The National Trust is well known for its vast collection of cultural properties. Unfortunately it’s also notable for the excessive amount of money that one usually has to pay in order to access a lot of them. That is, unless of course you go on an open day when entry is free! In fact if you’re being really shrewd about it, why not visit several locations and save a tiny fortune in the process?

Don’t worry, if you’re feeling guilty about taking advantage of a charitable organisation, there will be ample staff hanging around willing to help you become a fully fledged member. Alternatively you could just enjoy what’s on offer. First up for us was the 18th century estate of Castle Ward.

In essence, Castle Ward is a large mansion enveloped by over 800 acres of private land. Visitors come to have picnics, walks and to enjoy its elevated position overlooking Strangford Lough. A lot also spend their time exploring the manor interior, which is preserved to look exactly as it did during use.

The gardens, too, are worth a look and a mention. They may not be as enticing as Mount Stewart, but there’s still plenty of vibrant colours to appreciate.

Our second stop of the day came at the Downpatrick Railway, where visitors can ride on a vintage train and experience travel as it once was.

Inside, the carriages are wonderfully restored and maintained – this despite the ever present contingent of slabbering toddlers and messy kids. The journey itself only lasts for about 10 minutes – which is just the right amount of time to glimpse the old days of rail travel without getting nauseous.

Onto our final destination of the day – Rowallane Gardens, outside Saintfield.

This was the least known of the places we visited, yet I wouldn’t say it was any less deserving of our time. The flowers and plants contained within originate from various corners of the world, and even though we chose the wrong time of the year to visit (the azaleas blooming is a big event I’m told), there was still a lot to like. The lesson is, see what you can while you can.

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