Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Argory

It is actually possible for you to get to The Argory in County Armagh by canoe, if you were so inclined (I am not so inclined - it was a Renault Clio for me).


I was transfixed by it though - a little jetty on the Blackwater river allows you to pull up and enjoy a scone after a hard day's paddling. It's actually part of a 20km trail for canoeists that meanders through Armagh and Tyrone before ending in Lough Neagh. There's even a camping ground near The Argory so you can make a two-day voyage out of it. I'm not 100% sure why I'm telling you this, as I would rather never eat a scone again than attempt to climb into a canoe but you might be more intrepid than me.
Canoe port at The Argory
Bored of arriving at the NT by car? Pull up here in your canoe.
But you're in for a treat, whichever mode of transportation you choose to get to The Argory, because it's a wonderful place and I'd live there tomorrow if I could.

You have to join a guided tour if you want to see the house. I don't know why this always worries me so much because the tour today was really good, just as previous tours that I've done at Red House, Quebec House, Castle Ward, and Mount Stewart were excellent as well.

Here are some highlights:

The Argory was almost never built
The history of the place is fascinating. A man called Joshua McGeough died in 1817 and left his land to his son and three daughters. The family home was at Drumshill, while the area then known as Derrycaw was tenanted. However, the will stipulated that the son, Walter, could only live at Drumshill when two of his sisters were married. If two remained unmarried, he had to live elsewhere. Two of them did indeed remain single and so Walter had to build his own place on the Derrycaw estate - this became The Argory. It was completed in 1824, the same year that Walter added 'Bond' to his surname in memory of his grandmother, turning the family moniker into McGeough Bond.

A controversial replacement chandelier
The outside of the house might be a little austere but inside it's full of warmth. The West Hall is particularly welcoming, although the chandelier that belongs there has been shipped off for cleaning and a piece of modern art has been temporarily hung in its place. The guide told us that some people like it and others definitely do not - one tour group insisted on standing with their backs to it. 


Modern art at The Argory
Some people hate this
I do like to be respectful of people's opinions but honestly - the key word in the above paragraph is 'temporarily'. The chandelier is coming back. The artwork is also very clever - it emulates the effect of gas lighting, going from bright to dim, then bright again. This is because The Argory has no electric lighting. In 1906, Captain Ralph Shelton installed an acetylene gas plant on the estate and that powered all of the light fittings around the house until 1980, when it was agreed that it wasn't safe. The TEMPORARY fixture replicates that gas lighting effect, which I think is lovely. And I'm not always into modern art at the NT, as per my visit to Tyntesfield.

It has a cabinet barrel organ at the top of the stairs
Walter commissioned the barrel organ in 1822 - the guide said he had planned to build a chapel of some sort but that didn't happen so it ended up in the house. I assumed that it was used to play hymns and religious music but apparently not - think more along the lines of entertaining carousel-type tunes:


Barrel organ Argory
More 'Roll Out The Barrel' than 'How Great Thou Art' apparently
More horse bravery at the National Trust
Walter's son Ralph inherited The Argory in 1866. He continued the family trend of changing his name - he became Captain Ralph Shelton, enjoying an eventful military career. 

Ralph survived the sinking of the Birkenhead off the coast of South Africa in 1852; the guide explained that it was one of the first times that women and children had been evacuated first, leaving every man for himself as the ship went down (the horses had already been pushed overboard to lighten the load). 

Captain Ralph swam for five hours in the vest you see below - the men who took their kit off to swim were more visible and got eaten by sharks apparently. When Captain Ralph woke up on shore, his horse was standing next to him. (See Mottistone Gardens and Tredegar House for more National Trust horse glory stories.)  


Argory vest
The anti-shark vest that saved Captain Ralph
But let's move on to the scone. I stared near-disaster in the face today, readers - I went in to the lovely tea room, bought my scone and tea, took a seat...and the electricity went off. The staff closed the place while they rang an electrician; I remained in situ, pulling my scone closer so that nobody could take it off me or ask me to share it.

It was a magnificent scone in every single way. It looked fantastic and it was completely fresh - it was actually a tiny bit warm from the oven. I had been offered a choice of scone and would normally opt for plain to keep this study scientific, but the cherry ones looked great and they were indeed delicious: 

The Argory scone

I think the electrics were restored shortly afterwards but imagine - I could have travelled 455 miles from home and been denied by a trip switch. The mind boggles.

I can't praise The Argory enough, though - it's a really interesting house in a beautiful spot on the river. Get your canoes out and start paddling. 

The Argory: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Canoe arrival option: 5 out of 5

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