Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Last Updated

Visiting the Iconic Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Mussenden Temple is situated on the northern coast of Ireland, near Castlerock in County Londonderry. It is located in the scenic Downhill Demesne and rests on the edge of a gradually eroding cliff.

Mussenden Temple, located on a 120 ft cliff top, has eroded over time. The views from the edge offer a westward view over the golden sandy beach stretching to Magilligan Point and Donegal and an eastward view to Castlerock Beach. The location has been used in Game of Thrones for both Mussenden Temple and Downhill Beach as the setting for the Dragonstone exterior. Additionally, one can see Fair Head, Portrush, and Portstewart from this spot.

What is a demesne?

The term ‘demesne’ is frequently used in various places in Northern Ireland and the Republic, indicating that a section of the estate was enclosed by a wall and reserved solely for the landowner’s use. Downhill Castle, also referred to as a manor house or Downhill house, is an English-style estate of substantial size.

Mussenden Temple tickets

The National Trust owns the Downhill Demesne and Downhill House Estate, and admission fees are as follows: Adults £7.20 (£6.50), children £3.60 (£3.25), and Family £18.00 (£16.25). During our visit in February, the gate was unattended, and we could enter free of charge. However, the Temple was closed, and we could only explore the grounds. These fees apply to visiting the entire estate, including the Demesne and Hazlett House.

The National Trust has implemented Pay by Phone parking at Lion’s Gate with car park fees for non-members at a rate of £5 per vehicle. National Trust members can enjoy free parking.

One possible solution is to take a walk to the Downhill Demesne. According to Walk NI, this is a viable option.

How to Get to Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Classic architectural library on the edge of a cliff overlooking the coastal beach at dusk
Photo by Samuel Steele on Unsplash

Castlerock to Mussenden Temple walk

Castlerock to Mussenden Walk By Grand Day Out

The walking trail begins in a car park at the western end of Tunnel Brae in Castlerock, next to a black stone gate lodge. Walk over the stone step-over stile and continue along the stone path beside the caravan park boundary. Follow the grass path around the headland, called “The Moor” by locals.

Visitors can appreciate breathtaking panoramic views from this elevated coastal spot, which offers clear visibility of several landmarks. These include Donegal’s Inishowen peninsula to the west, the Giants Causeway and Antrim Hills to the east, and the Paps of Jura, Scottish Isles to the northeast. However, caution should always be exercised on this headland due to the dangerous cliff edges nearby.

Visitors can access the Museum Temple, Downhill Demesne, the Mausoleum, and the Belvedere for free by hiking. The ticket purchased also covers the Hezlett House in addition to these sites.

Driving to Mussenden Temple

The Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple are located 1 mile west of Castlerock and 5 miles west of Coleraine on the Coleraine to Downhill coast road. Visitors can park for free in the designated car park.

Train to Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Train comng through the tunnell at Downhill and mussenden temple on the cliff above
Photo Courtesy of Translink NI

To reach Mussenden, one can take a train from Belfast and purchase a ticket to Castlerock. From there, it is a 0.5-mile walk to Mussenden.

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne By Bus

To reach the Temple and Demense from Coleraine, take the Ulsterbus 234 to Londonderry and inform the driver of your desired stop. A short 10-minute walk will bring you to your destination.

Mussenden Temple parking

Pay by Phone parking is available at Lion’s Gate, and non-members are subject to car park charges of £5 per vehicle. National Trust members and blue badge holders (including those from the USA and Canada) receive free parking.

Mussenden Temple was built in 1783 and has experienced erosion over time, resulting in the loss of over 30 feet of cliff. As of 1997, it was only a few inches from the edge and at risk of collapsing into the sea.

The World Monuments Watch organization provided funding to stabilize the cliff using rock anchors, bolts, and dowels to prevent erosion and secure the escarpment. The cavities and fissures on the cliff face were filled with pigmented mortar and local basalt. In 1998, the temple was secured, and markers were placed on the cliff face to allow for regular inspections and monitoring of erosion.

Frederick Hervey was a prominent figure in Ireland who advocated for political, social, and religious change. He supported unemployment relief initiatives and permitted Catholics to conduct mass in the Crypt of the temple.

In the past, Downhill House had impressive architectural features such as domes and Corinthian pilasters. The Lobby was spacious and held up by Derbyshire marble columns.

The Earl Bishop was passionate about travelling and his art collection, which he displayed in his house. He passed away in Italy in 1803, and his relative, Henry Bruce, inherited the House and made it his residence.

Downhill demesne was damaged by a fire in 1851 and was not restored. By 1950, the roof had deteriorated, leaving the house in ruins.

Mussenden Temple was originally constructed as a library for Frideswide Bruce, the niece of the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry. Their relationship was considered scandalous at the time.

After marrying a wealthy London banker named Daniel Mussenden, the Bishop gifted Frideswide with Mussenden Temple as her personal retreat.

Frideswide passed away in 1785 due to her deteriorating health, which may have been worsened by the scandal, resulting in the conversion of Mussenden Temple into a memorial in her honour.

