel Quinn who also own the Crumlin Road Gaol.
This is a small and very compact aquarium and our guide Pete was a font of knowledge. He explained all about the locally found sea life and then the exotic ranging from clown fish to crocodiles.
This is a great spot for young and old alike!! Also can avail of snacks, refreshments, food and an alcoholic beverage or two!!
We then had a short Ferry Ride from Portaferry to Strangford to lunch at The Lobster Pot which is owned by Steven
Kilgore and run by David Kennedy.
This is a brilliant seafood restaurant but alas we got to eat an assortment of sandwiches and carrot and tomato soup, which was unbelievably delicious!! There sports a homage to Game of Thrones here also!!
From here we ferried back to Portaferry and next stop was Portico.
Now I must admit I had never heard of this place before and was truly amazed at what we saw and experienced. The building itself is listed and was built based on an ancient Greek edifice. It is now a concert, marriage and worship venue. The curator, Verity, showed us around and personally I was amazed by the £280 thousand refurbished organ and the audio visual set up…. I shall definitely attend a concert here!!
The next destination is a truly remarkable one….The Ecklinville Distillery.
For lovers of Jawbox Gin this is the Mecca. Here they also make Echlinville Gin, Poitin and Dunville whiskey as well as the Feckin range of spirits.
We were shown round by Norma, who really knew her stuff!! Interestingly the owner started this venture as his “pension pot” and it has grown rapidly. His first business is in Belfast and his hobby is tank collecting (we saw a number in the shed) and he also wants to make a tank park in the grounds.
Suffice to say there was some sampling and a wee drinking game also!!
We then bussed it to The National Trust Kearney Village.
This homestead is rather unique in that on can buy or rent property off The National Trust and can enjoy the estate and the amazing sea views and landscape which are a geologists paradise!
After savouring the sea views it was back to Portaferry and into the hands of Brendan at the local Butchers B Arthurs for a masterclass in sausage making. Brendan is some character and he made the whole experience very memorable. He showed us how to grind the pork belly twice, add the rusk and spice and the extrude it into sheep casing from New Zealand, before twisting and packing the sausages….some of us even had a go at making sausages!
By now we were all rather famished, so back to the Hotel to freshen up, have an aperitif or two and then on to a superb dinner. For starters I had a smoked salmon and tried a few mussels. This was served with freshly baked bread and butter.
For mains I went for well done duck breast with potato fondant, fresh vegetables, chips and sautéed garlic new potatoes. The duck was just how I liked it, potatoes (3 types) all cooked as they should be and vegetables complimented it well. Dessert was my child hood favourite of bread and butter pudding which was creamy and delicious. The others had lobster salad, beef, veggie and all raved about it. The staff were superb and very helpful and the ambience was perfect.
We then went to the local pub Dumigans for some traditional music and “craic”. The musicians played the fiddle, flute, whistle and bodran and were brilliant. The fun then moved back to the hotel bar and into the wee hours of the morning.
For breakfast there was cereal and juice, tea and coffee and a choice of cooked breakfasts. The star of the brekkie was the Full Irish Breakfast which starred the locally made and meaty pork sausages, although others opted for Eggs Benedict and toast!!
After checking out we were presented with a few wee gifts. Wheaten bread and a bag from the hotel (bread is amazing), gifts from Exploris (my kids love), A large gin glass and a miniature of Echinville Gin and a cooler bag with sausages, which I subsequently cooked up for my family and we all loved immensely.
Then Alas our bus back and the end of a very good 24 hours!!
Special thanks to our guide Brigid Watson Ards Peninsula Tours who was our tour guide and explained all about the local history, Gregory our driver, all the hosts on our trip and of course Michelle for organising it. Last but not least all the guys on the trip…. you all made it extra special.