Before I joined the National Trust, I thought that it was a bit of a waste to be a member in Northern Ireland as there seems to be less to see and do here with a membership that costs the same as it does across the water. It took a 2 week family holiday to England to encourage us to join but even then, we thought we would use it to visit lots of the places near where we were holidaying and then maybe use it once or twice at home before cancelling the membership when our year was up.
4 years on, we're still members and do you know what? We hardly used it on that original holiday as we were so busy exploring generally and simply didn't have time to see as many of the National Trust place to visit as we'd hoped. Where we have really used and enjoyed our membership is at home - here in NI - because we've so many more weekends and free days here and we're always on the look out for inexpensive days out with the kids.
Hand on heart, every National Trust property we've visited locally (and across the water admittedly) has been a wow moment....when you turn that corner and catch the first glimpse....you almost have to pinch yourself. Invariably, we say to each other on arrival 'why have we not been here before?' and I can guarantee you that one visit is never enough....they're that good. Not to mention the regular National Trust Events that bring us back - like Halloween trails, Christmas markets, kite flying and antique fairs. Apart from the Fermanagh locations, which are just that bit further away from our home, we've been to all the other properties more than once and closer to Belfast properties like Rowallane and Mount Stewart, we visit multiple times per season.
For me, the main thing that keeps me coming back to these local properties is the gardens. National Trust Gardens are truly something special and it's seeing how they change over the seasons that I most enjoy. Mount Stewart is a favourite in this regard as it's got its own micro-climate that means it has plants that you'd never see in a garden elsewhere in Northern Ireland. But it's the walled garden in Rowallane that is the most charming in my opinion and the kids love racing around the paths, hiding from each other behind yew hedges while I sit on one of the benches, soaking up some rays and wishing it was my own garden!
But you're guaranteed proper wow moments if you visit the North Coast properties, which are just over an hour from Belfast...after all, the Giant's Causeway is a World Heritage Site and the Carrick A Rede bridge is an iconic tourist site known worldwide. Both see hundreds of thousands of visitors each year from all over the world...and we can go there as often as we wish with free entry! To escape the crowds, Downhill and Mussenden Temple is another breathtaking spot where you can admire the rugged coastline and stunning beaches in this part of the country.
We no longer think of our National Trust membership as being an expense or a necessity....we consider it a complete and utter privilege and I commend the organisation behind it for the work they do to conserve these historic buildings, venues and gardens. We worked it out last year that each visit cost us less than £10 in admission charges for all 5 of us. A no brainer I reckon!