Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land
Helen’s Tower (1860) Alfred, Lord Tennyson
As we take in the mightily impressive views from the top of Helen’s Tower Bangor, an Irish Landmark Trust property, we discover why the great poet was inspired to write his poem. An impressive 360 degree panorama encompasses the city of Belfast, the green hills of county Down, Belfast Lough and, on a clear day, the coast of Scotland.
Surrounding us is the woodland of Lord Dufferin’s Clandeboye Estate with, in the middle distance, the main house, a sometime wedding venue. Van Morrison, one of the city’s most famous sons, is a regular visitor – his music rising rising above the courtyard where he sometimes rehearses.
Fortunately it is not just the likes of Lords and Ladies – and Van Morrison – who are able to enjoy the views from the grade A listed Tower. Having been restored in the 1980s Helen’s Tower Bangor is now a holiday let managed by the Irish Landmark Trust.
This magical three storey stone tower is nestled so deep in the woods that we have to arrange to meet the Tower’s manager in advance. Our car is then escorted along pretty country lanes before turning on to gated farm tracks and along a winding dirt track that climbs through the hills. After about 15 minutes we arrive at the tower on the peak of a wooded hill. In a small clearing stands Helen’s Tower Bangor – a perfect fairytale stone tower complete with battlements and turrets.
Appropriately an old fashioned key and iron handle open the huge creaky door. It perhaps goes without saying that the living accommodation is arranged vertically. On the ground floor is a cosy wood panelled double bedroom with an ensuite bathroom with hip bath.
A spiral stone staircase leads up to a well equipped kitchen with a dining table but it is the next two levels where the very special atmosphere of the tower becomes evident. The decor is in Gothic Revival style, the lounge with original wood panelling, an ornate painted ceiling, antique furnishings and a vintage sofa in front of a log fire.
Up one more level is a similar ornate octagonal panelled room set with poems from the likes of Browning, Tennyson and Kipling engraved on metal plates. Above is the roof terrace with its stunning views. There are a table and chairs making this an idyllic spot for a sundowner followed by dinner under the stars.
This is an idyllic and peaceful spot to really get away from it all. Nights are completely silent, disturbed only by the occasional owl hoot – we were lucky to observe a short-eared owl as it sat outside our window one night, oblivious to our presence.
Helen’s Tower Bangor was built in 1848 by Frederick Lord Dufferin in honour of his mother Helen Selina Blackwood. Designed by architect William Burn it had a dual purpose. The area had been affected by the Great Famine, resulting in widespread poverty, and the construction was done in part with the objective to provide employment to local people.
Visitors can enjoy the walking routes that pass the door including the Clandeboye Way whilst the airport and Belfast city centre, with attractions like the hugely impressive Titanic Belfast, are less than half an hour away.
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The full version of Helen’s Tower (1860) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise