Exploring Downhill House and Mussenden Temple in Northern Ireland’s Downhill Demesne

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Downhill Demesne

Downhill Demesne, sometimes called Downhill House, is an impressive 18th-century mansion built by the eccentric Earl Bishop. Beautifully set within open grounds, it is the perfect place for a day trip on the north coast. Bring a picnic and enjoy the sheltered gardens of Hezlett House, or take in the splendour of Mussenden Temple. Waner around the windswept cliff top walks.

A Spectacular Demense, Domain

Of all the places to visit on the Northern Irish coast, Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple are genuinely breathtaking. The views are so magnificent it’s easy to see why the Earl Bishop chose this location for his defence.

Set in a wide-open field overlooking Downhill Beach and Castlerock Downhill Demense, it gives a sense of being on top of the world. The grounds take up the entire top of the hill overlooking the ocean. Lots of sky and fresh, fresh air. It is one of our favourite places to visit.

The Enchanting Woodlands and Farmland that Surround Downhill House and Mussenden Temple

The environs of Downhill Demesne, embracing Downhill House and Mussenden Temple, are studded with enchanting woodlands with many rare tree species Many of the walks around the black glen on a well surfaced woodland path and a steepish grass track from the Bishops Gate entrance and the Lion’s gate car park, where the walled garden appears, sometimes called the bishop’s gate gardens. There is also an enchanted

The Architectural Prowess

The Demense is a sprawling ruin, much of it accessible on foot. Exploring the roofless rooms and ruins is fantastic. 

The main entrance brings you through the lounge and into the hall, with views straight along the stableyard, between the east and west yards and Mussenden Temple. Here’s a view upon entering the doorway…

The Boudoir and Breakfast rooms and the Drawing and Dining Rooms are mostly intact, and the Galleries are imposing. There were also stables (which can be viewed through gates), a kitchen and offices along the south and eastern walls of the stableyard. 

Not all parts of these rooms are accessible. 

Beautiful Walk

The mown grass track leads around the outside of the manor house and gives you access through the portcullis in the north, allowing wheelchair access. The views inland over grassland and forest make this a calming and humbling location.

The bishop’s gate entrance is an alternative route for those who want to avoid the few entry stairs and walk across the grass.

Visitors can bypass the manor house and head straight to Musssenden Temple, the Earl-Bishop’s library overlooking the cliff edge.

The Earl Bishop

We recommend exploring the house as much of the structure of the building remains.

It gives you a great idea of what the Earl Bishop’s life would have been like, and the incredible views of Castlerock and Castlerock Beach show how the coastal estate would have been a centrepiece of the late 1800s.

Children love exploring the Demense, and the impressive room size will keep any home decorator busy imagining…

Official History:

“Downhill House was a mansion built in the 18th century for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol at Downhill, Northern Ireland. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1851 before being rebuilt in the 1870s.

It fell into disrepair after the Second World War. Downhill House is now part of the National Trust property of Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple.” ~ Wikipedia

The National Trust says, “… a fire in 1851 resulted in the destruction of most of the main house, except for an east wing. It was rebuilt between 1873 and 1876 to a design by John Lanyon, who created a new entrance under the Gallery on the west side.” 

The National Trust acquired the house in 1980, and work was undertaken to make the site safe for the public and create a unique historic destination for visitors to the Causeway Coast. We think the National Trust has done a great job of making it a fun and exciting place for young and old.

Building Downhill House (a brief history)

Frederick Hervey, known as the Earl-Bishop (as he was the 4th Earl of Bristol, the Bishop of Cloyne, and later the Bishop of Derry), commissioned Downhill Demense after becoming Bishop of Derry in 1768. 

Construction on Downhill House began in 1775 and was Earl Bishop’s first building in Ireland. 

The size and scale of this magnificent structure bear witness to the Earl’s passing.

Had it not been for a few unforeseen circumstances, this ruin may have been the North Coast’s grandest house.

The Earl-Bishop was a man who completed only some of his building projects. 

One of his passions was architecture, yet he lost interest in many of his projects often enough that his second house in Ireland, on the shores of Lough Beg (Co. Londonderry), was dismantled as it was never completed. 

The tribulations at Downhill don’t lend themselves to a positive review of the Bishop’s successes in architecture. Still, if it wasn’t for him, we’d not have such a fantastic site to visit! 

Make sure to learn all about it when you go.

Mussenden Temple at Downhill Demesne

Mussenden Temple stands apart from the Manorhouse at the edge of the cliff. 

You can view the Temple from within the house – through the gates between the East and West Yard. 

It’s a leisurely stroll towards the cliff’s edge to the Temple

We highly recommend heading down the sealed path for a look. 

Be careful and aware of your children at all times when visiting the Temple, as the cliff is very high. 

A small wall to the west of the Temple offers spectacular views of Downhill Beach and the railway heading west towards Londonderry. 

The fields are used to keep grass track graze animals, so be respectful and watch your step if you walk across the fields.

Sealed paths go everywhere you must go when visiting Downhill Demense, but occasionally, kids will stray off the trails.

Downhill Beach

You also get spectacular views of Mussenden Temple from Downhill Beach, accessible to the west on foot or by car. Though walking down from the estate to the beach is possible, it’s quite a walk down and what we call a strenuous walk back up. We suggest you drive down – but don’t drive by… 

Downhill Beach is gorgeous. Downhill Beach is West (and below) of Mussenden Temple. It is a beautiful golden sandy beach with celebrated grasslands and a sand dune system. You can park just off the road at the bottom of the hill or drive to the beach under the tunnel. 

This Blue Flag award-winning beach is one of Ireland’s longest, stretching to Lough Foyle at Magilligan Point, separated by Benone Strand by the Umbra Burn, a minor river.

About the author

Originally from Scotland, Colin now resides near the beautiful seaside town of Portstewart on the Causeway Coastal Route. By day he works in IT and by day off he spends much of his time travelling around the Island with his young family, writing about his experiences for many sites both locally and nationally.