Fancy overnighting in a gatelodge, lighthouse keeper's cottage or converted mews? All these magical properties and more have been beautifully restored by the Irish Landmark Trust to offer holiday-makers sweet escape.
The Trust has been restoring heritage buildings since 1992, and its impressive portfolio provides unique overnights in truly stunning locations. Dotted throughout the island of Ireland, these buildings are often TV and WiFi free, making them ideal for couples, families or friends who want to reconnect with each other and enjoy the surrounding landscape. Trust us, if the idea of no telly or internet fills you and yours with dread, just one hour in a Landmark Trust property will have you embracing tech-free living with gusto.
So, having already enjoyed a stay at the Blackhead Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage, we opted for another northern sojourn - this time to Ballealy Cottage in the grounds of Shane's Castle, Co. Antrim. This fairytale-like stone dwelling dates back to 1865 and was built for the estate deerkeeper. The cottage is a two mile drive down a single-lane track beside Randalstown Forest, making its remoteness all the more alluring.
Three bedrooms sleep five, and the living and dining rooms, not to mention garden, provide plenty of shared space. Speaking of sharing, a protected colony of bats has made its home in the eves. Nothing to worry about - and a great sight when they venture out at twilight.
The cottage's decor is reflective of a bygone era. Old tomes line the shelves, prints and paintings adorn the walls and antique furniture dresses the rooms. Open fires can be lit to add to the historic aura. And the large bathroom's rolltop bath is positively begging to be filled to the brim with bubbles. An oil-fired range delivers heating and cooking in the cooler months. While an electric cooker and microwave ensure self-catering's a breeze whatever the weather.
Take advantage of Ballealy Cottage's proximity to the eastern shores of Lough Neagh with a ten-minute boat trip to Rams Island. Owned by the O'Neills, this mile-long stretch of land contains the ruins of the family's 19th century summer house and the remains of an ancient monastic round tower. Discover more about its eclectic history (it grew in size when the lough was lowered) from the on-site warden then enjoy a couple of hours exploring its easy trails. Picnic and BBQ benches are provided so don't forget to pack some lunch. Island Warrior boat trips run July & Aug from Sandy Bay marina and cost £10/5 return - check for off-season trips. To book tel.(+44) (0)7715 368050 and visit www.ramsisland.org for lots more info.
Literally round the corner from the cottage, World of Owls is another destination the whole family can enjoy. Conservation and education is the aim of this attraction which is home to owls, birds of prey, reptiles and other exotic creepy crawlies. The mainly outdoor facility is open year round. Check www.worldofowls.com or tel. (+44) (0)28 9447 2307 for the latest opening hours and prices.
Back at Ballealy Cottage, relax and enjoy an evening of quiet contemplation or unleash your competitive streak with a card or board game. Then, with your holiday complete, start planning for another unique destination... think we fancy Fermanagh's Triumphal Arch Gatelodge next. For info on all Irish Landmark Truist properties, and to book a stay, visit www.irishlandmark.com or tel. (+353) (0)1 670 4733 (Rep. of Ire).