Castle with majestic views


Co Down £1.65m (€1.9m)On a bleak, windswept morning, gulls wheeling above the battlements, Quintin Castle looks like the perfect setting for a Gothic melodrama.

Originally built in 1184 by John de Courcy, it’s right on the coast, at the very tip of the Ards Peninsula in Co Down, where Strangford Lough meets the Irish Sea.

As it stands today, the castle is essentially a 19th century Gothic version of a fortified Norman stronghold, with all the quirks and oddities that implies.

Those Anglo-Normans certainly had a knack for scoping out the best vantage points: the ever-changing views from the castle, over lough, hills and surrounding countryside, are extraordinary.

And it’s remote: driving down a series of increasingly narrow lanes to get there, you get the feeling that you are reaching back into another era. But that sense of rich historical possibility – the suggestive imprint of other times, other places – falters when you walk through the heavy oak double doors and discover something more akin to a holiday rental home with pretensions.

Cheap, ugly fittings, grandiose modern features and a series of lurid paint-jobs (the oxblood-red billiard room is positively sinister) distract and diminish the place.

And whoever decided it was a grand idea to render the seaward side of the castle, slapping a layer of weatherproof cement on the beautiful original stones, will surely have horrified the ancient ghost of John de Courcy.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the castle is looking a bit lonely and unloved; there’s no-one there to call it home. It was last renovated in 2006, when it was bought by the property developer Paul Neill, who had a portfolio of properties in Belfast and Co Down. In 2011, the former Anglo Irish Bank moved against him, taking control of two of his retail parks, over a £37 million debt. Neill was declared bankrupt in 2012 and Quintin Castle was repossessed by Nama: hence the current sale. The price is £1.65 million (€1.9m) through Knight Frank and Templeton Robinson.

Neill was an aviation enthusiast – at one point he owned a private jet and a helicopter – and the remains of a demolished heliport stands in the castle grounds. Apparently it was built without planning permission and had to be knocked down again. Taken together with the ostentatious Versailles-inspired fish-ponds in the garden, or the tattered flag flying limply from one turret of the keep, there’s more than a hint of ruined hubris in the air.

Think castles and you tend to think big. But the rooms of this place, while undoubtedly spacious, are not vast. The wood-panelled banqueting hall – aka the dining room – may have a medieval-looking stone fireplace and soaring vaulted ceiling, yet it’s of reassuringly comfortable proportions. You could imagine having a dinner party in here that didn’t necessarily involve flagons of mead and a whole roast sheep on the table, which is no bad thing. We are in the 21st century after all.

The dining room, the drawing room, the family room and the breakfast room all share the same magnificent views over the bay and gardens, each one flooded by bright sea-light. In contrast, the rooms to the front of the property – a library, a study and the spooky billiard room – seem rather dark and dreary. The long stone-flagged hall is elegant and beautiful, but the main staircase is something of a disappointment. It is handsome enough – carved oak with wrought iron insets – but it runs alongside the hallway like a functional after-thought, rather than the glorious feature you hope it might be.

In part, this is because of the design of the castle, which sports an impressive elongated frontage at the expense of depth: the whole building, which covers about 987sq m (10,624sq ft), is never more than two rooms wide. So there’s simply no space to get fancy with the stairs.

The kitchen has a small, basic and perplexing design. This is not the kind of place you could envisage yourself lingering in with coffee and the papers, or knocking up a feast for the banqueting hall. In fact, it might be more accurate to call it a food preparation area: it has that grim utilitarian feel. Curiously, it’s also about half the size of the adjoining utility room.

Upstairs, there are seven en-suite bedrooms, four of which are intended as guest suites, with their own sitting rooms and open fires. The main bedroom, in the centre of the keep, has a private roof terrace, so you can sit out and survey your estate on fine days. And you can climb a tiny wooden spiral staircase and emerge at the top of the keep, among the sandstone crenellations, where you’ll find the best views of all.

Underneath the nasty bathroom fittings and the regrettable mishmash of interior styles – caught somewhere between Tudoresque rustic and 1980s design hell – there is a great castle here, just waiting to get out. Nothing has been done to it, with the possible exception of the external rendering, that cannot be fairly easily undone. With the right combination of imagination, insight and restraint, Quintin Castle could be made to live again. And this time, it doesn’t have to be a melodrama.

Quintin Castle, Ards Peninsula, Co Down

DescriptionCastle with impressive exterior but ill-considered interior details

Joint agentsKnight Frank and Templeton Robinson