Hello I’m Grainne McGarvey and welcome to my column which spots local hidden gems from the world of beauty, health, fashion, tourism and hospitality. I will have my ear to the ground (quite literally) to keep you up to date about the new or interesting products and services from our neck of the woods. If you know one – get in touch on twitter @grainnemcgarvey or at www.pulseprni.com
G Spots! A Castle With A View
If you’re one for scaring yourself at Halloween, then this week’s post is right up your street, or should I say right up your castle? I’ve been out and about again and this time I made my first trip to the Antrim coast to stay in Ballygally Castle. For all my adventures, I have never really been to this side of the country, so wasn’t sure what to expect.
We were incredibly lucky to get a crisp autumnal day, so headed north with the top down of my little black bomber. To get to Ballygally, you first need to go through Carrick and Larne. I know there has been some negative press about Larne recently, but from what I can see and read about, there is a lot going on in the area to be proud of – Carnfunnock County Park, Carrickfergus Castle and not forgetting the Game of Thrones connections.
Granted we took the coast road and the drive was as picturesque as it gets (well if you close your eyes to the power station type eyesore before you get to the good bits). It took about 45 minutes to drive the 26 miles from Belfast and once you do it feels like another world – and in a good way. When I see the sea I instantly feel calmer, maybe I was born a mermaid in another life, or maybe it is just a lifetime spent living and working in the city.
The 400 year old Ballygally Castle is perched on the tip of the famous Causeway Coastal Route, overlooking Ballygally Bay and it’s the only 17th century building still used as a residence in the north today. It’s a 4 star hotel that has recently undergone major refurbishment and the tasteful decor combined with the traditional character of the hotel makes it a great location to relax in style. An extra bonus about staying here is the fact that it provides the perfect base for exploring the Antrim Coast – the Glens of Antrim and the Giant’s Causeway.
Our stay was very short, but we will definitely be back to try this out, but what we always have time for is food and drinkies. After a lovely walk along the beach….well after nearly getting blown inside out on the beach, it was time to come inside to get warmed up. We did try and find Matties pub in Cairncastle, apparently not too far from Ballygally, but we must have left our sense of direction back in Belfast, so we headed back to the comfort of our own castle.
We stayed mid week, so wanted a reasonably informal evening. We decided to have a drink by the fire in the lounge and then an early supper in the Garden Restaurant to be able to enjoy the beautiful views over the grounds. Maybe I’m getting old, but I do appreciate the natural beauty of a bright rose garden.
But what about the ghost, right? Every castle has to have at least one ghost of some kind and the Ballygally has been recently reported to have as many as three. The most well known – the Ghost of Ballygally has been around for the best part of 400 years. The popular theory is that the ‘friendly’ ghost is that of Lady Isabella Shaw, wife of Lord James Shaw. Lord Shaw wanted a son, and when his wife delivered a baby girl, he snatched the baby from his wife and locked her in a room at the top of the castle. While trying to escape to search for her beloved child, Lady Isabella fell to her death from the tower window. Over the years many guests have reported strange experiences and have felt a presence in their rooms. The hotel is fiercely proud of their permanent resident and has dedicated a bedroom to her, “The Ghost Room” in one of the towers in the oldest parts of the castle. I have to say that we didn’t see her, but the room definitely feels creepy and I’m sure on Halloween night it would be petrifying! The scariest bit for me was the tiny, winding staircase up to The Ghost Room – definitely not for the fainthearted.
All in all, my first experience in Ballygally was very positive. From what we could see, there was a mix of tourists and local folk staying in the hotel or enjoying dinner and drinks. Next week is Halloween and I believe there is still some availability for the themed B&B and spookily scrumptious afternoon tea package. If you want to get scared then you might as well do it in style, or if you’re anything like me – send your other half off to explore The Ghost Room and hide under the very comfy 4 star duvet!