To welcome in spring, we sent mum, teacher and parenting blogger Emma Phoenix-Kelly and her family on a daffodil dander to discover what’s so special about The Argory and Ardress House…
Driving along the M1 towards Moy, the drizzly skies above us miraculously cleared up and little chinks of sunlight dotted with blue began to make an appearance. It was as though the weather was thanking us for making our trip to Armagh, ‘the apple orchard county’. Our two little ones, Amelia (4) and Adam (2), were beyond thrilled to start exploring The Argory, the beautiful National Trust owned Irish gentry house, nestled within a glorious riverside estate. We were eagerly anticipating letting the kids loose among its natural surroundings and having a good rummage through the second-hand titles on sale at their spring book fair.
From the moment we arrived at this picturesque place, the staff could not have been more helpful. They made us feel so welcome, pointing out the facilities and areas of interest; from the pretty Lime Tree Walk to the natural play area. It’s a large, grand house, but The Argory also has a familiar and homely feel, as though you aren’t just welcomed by the staff but also by the striking landscape and even the house itself – (more of that later.)
Well organised and with good quality offerings, the book fair had something for everyone. Historical fiction for me, a massive choice of children’s books, and even a cookbook section for my husband (whatever keeps him happy!). We had great fun browsing and once the kids had selected their Peppa Pig and Thomas books respectively, we were off for some crafty delights. Supervised by helpful staff, we set to work creating colourful bookmarks for our new purchases. Cue sticking, gluing and scribbling and before we knew it, we had some lovely mementoes of our visit – and the day had only just begun.
After a little more book browsing (well, I can’t help it... I am an English teacher) we popped into the hospitable and cosy Courtyard Cafe for lunch. A warming bowl of soup with wheaten for the grown-ups, and some hearty cheese and ham toasties for the kids (made with gorgeous bread) and our bellies were full enough to brave the natural play area. A word of parental warning – bring waterproofs or a change of clothes for the kids if you’re visiting during our ever-changeable Irish spring weather – let’s just say Adam in particular enjoyed his mud bath! With a daring zip-line, fun rope swing, slides and climbing frames, it certainly kept our two little monkeys happily entertained and there were sad faces when it was time to leave for our grand tour of the original MacGeough Bond family home.
A neoclassical masterpiece, quite unchanged since the 1900s, the house has no electricity, using instead acetylene gas lamps, which adds authenticity to its wonderful old-fashioned feel. This tour is most definitely worthwhile and our guide Barbara, was beyond excellent. Obviously a local herself, with a true passion for the property, she had just the right style of delivery and detail to keep all ages interested. The ‘Pest Quest’ game of trying to spot little ‘insects’ nestled around the house, ticking them off on clipboards, with a promise of a prize at the end is an excellent way of keeping the kids amused, while the adults enjoyed the varied and inspiring history of the house and its owners. And yes, I did ask if there are any resident ghosts... the answer? Well, you’ll just have to visit yourself to find out!
The weather mercifully stayed dry, so we opted for a walk in the bright spring sunshine, searching for the frogs which live down by the Blackwater River, and enjoying the stunning scenery it bubbles past. Don’t forget to bring your wellies though so your little nature detectives can have a splashing good time along the path jumping in muddy puddles. Mine got totally, gleefully soaked through, letting out squeals of delight as they spotted little frogs bouncing here and there.
All too soon we said goodbye to The Argory, and with a promise to return for their upcoming Good Food Market and Easter celebrations, we set off on our journey home, allowing just enough time for one final worthy pit stop. A short drive down the road, Ardress House was built in the 17th century as a traditional farmhouse and this elegantly remodelled Georgian building boasts 100 acres of stunning woodlands and riverside walks, encompassing the lovely Lady’s Mile Walk – a definite must for all the family. We were welcomed merrily by the staff, and relished a warming cuppa while the children played happily in the Threshing Barn which has been modernised to accommodate play tractors and other fun toys.
We enjoyed discovering the beautiful 17th and 18th century architecture and décor, created by the Ensor Family, took a peek into their quaintly preserved bedrooms, marvelled at the family photographs from bygone days, and the kids really enjoyed exploring the different areas around the courtyard and finding out about the original 18th Century farm machinery and tools. The atmosphere of a traditional working farm is really captured in time here, along with the comforting clucks of the chickens and gobbles of the geese, which truly bring it to life. We’re hoping to return in the warmer weather so they can become proper little farmhands helping to feed the chickens.
Our day out at The Argory and Ardress House simply flew by; a sure sign that fun was had by all. After all, what could be more enjoyable for a family than a warm welcome, lots of activities, scenic walks and a little dollop of history all rolled into one? The kids are already begging to go back for another visit, to explore, to learn, to laugh and of course – to create special memories. And as all us parents know, those memories are ones to treasure.
Just some of the 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾ at The Argory & Ardress House
Go bird watching
Pack your binoculars and a camera and take a stroll down to the Blackwater River. You might be lucky enough to see a kingfisher.
Run around in the rain
Jump in muddy puddles along the river path or Lime Tree Walk.
Explore inside a tree
Discover a gigantic Douglas Fir, magnificent beech, oak, lime and yew trees at Ballymoyer, a mystical woodland with the atmosphere of a fairy glen.
Visit a farm
Feed the chickens and play in the Threshing Barn at Ardress House.
For more ideas visit nationaltrust.org/50thingstodo
Good Food Market at The Argosy
On Saturday April 8 from 11am to 4pm the courtyard will be filled with artisan food and drink stalls selling everything from chutneys and jams, cakes, local port and beef and home grown produce. Live acoustic music will fill the air, children can follow the kiddies’ food trail, while grown-ups take a tour of the house or watch a demonstration at the cooking station.
Vintage Rally at the Argory
Hundreds of vintage vehicles will descend upon The Argory on Saturday April 29 as they host their famous vintage vehicle rally. A must-see event for all vehicle enthusiasts. Event runs 12noon to 5pm.
Apple Orchard Days at Ardress House
Celebrating the apple blossom with apple treats and fun for the family. There will be orchard tours, local ciders and apple produce on sale, and an apple trail for the kids.
May 7 & 14, 1pm to 6pm.
Enjoy National Trust Special Places at:
The Argory, 144 Derrycaw Road, Moy, Dungannon, BT71 6NA
Admission prices: Adult £6 Child £2.50 Family £14.50
Ardress House, 64 Ardress Road, Annaghmore, Portadown, BT62 1SQ
Admission prices: Adult £5.50 Child £2.50 Family £13.50
National Trust Members Free
Become a member and enjoy unlimited access to all National Trust’s unforgettable places from as little as £5.40 a month. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk