Something’s up in County Down. Something magical in fact. Why? Well, the county’s mountains and myths were a key inspiration for the land of Narnia in CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Yes, we know. Mountain ranges are often described as magical – but when it comes to the Mourne Mountains, no other word will do.
“I have seen landscapes which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge,” wrote CS Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia. “Nature has that in her which compels us to invent giants: and only giants will do.”
Lewis grew up in Belfast, and made regular visits to Northern Ireland throughout his life. On one such trip, taking a walk near Rostrevor, he confided to his brother that the mountainous landscape overlooking Carlingford Lough was his idea of Narnia.
Travel through the Mourne Mountains yourself, scale Slieve Donard, explore the follies, grottos and Celtic myths packed into their peaks and folds, and you’ll soon see the fantasy unfold. You may even feel like you’ve stepped through a wardrobe yourself.
Given the magic on their doorstep, Belfast locals tend to see County Down as their playground. Just a short drive away, they can hike or abseil in the Mournes or play golf at Royal County Down – recently voted No 1 on Golf World Magazine’s list of “The World’s Top 100 Courses You Can Play”. Little wonder that nearby Holywood was where Rory McIlroy was born and bred into the number one golfer he is now.
For a gentler outing, try dipping your toes in the sea at Cranfield, one of Northern Ireland’s many Blue Flag beaches. Find your way through Castlewellan’s Peace Maze (the world’s largest permanent hedge maze) to ring the bell at its center. Or amble amongst the oak trees at Tollymore Forest Park – local source of the wooden interiors for the RMS Titanic, which was built in nearby Belfast.
On a weekend, you could join the trail of locals browsing the antique shops in Greyabbey on the shores of Strangford Lough or shucking oysters in Dundrum or Portaferry. Or maybe you could spoil yourself with a seaweed bath or spa treatment in Newcastle.
Fit for a saint
Like its neighbor Armagh, County Down also has strong links with St Patrick. The two counties are linked by St Patrick’s Trail, a 92-mile route taking in prime Patrick locations. Saul Church in Strangford is where the saint began his mission and Down Cathedral is his final resting place. According to legend, he is said to have sung psalms at The Holy Wells at Struell.
For the complete story, dive into the interpretive St Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick.
Sure, where else would you find it?