Travelogue: In search of ghosts and tulips at Ballygally Castle Hotel and Glenarm Castle and Garden

The itinerary included numerous excursions along the coast and inland – to Carrickfergus Castle, Glenarm, the Gobbins Cliff Path and Carnfunnock Country Park.

In reality, however, we spent most of our time chilling on the beach or in the hotel, where the beds were rather too comfortable – that was the motivation to get off them.

A great weekend of sunshine dashed most plans to stray too far from our base.

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Ballygally Castle Hotel

The beach which is right on the hotel’s doorstep is a real gem and I would say our two (Ben, 8 years old and Lucy, 10 years old) would have loved to do nothing but play in the sand and water.

Of course the weather was a factor in the shape of our weekend trip but for the two days we were there the conditions were beautiful – no wind, no waves, a nice wide, gently sloping beach and lots of sunshine. Although it was a stay, it felt like a real escape into foreign lands.

Usually Lucy and Ben get bored faster than me and Karen, but it was the adults who decided we needed at least a change of scenery.

The tide helped us get off the beach and we ventured up the road to Matties Meeting House in Cairncastle for some food and a decent helping of refreshments.

The coast road from Ballygally to Glenarm

On the way back we discovered what appeared to be a brand new playground, which Lucy and Ben enjoyed even after dark before going to the Spar for an ice cream.

Later that evening we persuaded the children to visit Ballygally Castle’s infamous Haunted Room.

We climbed the narrow stairs and were in the room less than 30 seconds when Lucy said she heard a knock and ran down the stairs. Luckily the experience had no lasting effects and we all slept like gents.

On Sunday after a hearty breakfast at the hotel we drove six miles up the road to Glenarm to visit the Castle Gardens which officially open to the public today.

In the walled garden of Glenarm Castle

At the time of our visit the gardens were about to be in full bloom and it will be great to go back and see them in all their glory.

It will also be a great excuse to get more delicious ice cream from Northern Ireland’s only remaining Shorthorn dairy herd.

The fact that we ate ice cream every two days in a row definitely got us in the holiday spirit.

As well as the ice cream from the Milk Parlor the kids can also try the Mini Land Rover experience next time we’re down which I’m told is the only place in Ireland where children can drive miniature versions of the famous vehicle.

Lucy leads the way to the ghost room

Oddly enough, there aren’t great views of the castle from inside the grounds, so it’s worth taking the castle tour as an add-on if you want to experience what looks like a magnificent building.

Anyone thinking of going to Glenarm Castle and Garden should bear in mind that the Tulip Festival takes place from April 30th to May 2nd and Camp Dalfest takes place from July 16th to 17th.

After exploring another impressive play park in Glenarm, it was back to Ballygally Beach for another sand and sea session.

Afterwards, the Sunday carvery at the hotel offered a wide variety of meats and plenty of fish too, although unfortunately I ran out of space after eating so much on lamb and beef.

When we were feeling a little braver we went back into the ghost room and read the story of Lady Isabella who was imprisoned in the tower by her husband after she gave him a baby girl when he wanted a boy. As she tried to see her daughter, she jumped to her death from the tower window. It is said that her cries for her daughter can still be heard throughout the castle.

Some also claim, like Lucy, that they hear knocking to get out of the room.

Ben in black

As well as being the resident ghost, Ballygally is also the home of all things Games of Thrones. There’s Westeros tomahawk steak on the menu, some showpiece trinkets from the hit show and a specially commissioned Hastings duck from Game of Thrones.

You’ll also find one of the giant carved Game of Thrones doors made from wood salvaged from the Dark Hedges trees that fell during Storm Gertrude in 2016.

It really is a truly magnificent door and one simply cannot resist knocking. Wait a minute…I wonder if that’s where the noise came from.

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