We're off to the era of steam and thatch

This captivating gem of a museum is an open-air collection of Ulster's history. For the past 40 years, the curators have acquired houses and buildings - dating from the 17th to the early 20th century - from across the province and brought them, brick by brick, to this woodland setting around 10 miles from Belfast's city centre where they have been restored to something like their original glory.

The museum breaks down into four parts. There's an introductory gallery on Ulster's social history with imaginative and informative displays. The open-air Ballycultra town features an 1880s terraced street relocated from east Belfast, along with a bank, school and police station. There is a rural area, spread over 60 acres, with farms and mills and, finally, there's the transport museum. It is on the other side of the main road and contains an extraordinary collection of lovingly restored cars, steam engines and buses.

Something for children

The farm animals in the rural area are the most popular attraction. Youngsters will revel in the collection of Victorian toilets in the introductory gallery, then recoil when they look in vain for any toilets at all in the rebuilt squat terraced houses and cottages. They will love clambering up on the giant locomotives in the transport museum.

Something for adults

Be sure to look at the 17th-century row of thatched cottages brought from Ballyvollen, Co Antrim. The atmosphere is enhanced by live coal fires and life-sized human figures - not clumsily dressed mannequins but skilful works of art with a haunting presence. There are two churches, one with the original tombstones, though the museum has drawn the line at relocating any bodies. In the transport museum look out for the ill-fated De Lorean sports car, complete with gullwings.

Refreshments

The teashop in Ballycultra was converted from an old temperance hall. It serves pastries and hot drinks but, unsurprisingly, no alcohol. There is a similar cafe in the transport museum, while more substantial dishes are served in Cultra Manor, a five-minute walk from Ballycultra town.

Souvenirs

The shop is something of a disappointment. The rather unimaginative and thin pickings include herbal soaps, miniature toy cars, tea towels and knick-knacks.

Admission and access

The museum is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm Saturday and 11am to 6pm on Sunday.

A combined ticket for both parts of the museum costs £6.50 for adults and £3.50 for children, while a family ticket (two adults, three children) is £18. The transport museum has full disabled access. Some information is available in Braille and the open-air museum is, for the most part, negotiable for wheelchair users. The bumpier streets are no different from those in any UK city.

How to get there

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Cultra, Co Down BT18 0EU (028 90 428428; www.uftm.org.uk).

By car: take the A2 from Belfast and follow signs for Holywood and Bangor. The museum is signposted off the dual carriageway and there is plenty of free parking.

By public transport: buses from Belfast's Laganside bus centre and trains from Belfast Central Station (get off at Cultra station) both pass the museum every half hour or so. Call Translink 028 90 666630, or visit www.translink.co.uk.

Comments