The 19th century garden, famous today for its colourful plant collection and rugged landscape, was started in 1860 by the Moore family and further added to from 1903. Glimpses of the garden on the left and surrounding farmland on the right through the tree stems will delight the walker when exploring this new area. Tranquil and calming, the walk skirts round the famous Rock Garden Wood on the edge of the garden leading out into the rugged Old Wood part of the garden.
Planted 25 years ago, initially for shelter for the garden, the trees consist of beech, birch, pine and ash. Underneath the tree canopy snowdrops, wood anenomes and bluebells thrive. In mid-spring the scent arises from the bluebells and gorse bushes which are naturalised within the fields surrounding the walk bounded by natural dry stone walls. Autumn brings the rustle of leaves with glorious yellows, oranges and reds as the trees prepare for winter.
This area differs in management from the garden, here wood piles are set to encourage woodland habitat for wildlife, bramble is controlled but allowed to grow and produce fruit for birds and other wild animals.
Popular with both dog walkers and ramblers, this woodland walk was generously funded by donation from the Ulster Gardens Scheme who encourage private gardens to open to the public. The money generated for viewing can help fund this type of work for the National Trust.
The Farmland Trail is a new addition to the warren of walks at Rowallane. It leads you through the fields and takes in the summit of Trio Hill and its spectacular panoramic views over Co Down, and the ancient Rath.
Point of interest:Tree-canopied trail and spring wildflower blooms
OS map:Sheet 21
Terrain:Natural woodland floor and grass
Route:Park in the main car park and after speaking with the staffed reception hut go over the pedestrian bridge and turn right up the slight hill to Rowallane House (NT Regional Office in Northern Ireland). Turn right onto the narrow gravel path just immediately past the house and walk towards the sundial and low stone steps to the Pleasure Ground. Follow the high wall on your left which also curves round through the tall trees (Walled Garden) and keeping this wall on your left you will come to a wooden swinging pedestrian gate, this is the starting point for the Woodland Walk.
Go up the incline following the natural path, the garden nursery is on your left with some outbuildings. Trio Hill is the hill top on your right in the farmland. Keep along this path where the snowdrops abound in the late winter, you can re-enter the garden along here if wished, or go down the slight incline through a wall cutting into the extended walk which passes the Rock Garden Wood. Here the bluebells and birch intermingle with beech and hazel plantings. Go down the path and skirt round the bend approaching up to a wooden gate into the last section of the shelter belt. A metal gate ahead brings you back into the garden through the Old Wood area.
Turn right and keep straight on the grass through another metal gate within dry stone walling into the Hospital (area named after the sick calves which were put in here to be nursed back to health when Rowallane Garden was a working farm) and then enter Holly Rock. Go up a short incline until you reach a gravel lane, turn left and keep going up this hill into the Haggard (name for farmyard) turning right along path into Courtyard and the Bell Tower. The toilets are located just through the second gated arch on the left here. Keep straight on the tarmac drive, past the small clipped Yew trees leading back to Rowallane House where you first came into the garden and go down to the bridge at the bottom turning left into the car park.
For the new Farmland Trail, turn right at the starting point for the Woodland Walk indicated above. A stile takes you from the woodland belt into the field. Dogs are not permitted on this trail as there are sheep grazing for much of the year. Carry straight on up to the summit of Trio Hill (marked with a bench for the weary!) for breathtaking views down over the Rowallane Gardens and the 220 acre estate, and east towards the Mournes. Head down the other side of the hill towards the stone pillars and up the hill opposite towards the early Christian Rath. Retrace your steps down the hill towards the pillars again and veer right towards an old stone outbuilding – originally a Farmhouse. Head towards the field boundary facing the far gable of the outhouse and skirt the hedge to the left until you come to a wooden stile. Cross the stile into the adjacent field and turn left. Veer right down the hill back towards the woodland where a final stile will take you back onto the Woodland Walk at the Rock Garden Wood. From here you can follow the directions marked above through the garden back to the Car Park.
* Please note that National Trust entrance pricing applies for this walk. Please see the link below for details *
Facilities:Carpark, seasonal tearoom, toilets (including disabled toilet), information shed.
Accessible toilet facilities:Yes
Accessible terrain:Woodland walk and garden – gradual inclines and pedestrian gates throughout. Farmland trail – steeper terrain. Comfortable walking shoes advisable.
Getting to the start by public transport:From Belfast follow the A7 to the village of Saintfield, go straight through towards Downpatrick. The garden entrance is signposted and situated on the edge of the village on the right.