Ducks bring joy to the soul, don’t they?
And if there is one thing, we all need, now more than ever, it’s a joyful lift.
Their vibrant yellow downy plumage billows as they waddle, bright eyed and eager.
Strength in numbers, they follow the leader and commit to leaping into choppy waters certain that they will float.
A little like the Hastings Hotel Group, of which the Culloden Estate and Spa is a flagship hotel, navigating a global pandemic.
Bear with me. All will become clear.
The group has six luxurious hotels in Northern Ireland, each offering a unique experience. The Europa and the Stormont hotels in Belfast were joined in 2018 by the luxurious Grand Central. Ballygally Castle on the Antrim Coast has recently been recently refurbished and the Everglades in Derry/Londonderry is perfectly placed in Northern Ireland’s second city.
The last few years may have brought many challenges, but the Hastings family have risen to them all.
Like water off a ducks’ back.
Founded over fifty years ago by Sir William Hastings, the Group remains family owned and operated, and it shows.
Passion and care thrive. Creativity, identity, and culture course through its veins, as does supporting the local community.
Over twenty years ago, the Marketing Director hit upon the idea of leaving a yellow plastic duck in the bathroom of every room, a souvenir of your stay and so the Hastings duck was born.
It is now a cult.
People flock to not only stay at a Hastings hotel but to collect the Hastings ducks. Shapes and sizes change depending on different events and significant dates. The green one for St Parick’s day was a particular favourite as was the one for Game of Thrones with dragon’s wings.
They’re an institution.
Just like the Culloden Estate and Spa.
Built in 1876 by William Auchinieck Robinson for his wife, the original estate took two and a half years to complete, painstakingly bringing the stone from Scotland on a boat. The boat didn’t dock in Belfast, it came into Portaferry, twenty-five miles away, horse and cart hauled the masonry the rest of the way.
Faint heart never won fair lady.
Unfortunately, Mr Robinson died young, his heart broken widow Jane Culloden, too distraught to remain in Culloden House bestowed it to the Church of Ireland.
And so, the house became the official residence of the Church of Ireland Bishop of the Diocese and was known as Bishop’s Palace. Many Bishops resided here, during Bishop John Croziers tenure a private chapel was built, it is now an integral part of the hotel, used as the lounge. A small section houses the manager’s office, still holding a God like position.
In June 1967, The Hastings Hotel Group purchased the palace and transformed it into the icon that it is today. They added a new wing in 2017, spending close to £6 million on refurbishment and extensions.
A perfect fit. Old meets new, delicate yet effective.
The Culloden Estate and Spa is superbly placed, six miles from Belfast, overlooking Belfast Lough at the foot of the Holywood Hills.
Holywood, County Down, that is, although given the number of famous guests, you would be forgiven for thinking you were in Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Although, the weather for ducks may be a give away.
Only fifteen minutes’ drive from Belfast City Airport, there is also a train stop only five minutes’ walk away. Oh, and a helipad, not just for the Hollywood A Listers.
The approach to the Estate evokes wonder.
The spire and turrets appear first followed by the towering sandstone bay windows and sweeping curated gardens.
The ecclesiastical realm beckons.
Stepping through the pointed arched doorway, you are bathed in warm sunlight streaming through an arch braced roof. The locally picked flowers assault the senses, the sumptuous carpet underfoot indicates no expense spared.
The glow from the open fires highlights the artwork hanging on the walls. Some are for sale such as ‘Seeing the Sun Stars’ by Jackie Gormley. Others no money could buy, such as the gilded gold sketches of the Bronte sisters.
You are in good company, County Down was the Bronte homeland.
Victorian candle sticks take pride of place on the mantlepieces. Antique furniture and striking wallpaper are juxtaposed by calm duck egg walls and clean lines.
Clocks are dotted everywhere. Mantle clocks, table clocks. Not that you notice, time stands still.
Enjoy the calm.
A sweeping staircase leads to the original bedrooms. Not dissimilar to the one you imagine would be the talking point of Thornfield Hall, the fictional mansion in Charlotte Brontes’ 1847 novel, Jane Eyre.
A kaleidoscope of colours pours through the stained-glass window on the first landing.
The rose windows are exquisite. The motto ‘foi est tout’ or ‘faith is everything’ is emblazoned on the centrepiece.
An old-style sofa beckons you to take a seat and marvel.
Reaching the top, you are met with yet more stained glass, albeit a little younger in age.
This heralds the entrance to the original rooms.
They are bright and luxurious, with inspiring garden or lough views. Tchaikovsky plays subtly in the background. Double height ceilings with original cornices transport you to the Victorian era, that, and the traditional Victorian sinks in the bathroom.
The uplighter in the alcove gives a soft hue. The period style sash windows house curtains that are so heavy drawing them ensures not an inch of light will protrude and disturb any well-deserved rest.
Mind you, you sleep on a ‘cloud bed’, so sleep is almost guaranteed.
ESPA products are there for your comfort, as they are in the Spa. This is where relaxation reaches it’s pinnacle.
The Spa is located on the ground floor. Take the lift from the main building and immediately step into tranquillity.
You’ll love it, like a duck to water.
In 2020, the spa was renovated. It now features a new linear vitality pool and a Tylarium, a combination of steam and sauna bath and a larger steam room. The new Sequoia treatment room is perfect for couples wishing to destress together.
There is a full range of ESPA spa treatments. Indulge in the Celtic Dream, a full body ritual that includes wraps and hot stone massage.
Stop by the juice bar after for a refreshing drink or simply rest that little bit longer in the relaxation room. The choice is yours.
Before dinner drink in the views from the new Lough Bar. They are breath-taking. The lights of the town of Carrickfergus dance just for you. Sink into the cobalt blue velvet chairs and sip a local beer or craft gin.
When the hypnotic light show releases you from its grip, follow the Victorian lights along the path, down through the gardens to the Cultra Inn for some delicious local homegrown food.
Duck isn’t on the menu.
The Cultra Inn is a traditional bistro with an open fire, wooden beams and a laissez faire ambience. Dine on Carnbrooke Mourne Black Gold Sirloin Steak or Irish scampi. The Clandeboye yogurt and honey cheesecake is a must, as is the Irish coffee.
Breakfast is in Vespers, a statue of him still presides. Dazzling circular lights add to the thoroughly modern space, quite something for a former chapel. Again, food is all sourced locally, you can browse through ‘who made my breakfast?’ brochure on the table to see just how local. Enjoy Grants dry cured back bacon, Irwin’s potato and soda bread or Whites porridge with Waggledance honey. It would be rude not to try the Armagh Apple Scruffins, a bespoke combination of a scone and muffin made with apples from County Armagh.
The duck is a symbol of family, nurturing, protection, grace, and strength. It is known to be acutely aware of its surroundings, effortlessly adjusting to those around it, just like the family at the Culloden Estate and Spa.
A visit is a must. In uncertain times one thing is for sure, you’ll leave feeling like one lucky duck.
For more information visit The Culloden Estate And Spa | Luxury 5 Star Hotel In Belfast