When I was a very small chap I recall being taken on a walk to Helen's Tower, in the Clandeboye forest north of Newtownards. it was quite a surreal scene on arrival: a pair of springer spaniels were chasing a ball on a flat green and a family was resident in the Tower itself, eating lunch as if it was just a Sunday afternoon in a typical family home.
How much of those memories are factual I do not know but ever since then I have been intrigued by the Tower, peeking its turrets above the forest but otherwise much more meek and mysterious than its contemporaneous "rival" to the west, Scrabo. Every weekend when out for a run I see it and often it featured in my dreams.
So on European Heritage Open Day, 9th September 2012, we hiked up the Moutain Road and through the forest to avail of the open door
s of Helen's Tower.
The Tower suffered a rather prolonged gestation, being designed in 1848 but not completed for another 13 years by which time Scrabo had sprouted. It served no purpose other than a retreat for Lord Dufferin and his colleagues as part of his grandiose development of the Clandeboye forest from its previous state of gorse brush.
The inscription plaque over the single door commemorates both the Dufferin and Ava families and the Tower was named for Lord D's mother, who apparently wasn't content with a Bay named in her honour.
The spine of the building is a tight winding staircase that ascends five floors lickety-spit. No quarter is given.
The rooms, from ground up, are currently arranaged as
...under a fabulous wooden ceiling
In tune with the whimsical nature of the Tower's origins it sports a nifty clutch of heart-motifed chimneys.
From the roof terrace can be seen Scrabo, the bolder and brasher of the two siblings, standing at the same elevation. The reciprocal view reveals little of Helen's Tower save its turrets and chimneys, being shrouded by trees.
My excitement at the view from the top was not immediately shared by Mrs B, who was waiting patiently for her chance to ascend.
Whilst the terrace is splendid, it is unfortunate the that most important room in the building is on the ground floor, though the toilet is delicately hidden behind a wooden hatch.
Cheerio enigmatic Tower.