The fine dry spring weather in Northern Ireland over the past two weeks means the car park soil strip, cut and fill work has been fast and furious. Since the clocks went back, heavy machinery has been working hard into the evenings to reduce the levels in our new car park. The aim is to reach the A1 – the main road from Dublin to Belfast – to create the new slip road into Hillsborough Castle. This was a difference of five metres so a lot of earth has been moved. The rest of the fields are being levelled to make the car park less hilly. Actually, we can feel the vibrations when sitting in the huts at the other end of the site. There is a sense of excitement and progress as the work really gets going to prepare the way for the Hillsborough Castle and Gardens visitors in 2019.
Of course the car park is only the first part of a much larger project. We were delighted to receive the permission to start from the Heritage Lottery Fund office last month. The starting pistol for the next two years’ work has been fired. So, as the tenders for the various work packages come back, furious analysis is underway to find the best timeline to deliver all the work within budget.
What are we doing? There will be two new-build visitors centres; one near the car park and one in the Stable Yard close to the Castle. These will have the visitor welcome facilities; the all-important loos and baby change, the cafes and shops. All the information visitors need to start their journey through the gardens up to the Castle will be here, starting in the Pineapple Yard (yes ‘pineapples’ more on them later). On the other side of the visitor centre, there will be our beautiful restored Walled Garden – all four acres of it. Forgotten and neglected since the heydays of the big house, this will be our visitors’ first taste of Hillsborough history. It will be a working kitchen garden, with dipping pond, crop rotations, seasonal produce and potting sheds, but also with beautiful herbaceous borders too. Not to mention the apple orchard with heritage varieties. And this is only the beginning. We’ve not even reached the Castle transformation yet. More on that next time.
If you would like to visit Hillsborough Castle this summer, the Castle will be open until the end of September 2017, after which Hillsborough Castle will be closed to the public while we transform the state rooms. Find out more and plan your visit here.