We were excited by the continued supply of hot water at The Culloden (must’ve just been some weird glitch the previous morning), and were rested by another lovely night’s sleep in a cocoon bed. After check out we drove straight to the next National Trust property on our wish list – The Argory. Now, this place isn’t exactly ‘on the way’ to Newcastle, in fact, it is in another direction altogether, but everything seems so close in distance here, that we decided to ‘swing by.’
The Argory didn’t open until midday, with the first tour at 12:30pm, so we had some potato and leek soup in their café and enjoyed walking through the grounds and along the river to fill the time. Had a lovely chat with some locals walking their shepherd along the waterway – well, she’d jump in for the occasional swim, while they walked, then politely lay at their feet while we talked. Another well-mannered dog.
Our guide at the house was a bit of a ditherer, and occasionally got off track, but she was very sweet and friendly, and knew a lot about the history of the family and the building. The Argory is a rather impressive house – of particular interest, especially for the time it was built, were the cantilevered staircase and the heating box in the entrance hall with a flu going into the floor rather than the ceiling. Very cutting edge in design! Apparently the flu didn’t draw very well at all, but the staircase was gorgeous with its floating steps and 165 brass balustrades. Even today, the place doesn’t have electricity for the lighting – all lights are gaslit, powered by a gasworks on the property – now that is wealthy, having your own personal gasworks!
From The Argory we drove a few minutes to the less majestic Ardress House. It was an old farm-house that had been extended and renovated as its owners moved up in the world – very quaint and appealing. The guide was excellent in her knowledge of the antiques and allowed plenty of time for us to gaze and appreciate before moving us on to the next room.
Our leisurely afternoon drive led us to Slieve Donard Hotel. Newcastle has the most delightful setting – a gorgeous picturesque town nestled up against the imposing Mourne Mountains and facing the wildness of the Irish Sea. Admittedly, our time here was spent holed up in the perfect location of the Slieve Donard Hotel (which faces both said mountains and sea), while the elements battled outdoors and we watched from the warmth and safety of our huge bay window room – the perfect place for weather-watching! Go to Slieve Donard Hotel & Spa
SIDEBAR: interestingly, the GPS coordinates of the hotel once again took us to the wrong place – this time, luckily, it took us straight past, so it was simple enough to turn around and head back, but still – people in charge of this kind of stuff, get your act together!!!
The afternoon we arrived at the hotel, the sky remained cloud free, and we enjoyed a walk along the main street, which was completely chockers with people who had been spending quality time with their families on the bank holiday weekend Sunday – oodles of kid-friendly activities from horse rides to face painting, and everyone wearing skimpy shorts and eating ice creams while we had our scarves and coats wrapping us up nice and tight!
John’s passion for the perfect pic gave him extra resilience against the blustery winds, and he stayed out longer than I for further strolling. But I had started to chill, and decided to head back to the hotel to apply a bit of face for our evening out, and to continue the daily routine of a wine in the hotel bar. This little tradition was enhanced by meeting staff member, Macine – a charming and witty French waiter who spent the next 2 evenings making our stay an absolute delight! We had the pleasure of his service (and that of TJ) throughout our dinner the following night – including him taking a picture of us, and him actually knowing his way around an SLR camera. Impressive.
Even though it was very blowy out, we braved the winds and walked to the restaurant, Vanilla, for dinner. We had been tempted by a number of items on the a la carte menu online but were thrown by the 2 or 3 course menu options. We completely misunderstood the whole arrangement and thought we HAD to have the 2 course or 3 course meal option (which neither of us wanted), so we ordered it – and the servings were absolutely huge!! Felt rather ick afterwards. When we got the bill, we discovered that the dishes were charged individually, so we could’ve actually ordered what we wanted (which was a couple of starters! – but we didn’t ask, did we?) We did, however, have a fabulous bottle of wine – Creu Celta 2006 Priorat. We ordered this at the bar before going to our table, and because of our noises of satisfaction on tasting it, the couple next to us ordered a bottle, too – the last one in the place. See what good customers we are?
