Linger at Limepark
Desima Connolly finds out about a unique creative retreat in Co Antrim
Nestled amongst the earthy moors outside the village of Armoy lies a hidden gem. Originally a busy rural farm, the eighteenth century outbuildings of Limepark have been passionately restored by it’s current owners John and Melanie Ward to create Limepark Arts Centre and Cottages, comprising of accommodation, multi-use studio space and an art gallery with further developments in the pipeline.
The four self-catering cottages are currently the central draw of Limepark though the owners admit to finding themselves in accommodation provision by accident. After buying the property as a family home, Melanie describes how they were confronted with a decision regarding the many outbuildings, letting them deteriorate to oblivion or restore them.
‘About six years ago it became the crucial decision time. We decided to put the buildings to some kind of good use. The first cottage opened three years ago though the maintenance is continuous.’
History in the making
Former spaces that were occupied for centuries past with the animals of the working farm – dogs, pigs, horses – are now beautifully crafted cottages, expressing an empathy with their original usage. For example, once a darkened, rustic and agricultural space, ‘The Little Pig’s House’ now features light-filled stained glass windows, exposed roof beams and rough-hewn limestone walls.
The Wards studied the traditional usage of lime mortar, such was their dedication to authentic restoration, as well as the determined use of salvaged materials such as slate and glass. The very fabrics of the buildings are now a wonderful amalgamation of resident authenticity and recycled additions. Hence Limepark has in a sense given new life to the old and consists of the same materials that would have been used 300 years ago.
Flora and fauna
At Limepark nature is all encompassing. Every window has a view either of the surrounding countryside or the immediate fauna. The Wards’ horses are kept nearby, and you could easily while away the hours on a lazy afternoon watching the family’s dogs, cat and chickens idly strolling past your door. Cottage windows without panoramic views have a birdfeeder strategically placed so you may observe the wild birds in close proximity.
It is this attention to detail that accentuates Limepark as a venue apart.
The complex is also environmental, utilizing solar and wind energy, featuring an eco-sewage system. Yet the interior design is almost luxurious, refurbished in tasteful and thoughtful fashion. The cottages feature unique and quirky characteristics such as the old-style croft bed in the ‘Little Pig’s House’, a minstrel’s gallery in ‘Ned’s Loft’, original winding stone stairway in ‘The Blacksmith’s Cottage’ and interior shutters throughout. These traditional features are superbly blended with modern luxuries such as under floor heating and fully equipped facilities.
Melanie refers to the centre as her ‘living sculpture’ and the limestone walls as ‘breathable’. It is clear how her studies in fine art have translated the essence of Limepark, from the heritage and architectural references to the unique décor and distinct personality.
It is this artistic leaning which offers the most novel aspect of Limepark. Though the cottages are clearly destined for general tourism, it is the ‘creative tourist’ that the Wards wish to encourage, inspired by the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig.
Melanie is keen to engage short and longer term off-season creative residencies for visual artists and writers and even offers negotiable rates. Accommodation can be provided along with studio space, perhaps even leading to an exhibition at the onsite gallery. Interested artists should contact Limepark for further details.
Creative courses in various writing and artistic disciplines, such as short story writing or life drawing can also be arranged for the enthusiastic visitor.
A four star centre that caters for the average tourist but especially encourages and wishes to support artists is indeed a rarity in Northern Ireland. Limepark is a distinctive and inimitable addition to both the cultural profile of the north coast and beyond and should be viewed as a benchmark for heritage-inspired hospitality provision.
As an ‘organic’ work in progress ongoing in development, it will undoubtedly be challenging for the Wards to retain the balance of rural retreat, rewarding business and active creative centre. Two more cottages will be created by 2006, as well as a functioning tearoom, combined with increased gallery and cultural activities. The Wards’ desire for the centre to naturally evolve is paramount with Melanie wishing the scheme ‘never to remain static and to be constantly shifting’.
My weekend stay coincided with a spell of severe gales, and despite having planned various north coast excursions I was quite grateful to the weather for dampening outdoor enthusiasms. Melanie tells me of a visiting family who doggedly asked for information on nearby outdoor pursuits and amenities, only she laughs, to barely poke their heads out of their cottage door once ensconced.
Hardly surprising. Limepark encourages soul-restoring hibernation by an open fire. And if you get the sudden impulse to create a sculpture or write that novel, even better! You too can experience the bucolic lifestyle at Limepark.
By Desima Connolly