County Derry is home to Europe’s only intact walled city, the bucolic Sperrin mountain range and the ruins of an eccentric Earl Bishop’s 18th-century cliff top mansion.
Explore the walled city
Londonderry's city wall and park with Saint Columb's Cathedral
Derry, officially Londonderry, is the only contemporary walled city in Europe that boasts intact fortifications.
The walls were built in the 17th century to keep out settlers from England and Scotland and, unlike most walled cities, they were never breached. One siege lasted for over 100 days.
24 cannons remain from the 1689 siege but, thankfully, visitors are no longer met by the smell of gunpowder, or the thunder of flying cannonballs when visiting the beautiful Renaissance streets.
After strolling the mile-long promenade, taking in views of the historic inner city on one side and the glassy River Foyle on the other, head to hilly Waterloo Street for a drink.
Peadar O’Donnell’s is regarded as the best pint of stout in the city. The pub also plays host to local Irish folk artists, who get together to perform every night of the week.
Sunday lunch by the beach
Image via Visit Northern Ireland
The picturesque seaside village of Castlerock and nearby Downhill beach are said to have provided inspiration for scenes from CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Indeed, a young Lewis spent many a summer holiday enjoying the sandy beach and surrounding dunes.
For a traditional roast dinner in a friendly environment with sumptuous views across the bay, look no further than the pale yellow walls of Bertha’s Bar. Patrons rave about the accommodating staff, for whom no task is too small in order to provide an enjoyable dining experience.
Climb Sawel Mountain
Sawel Mountain. Image via Wiki
Peaking at 2,224ft, Sawel Mountain is the highest point of the 40-mile wide Sperrin mountain range. Desolate, heather-clad and boggy, the Sperrins are the perfect embodiment of bucolic Britain.
Rolling green hills, textured by the shadows of overhead clouds, give the area the blotchy aesthetic of a watercolour painting. And, much like the perfect scenes often imagined by artists, you rarely spot another soul while hiking the secluded Sperrins.
Weather permitting, the ascent of Sawel Mountain is fairly simple. A helpful fence provides a guide from the road to just beneath the summit.
Discover Downhill Demesne
Image via Fotoferia
The striking skeletal ruins of Downhill House stand boldly on a rugged headland overlooking Downhill beach.
The 18th-century mansion was built by Frederick Hervey, an eccentric Earl Bishop nicknamed ‘the English Casanova’ for his many extramarital affairs.
It offers a window into a peculiar past, where the clergy were made to run leapfrog races on the beach to decide who would occupy the best parishes.
The Earl Bishop was a busy traveller and a keen collector of art and antiquities. He commissioned many excavations in Italy to find rare marbles, which can be viewed in the estate’s Hezlett House. He even attempted to dismantle the original Temple of Vesta in Rome.
Rather predictably, the Vatican refused his offer and subsequently the Earl Bishop constructed a marble shrine of his own. The beautiful Mussenden Temple perches dramatically on a 120ft cliff face above the braying waves of the Atlantic Ocean.