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2001-06-07: Bishop's Gate and Mussenden Temple

After a good night’s sleep and a simple breakfast, I left Muna alone so that she could take care of some final university business. I followed the A2 towards Portstewart and then inland towards Coleraine, the major town of the region. In Coleraine, the A2 crosses the river Bann and turns towards the coast again. After a couple of miles, I arrived at the day’s first attraction, Mussenden Temple, near Downhill, Co. Derry.

The eccentric bishop of Derry and earl of Bristol, Frederick Augustus Hervey built a castle near Downhill in 1774. The nearby Mussenden Temple was modelled on the Temple of Vesta near Rome and was built to house the bishop’s library or his mistress—opinions differ. It is said that the bishop also used it to watch his clergy compete in horse races for the best parishes on Downhill Strand at the bottom of the cliff.

Due to the presence of livestock, the actual castle ruins and temple were inaccessible to visitors (foot and mouth prevention). However, the nearby Bishop’s Gate and Black Glen areas were open. I parked my car at the gate and went for a walk in the garden, heading towards the coast.

The lake in the Black Glen was created by excavations and building a small dam. Between the lake and the beach, the Coleraine-to-Derry railtrack crosses the glen, appearing from and disappering into tunnels in the cliff face.

Mussenden Temple is perched on the clifftop with views of Magilligan Strand below and Inishowen Head in the distance (already part of the Republic of Ireland).

The bishop’s mansion, Downhill Castle, was burned down in 1851 and though it was rebuilt a couple of years later, it was finally abandoned after the Second World War with now only the walls remaining.

A small path follows the edge of the cliff towards the west with views of nearby Castlerock, the mouth of the river Bann, and Portstewart/Portrush.

The cliffs serve as a nesting place for sea gulls and their cries are ever present.

# Tuesday June 3, 2003 · AndrĂ© Radke