Discover Mussenden Temple
It’s been a library, a retreat, a monument to a somewhat scandalous love story and now it’s one of the most beloved and photographed buildings in Ireland.
Mussenden Temple sits on the cliff’s edge, precariously perched above Downhill Strand and boasting panoramic views towards the mountains of Donegal and even, on a clear day, the Scottish coast.
Modelled on the Temple of Vespa in Rome, it was built in 1785 by the colourful Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. He wanted a refuge on his cliffside estate of Downhill – a place where he could be alone with his books, his thoughts and the sound of the ocean.
There was some speculation at the time that the man known as the “English Casanova” also wanted to be alone with his cousin, Lady Mussenden, for whom the temple is named, but as with so many of these tales, the truth remains a mystery.
What to see and do
A visit to Mussenden Temple is an opportunity to experience all the things that make the Causeway Coastal Route special. You can soak up the dramatic coastal scenery on the clifftop walk that skirts the edge of Downhill Demesne. The ruins of Downhill House invite you to imagine its former splendour. The walled garden, which once provided food for the bishop’s table, is a delight. In spring, the grounds are carpeted in snowdrops, bluebells and wild garlic.
Take a tour and your guide will share the intriguing history of the estate and point out the “must-see” spots – the mausoleum, a memorial to the Earl Bishop’s brother, George Hervey; the dovecote, the arboretum with its rare and non-native trees. And, of course, the temple itself – open to the public only during special events because of the need to preserve this unique structure.
The Mussenden experience
What special events, you ask? Did you know that you can get married in Mussenden Temple – exchanging your vows as the sunlight spills through the tall windows and the waves crash beneath you. It doesn’t get much more special than that.
There’s another option, if you’re not the marrying kind. Book yourself in for the Taste of Mussenden experience – a five-course tasting menu featuring locally sourced products – that takes place within the iconic temple.
This a partnership between local food producers Mussenden Sea Salt and the National Trust, which manages the Downhill Demesne. And it’s a passion project for Mussenden Sea Salt’s Claire O’Kane. “Our ethos is to bring back life to buildings and landmarks,” she says “and this building just comes alive when people are in it.”
Beyond Mussenden Temple
Mussenden Temple is a real highlight of this part of the Causeway Coastal Route but there is so much more to see nearby. Why not base yourself in the period Bishop’s Gate Lodge on the Downhill Demesne or stay in one of the luxury forest lodges in Burrenmore Nest for a few nights and go exploring?
Enjoy epic walks on beaches such as Benone, Downhill and Portstewart Strand or go hiking along the Ulster Way, North Sperrins Way or the International Appalachian Trail. Play a round of golf at Portstewart or Royal Portrush. Sample fine Irish whiskey at the Old Bushmills Distillery and fresh seafood at Harry’s Shack.
Visit some other clifftop marvels – the ruins of Dunluce Castle and Dunseverick Castle are just a drive or a bus ride away. And if you’re looking for an urban outing, try Derry~Londonderry, a historic walled city with a decidedly contemporary attitude. Mussenden Temple is just the start of your Northern Ireland adventure.
Mussenden Temple: need to know
Mussenden Temple itself is not open to the public (except as part of a guided tour or special event) but you can explore the grounds around it and enjoy walks through Downhill Demesne.
Opening hours for Downhill Demesne are 10am to 5pm daily. Access is through the Lion’s Gate and the Bishop’s Gate entrances.
Guided tours of the Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple are available. Tours last for around two hours and booking is essential.
There is paid car parking onsite. You can pay by mobile phone app – instructions are on the car park signage. National Trust members and disabled badge holders park for free.
Al’s Coffee Bar is located at the Lion’s Gate entrance and serves up great coffee and baked goods. There are also toilets on site (these are closed from October to March).
If you’re using public transport, Castlerock Rail Station is about a one-kilometre walk from Downhill Demesne. Travelling by bus? The Coleraine to Limavady bus will drop you just a few minutes walk to the site.
Immerse yourself in the natural sights, sounds and tastes of the beautiful Causeway Coast. In the shadow of the beautiful Mussenden Temple, you'll be welcomed by Claire from Mussenden Sea Salt to an experience that marries the ancient with the modern, and which promotes reconnection with nature, awakening your senses and offering a sense of wellbeing.
Old Bushmills Distillery
In 1608, in Bushmills, a legend was born. In that year, King James I granted a very particular licence to this small village, just a few miles inland from Ireland’s rugged north coast. The licence gave Bushmills the right to distil whiskey. Today, Bushmills is home to the oldest licenced whiskey distillery in the world.