Dinner at Vanilla was: goats cheese, honey and pesto beignets, beetroot, balsamic puree; salt & pepper squid, pickled carrot & ginger, ripe mango, carrot & anise syrup; goats cheese & beetroot tart, dressed salad, onion marmalade, big chips; 2 sides (instead of one main) crispy falafel salad, olives, artichokes, feta cheese, smoked aubergine, tahini dressing; black pepper & buttermilk onion rings. The squid was fabulous – pickled carrot and ginger complimented the kick of the squid perfectly, and the mango underneath gave a lovely, sweet juxtaposition to the other flavours. Goat’s cheese beignets were spot on – perfect temperature and texture. Wished we’d stopped there!!! Looking around at the other very satisfied diners, I was amazed to see them all putting these huge dishes away like they were nothing! Talk about stamina!! Go to Vanilla Restaurant
We had another fantastic night’s sleep atop our rather high and comfortable bed, enveloped once again in a light, fluffy doona – the bed and doona combo seems to be one that Hastings have completely sorted . . . unlike the spa, but more of that anon . . .
The rain-free Sunday afternoon got us all excited for the possibility of climbing Mourne Mountain the next day, but these plans were dashed on awaking and finding not just set-in rain, but the typical seaside sideways rain, propelled by chilling, lusty winds. We dumped said plan immediately, which was a good decision, considering that these conditions did not let up all day, and also because of our thwarted dreams at the spa.
We breakfasted, robed up and headed to the spa at 9:15am for our 10am massage. On arrival we were told that our appointment was at 12pm, not 10am. Not even explaining that I confirmed the time the previous afternoon or reiterating that it put out our plans for the day, could change the look of apathy on the woman’s face. While I was not happy with the stuff up, I was more annoyed with her attitude to it. All she could offer was a 3:30pm (which was when I was having nails done) or the existing 12pm, with no offer of compensation for the inconvenience other than, ‘why don’t you go for a swim and laze around the pool’ (actually tried that, but due to the inclement weather, every other man, woman and child in the hotel had the same idea, and there was not a seat, bench or lounge to be had). She really couldn’t give a rat’s.
In my search for satisfaction, I rang the Duty Manager. I expressed how, while errors happen, I was not impressed by the lack of effort to make amends – the whole day’s plans had to be rearranged, including forgoing a nice lunch in the dining room (with out so much as an offer of a sandwich to replace it!). He was very personable and helpful and offered us complimentary dinner in the restaurant that night – he was good at his job and saved his hotel from a poor review on TripAdvisor!
In the interim, we bummed around back in the room, blogging, reading, then went and sat in the hot tub and relaxation rooms until our appointment (the pre-massage activities were not as much fun as at Lough Eske spa, cause at this one there were completely separate facilities for the men and women, so we didn’t see each other till it was all over). I had Moses as my massage therapist – he was fantastic! Quite gifted at knocking the tension out without inflicting too much pain. Poor John had a girl with nails – no massage therapist should have long nails! So, no deep tissue action went on there.
Afterwards, we continued in the same vein in our room – blogging, reading, having late showers, all because our noble intentions of climbing a mountain was rained on! I went back to the spa later in the day for my manicure, and was very happy with my nails, right up until I stuffed them doing up my too tight trousers! They had been finished for 2 hours and were touch dry, but being what was in effect layer upon layer of enamel paint (with no drying time between coats), they really needed over night to set. So I ended up with deep scratches on a couple of nails and one completely stuffed one – all mangled! What a waste of money!!
So, despite my too-tight trousers and my mangled nail varnish, we sashayed our way down to the dining room . . .oh, who am I kidding, as IF either of us are ‘sashay-ers’ – we strode with purpose, motivated by hunger (no, really, after all this eating, we were still hungry, but remember, we didn’t have lunch due to the timing of the massage!).
Dinner at the Slieve Donard’s Oak Restaurant was most pleasant. The food was very fine and the service excellent (Macine and TJ took care of us – Macine making perfect suggestions with the wine: a Sancerre 2010 Les Celliers de la Pauline – he was tipped well for his service and general bonhomie!). DINNER: Vincent’s fish cake (smoked trout, salmon & prawns), rocket salad, lime & dill mayonnaise; panfried kilkeel scallops and parsnip crisps, lemon & thyme veloute; spinach & brie crêpes served on chargrilled vegetables, sauté potatoes; pumpkin & leek strudel served on puy lentils and garlic potatoes. AND a cheese plate EACH! (although it really was just 4 thin slices of cheese each – glad we didn’t share!). The overindulgence was egged on by the fact that dinner was ‘on the house’ – it was nice to only have to pay for wine, and tip the wait staff!