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Aran Inspired

Grey Abbey

Located on the picturesque shores of Strangford Lough, the remains of Grey Abbey sit in the middle of picturesque parkland. The 12th century Cistercian monastery church and cloister are still visible, as well as the re-created herb garden used by the medieval monks to prepare medicinal remedies. Affreca, whose father was King of the Isle of Man, founded the settlement in 1193. The elegant Gothic building was the result of a combination of the French Cistercian order, which came from Cumbria, and the Anglo Norman style. The church was burned during the Elizabethan wars and later restored – it was a house of worship until 1778.

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Tollymore Forest Park

The first state forest to be granted Forest Park status in Northern Ireland, Tollymore Forest Park celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005. This attractive park features the whimsical designs of Thomas Wright (1711-1786). It contains caves, bridges, and grottoes, some natural and some man made. The Gothic gate near the entrance was part of the original estate owned by Lord Clanbrassil. The forest is full of traditional growth as well as exotic surprises such as the monkey-puzzle tree, huge redwoods and unusual pines. White Star Lines, builder of the Titanic, regularly used oak wood from Tollymore to erect their ocean liners. The arboretum at Tollymore features the oldest tree in any Irish arboretum, the Clanabrassilian, dating back to around 1750.

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Silent Valley Reservoir

This huge basin holds and delivers the water supply to Belfast. It was created in the 1920's in response to the rapidly growing demand for water in the city. Several sites were considered for the project, and the Mourne Mountains were chosen because of the purity of the local water supply and the generous rainfall that is common to the area. The Mourne Wall catchment portion of the reservoir took about 18 years to build. It was constructed by hand and took thousands of men to complete - nine of them died in the process. The Binnian Tunnel was completed in 1951. It is 2 ½ miles long and travels deep below Slieve Binnian.

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Strangford Lough

Extending along much of the eastern coast of County Down, Strangford Lough, one of Ireland's largest lakes, is long and shallow. Much of the waterway is greatly affected by the tidal cycles, with large exposed sand flats that can be seen in low tide and then flood with water when the high tide comes in. The southern entrance to the sea is called the Narrows, and the strong tidal currents are concentrated there. Two low and two high tides in every 24 hour period flow over the large rock pinnacles on its floor, creating turbulence and whirlpools. The rest of Strangford Lough represents a diverse collection of seaside environments, from salt marshes to sandy and rocky coastlines and many islands that dot the region of the western shore. The water is generally salt, except for the areas where the Comber and Quoile Rivers enter the Lough.

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