The Temple of Vesta inspired the temple in Tivoli near Rome. Originally intended as a summer library, it had a heating system powered by a fire beneath the floor. This system prevented the books stored inside from becoming damp due to the influence of the sea air.

The inscription around the building reads:

“Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore The troubled sailor, and hear the tempests roar.”

The Earl-Bishop designed the grounds in the 18th century, and they are now part of the Downhill & Mussenden Temple Estate, owned by The National Trust.

The Estate features several attractions, including the Gateway, House ruins, gardens, Mausoleum, woodland and cliff walks, fish pond, and family memorials.

The Lions Gate

The Lion’s Gate is one of the property’s two entrances. The pillars have been restored and are adorned with stone snow leopards.

Al’s Coffee, visible from the Lion’s Gate entrance, is worth mentioning. Al is a Scottish man selling coffee on an Irish estate, and his coffee is exceptional. It is the best coffee I have had in Ireland, so good that I didn’t need to add sugar. I highly recommend stopping by Al’s for a great cup of coffee.

The Bishop’s Gate

The Bishop’s Gate entrance features a Gothic gate lodge near the gardens and Black Glen. Visitors can observe symbolic carvings, such as a bishop’s mitre and cow skulls.

The Black Glen

The Temple’s location on the Causeway coastal headland offers picturesque views and is a popular spot for photography in Northern Ireland.

This garden is dedicated to trees and provides a pleasant walk, sheltered from the strong winds that can occur on the nearby cliff edge.

Lady Erne’s Seat

The Belvedere, sometimes referred to as Lady Erne’s Seat, is a peaceful summer house belonging to Mary, the bishop’s daughter. It offers a serene view of the sea and is a fitting prize for the uphill trek from the Black Glen.

The Bog Garden

The garden near Bishop’s Gate contains diverse blooms, including beautiful irises. Lady Bruce established the garden in 1910.

The Mausoleum

The cenotaph was constructed as a tribute to George Hervey, the brother of Earl Bishop. There is reportedly a statue of George on the premises that was knocked over during a windstorm.

Dovecote and Icehouse

The building had a dual purpose: an icehouse on the lower level and a dovecote on the upper level. It was used for storing ice that was cut from a nearby pond.

The Walled Garden

The garden at Downhill Demesne was once a vital source of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. However, today it is mostly occupied by a small herd of sheep and a few apple trees, and little evidence of its former beauty remains.

Mussenden Temple and the Downhill Demesne in Ireland offer a distinctive location for weddings. The cost of a Mussenden temple wedding will depend on the selected package, including decor, a wedding planner, a photographer, and other expenses.

Downhill Forest

Nestled along the rugged north coast of Northern Ireland, Downhill Forest provides a captivating backdrop for the iconic Mussenden Temple. A mix of woodland and open spaces, the forest is a haven for both local wildlife and visitors seeking a serene escape. Ancient trees, winding pathways, and picturesque glades make Downhill Forest a favorite spot for walkers, photographers, and nature lovers. Overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean, Mussenden Temple stands as a testament to the blending of man-made beauty with the wild, untouched charm of the forest. The juxtaposition of the historic temple against the lush greens and roaring ocean creates a mesmerizing vista that captivates all who visit. This unique blend of architectural splendor and natural beauty makes the Downhill Forest and Mussenden Temple a must-visit destination on Northern Ireland’s coast.

Gortmore Viewpoint

Perched on the Binevenagh Mountain, Gortmore Viewpoint offers one of the most breathtaking panoramas in Northern Ireland. The viewpoint, marked by the iconic sculpture of Manannán mac Lir, the Celtic god of the sea, provides sweeping vistas of the vast Atlantic Ocean, Magilligan Point, and the distant Donegal hills. The uninterrupted scenes from this vantage point are a testament to the rugged beauty of the North Coast.

A short drive from Mussenden Temple, Gortmore’s superb viewpoint is situated overlooking Downhill Cliffs and Ireland’s north coast. The temple and Gortmore Viewpoint together epitomize the blend of natural beauty and human ingenuity that characterizes this unique coastal region. The proximity of these two landmarks allows visitors to immerse themselves in the rich tapestry of Northern Ireland’s history, mythology, and unparalleled scenic beauty.

Mussenden Temple Facts

Who built Mussenden Temple?

The Downhill Demesne estate was built in the late 1700s for Frederick Hervey, the Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol.

The term ‘demesne’ is commonly used in Northern Ireland and the Republic to refer to a walled section of an estate reserved exclusively for the landowner’s use.

What was Mussenden Temple used for?

The temple’s purpose was to serve as a summer library, and it was designed with inspiration from the Temple of Vesta, located near Rome in Tivoli.

Mussenden Temple offers stunning views of the Northern Irish coastline. It has a rich history and breathtaking scenery, making it a unique and memorable experience. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a leisurely day out, Mussenden Temple has something to offer everyone. Pack a picnic and spend a lazy afternoon taking in the sights at one of Ireland’s most picturesque locations. You won’t be disappointed.

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.