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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Historic house reopens with reimagined interiors and new accessible path

Volunteer Paul McConnell pictured with Neil Watt, Collections and House manager.

Castle Ward house in County Down has recently opened its doors following the NI Executive’s easing of Covid restrictions.

Staff and volunteers across the National Trust have been working behind the scenes to get houses and collections ready for welcoming everyone back, but at Castle Ward, visitors are in for a special treat as they discover the reimagined and revitalised interiors.

Another welcome addition to the estate is a new path that links the house and its treasured collection, to the landscape, providing direct access to the house from the accessibility car park for anyone with accessibility needs.

Inside the house, work during lockdown included cleaning historic brass and copper wares, polishing 18th century floorboards, beating luxury carpets and rugs to remove dirt, and the delicate cleaning of the historic crystal chandeliers.

But conservation was only one part of the story. The curation of the historic interiors was also reviewed and many of the collections have been redisplayed, so that a different take on the interior can be seen by visitors when the doors open.

Outside, the successful awarding of funding from Department of Communities and NI Museum Council Access and Inclusion programme allowed the team to implement several improvements recommended by Access Matters following an audit in 2020.

This included upgrading the accessible parking area and improving accessibility to the house and collection and the surrounding exterior of the house for entrance and exit.

“As an accredited museum it is incredibly important to us that Castle Ward house and its collection are accessible to everyone,” explains Neil Watt, Collections and House Manager at Castle Ward. “Funding from Department of Communities & NI Museum Council Access and Inclusion programme meant we were able to carry out works to resurface the accessible car park and reinstate a historic path from this car park area to the house.”

The design of the new path was inspired by historic maps and water colour illustrations by Mary Ward (circa 1860) and improvements were delivered collaboratively by house and curatorial staff, the head gardener and a team of garden volunteers to ensure a holistic and sustainable approach.

The new path gently rises from the accessibility car park to the house in a U-shape fashion, creating a consistent, gentle and efficient method of providing inclusive accessibility to the house. The project took five months to complete and will be further refined by additional edging, planting and grass seeding over the coming months.

“We looked to Castle Ward’s past to find a solution to our access challenges,” Neil continues. “Nineteenth century maps and drawings of Castle Ward show that a gently sloping pathway once existed which had disappeared. Inspired by this archival evidence we partially recreated the historic path and resurfaced the car park and areas surrounding the house using sustainable material and traditional methods.

“It was wonderful to see how history can be used to shape solutions for the present. The path sits naturally within the landscape, revealing majestic views of the Gothic front of the house, and from the house across the parkland towards Strangford Lough. The house, collection and exhibitions now sit at the very centre of the visitor journey with the gardens providing a welcome element of theatre and entertainment.”

The new path will benefit visitors with mobility issues that use a wheelchair or scooter and also families with young children who require a suitable means of access with prams and buggies.

For opening times and additional visitor information please visit:

Watercolour illustration by Mary Ward.


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