By guest blogger Nicola Bothwell, March 2016
This year I’ve decided to broaden my city girl shopper status and spend more time enjoying unique experiences across Northern Ireland (& Lough Neagh) in my free time, instead of visiting a different shopping centre every weekend.
With spring fast approaching I decided my first experiential day out would be to one of my favourite destinations, Lough Neagh & Its Waterways and I asked a friend to join me for the ride.
A few minutes outside Lurgan and we’d arrived at Ballydougan Pottery. It was easily found with its brown tourist signage directing us from the town centre. As I drove in I had a slight panic about parking though but then realised there was a very ample car park to the rear of the property. Once parked up, being a creature of habit, I headed straight to the coffee shop – in fairness it was lunchtime.
Lunch at Ballydougan Pottery
On first glance, it appeared to be your typical average country coffee shop add-on to the main business. However, we were quickly greeted by a smiling waitress who ushered us to a table. No hanging around the till with a heavy tray for us then!
Initial impressions were good – especially having spotted ex Glentoran footballing legend enjoying his lunch too on the way in. If it’s good enough for Gary Hamilton I thought…..then it should be good enough for my east Belfast tastebuds too!
We had a little giggle at the extensive menu and decided that we’d have to indulge on two main courses rather than sharing one – as apparently that’s not permitted. And who are we to argue with that?
The coffee shop was quite full… and it was only Wednesday… people were even enjoying a bottle of wine at another table. Definitely not one of those add-on coffee shops but a destination for visitors in its own right. (It’s BYO)
So, we made our final choice and then, my friend, upon ordering hers, immediately changed her mind – I did feel sorry for the waitress at that point as she’d just finished taking our order – it was really difficult to stick with our choice since there was so much choice.
We didn’t have long to wait before our lunch arrived. Unbeknown to us, the owners wife served our lunch (covering for staff holiday) and before parting with our plates she said ‘ladies you’re very welcome’ and then proceeded to announce what we’d ordered before setting it down in front of us. All very grand!
My bacon and pear salad was as delicious as it looked and my friend’s brie ciabatta was flavour filled. And lunch wasn’t served on any old plates – it was served on Ballydougan Pottery plates!
Now, we couldn’t drive all the way from Belfast and not try a dessert, could we? Again, almost too much choice but bypassing the pavlova we decided on sharing (shhhh don’t tell the owners) a Mint Aero cheesecake with ice cream and a Malteser tray bake. Washed down with a latte and Americano – both in the sweetest Ballydougan Pottery mugs!
Ballydougan Pottery Gift Shop
After lunch we pottered around the various gift areas of the original linen merchant’s house which has an exquisite new thatched roof attached to the 1785 home of the Hugenot family named Gasgoine.
There are gifts for baby, weddings, granny, mummy, the man who has everything and everyone in between! I have to admit though that whilst the range of beautifully handmade and handpainted Ballydougan Pottery is extensive… I didn’t know what half of it was for! Maybe I need to spend more time in the kitchen instead of treating myself to dining out so much.
The Potting Wheel
Sean treated us to a little exclusive demonstration of making a jug… and you can have a sneak peek here:[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSrBif-J9Dg[/embedyt]
Sean explained the process of throwing the clay and took me through the month long unique journey of the product that we saw experty displayed in the shop. To say he has a passion and enthusiasm for the business he started 31 years ago is an understatement. His love for what he does is unspoken but he didn’t need to say how much he loves what he does as the evidence was there right in front of me.
Due to demand, Sean offers individual and group workshops and masterclasses by advance booking only. Anything from birthday parties to family gatherings, church groups and hen parties – everyone is welcome! To find out more about the types of experiences available click here.
Being treated to the guided tour of the workshop, seeing the clay become a jug, walking past the array of colourful paints and hearing how the kiln on the track enables the creations we’d seen in the shop reach the shelves… I suddenly had a whole new appreciation for the business that Sean has built, literally by hand.
Accommodation at Ballydougan Pottery
As well as hosting weddings in the main dining room, opening the coffee shop for private parties and
providing unique pottery making classes, there are self catering cottages on site too. We got a look around and I was really impressed at the efforts Sean and his wife have gone to in restoring the cottages to their former glory in a really authentic way. Whilst they boast all the modern appliances there’s a real sense of olde world charm in every room.
Next time I visit, I’d be tempted to stay – if only so I could use the pottery! Details of the cottages and accommodation they offer can be found here.
If you’re looking for a unique day out on the shores of Lough Neagh, pottering around Ballydougan Pottery is a must!