Some of our newer staff members, having obeyed the instruction to park up beyond the tractor shed, have wondered about what looks like a fenced off Megalithic burial chamber. Well that is exactly what it represents. It is made up of a collection of Cist stones, discussed in a paper of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1861 which refers to an essay of 1828 by S.M. Stephenson of Greyabbey. The stones originated in a field near the Temple of the Winds and were part of an ancient cemetery. A large cairn, which stood in the way of 1786 drainage works, was removed and some of the rubble used in the project. In the process workmen found a number, probably sixty or seventy, of smaller examples, some with cremated fragments of bone and heart-shaped pottery vessels, a group of which is housed in the Ulster Museum. In 1935, the larger stones were moved to make way for a landing strip, and in 2008, through the generosity of the Lady Mairi Bury, they were moved to the present site. Their reconstruction gives a glimpse of how the original Cists must have looked.
Other interesting stones turn up in the lake area. You may or may not have noticed that we have two stones from the Giant’s Causeway in the gardens, reputedly brought here by the 1st Marchioness and condemned by Edith, Lady Londonderry as ‘a most reprehensible habit’ and so it is, but perhaps in 1800 conservation hadn’t quite caught on. By coincidence I was visiting Dunmore House in Donegal last weekend and spied there a few of what looked suspiciously like Causeway stones in its garden, so maybe it was fashionable to have some as stepping stones or little seats or just a ‘feature’ in days of yore. What souvenirs do you have in your garden? – I must admit to having some petrified wood from the Sahara in mine.
A natural rock feature is also to be found at the other end of the lake, almost hidden by the profuse and colourful Beschorneria yuccoides. You might pass it by when following your garden map and wonder where the Rock Walk is supposed to be. This outcrop marks the boundary of Strangford Lough about 8,000 years ago when sea levels were much higher, so if you dug down below the path you might find the remains of an ancient cobbled beach. Above is a grassy terrace with a panoramic view of the lake, just perfect for photographs.