Friday, June 14, 2024

North Country Girl

Life moves at pace...but not in Ireland.  After a lengthy hiatus, I'm very relieved to report that the Emerald Isle hasn't changed that much.  I should point out that this was our first ever visit north of the border and I did wonder whether our memories of the Republic would be matched by our experiences in Northern Ireland.  Ultimately, the divisions highlighted by "The Troubles" on the surface at least, appear to have dissipated and we took comfort in the fact that no borders - physical or otherwise - can contain the beauty of Ireland and the warmth of its people.  In magic, charm, hospitality and pursuit of "the craic" Ireland will always be united.  

To avoid tarnishing these still fresh memories, I'm going to gloss over the stresses of our journey there, other than to say we will never again fly with easyJet or hire a car through Avis, a subsidiary of Budget Car Rental.

Instead, I'm going to largely let the photos do the talking...adding a little textual colour here and there.  In this post, we'll explore our immediate surroundings, Tollymore Forest and the closest town, Newcastle, situated on a stunning stretch of coastline.

Approach to Cottage Farm

Cottage Farm - Mourne Mountains - Cottages for Rent in Newry, Mourne and Down, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom - Airbnb

The link above will take you to our home for the week.  I can't recommend this place enough.  Sean, the owner, turned up one evening  for a pre-arranged visit and took us for a walk up the hill behind the cottage on his private farmland, giving us numerous tips on the places to visit.  I therefore have Sean to thank for my subsequent dusk encounter with a Pine Marten.  For once, I decided not to jeopardise the encounter by pulling out my camera and instead, allowed myself to be fully present in the moment.  We eyed each other for a couple of magical minutes, before he disappeared behind a stone wall.

Lowing cattle, sheep, swooping swallows, bats and a shy, solitary black cat were our only companions here, in the shade of the Mourne mountains in County Down.

It's impossible to avoid the black stuff over here.  (It really does taste better in Ireland).  This property had its very own Guinness post box.

Tollymore Forest, covering an area of 630 hectares, was just down the road.  This place is ethereal and littered with garden follies, including the gothic style gate arches, all showcasing the influence of designer Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1786), who was a friend of Lord Clanbrassil, owner of Tollymore at that time.

A walk along the Shimna river is marked by many curiosities, natural and artificial - rocky outcrops, bridges, grottos (including "The Hermitage" below) and caves.

God's influence is never a million miles away in Ireland, as evidenced by this chalk scrawled message inside a tiny woodland shelter.

The obligatory cabin the woods.  Spooky when the light is fading fast and you haven't a clue where you are!

I picked up this heavy woollen jumper by Barbour in a charity shop in Chester last year.  As warm as it was on the first couple of days of our trip, the temperature soon plummeted and it served me well on our evening walks in the forest.

Newcastle was full of old school charm, with its big wheel, fairground, caravan park and numerous ice cream parlours.  But with those mountains dominating the skyline and a population of around 8,000, there was a real community spirit.  People took the time to chat, the town looked well cared for and the two bars we frequented during our stay really delivered on warm Irish hospitality.

A wander through the grave yard.

Architectural periods and details rubbing along together...

...and just a hint of Wes Anderson courtesy of this outdoor leisure pool complex.

The entire wall of this sweet shop was adorned with Love Heart sweets featuring common Irish phrases.

Oh and how often do we see shop signage like this today in the UK - without it being a ghost sign or no longer relevant; a relic above a boarded up shop front?  Locally, Beatties, the much loved Wolverhampton Department store, closed for good in 2018 after 146 years of trading.  Even Jenners, the swish Princes Street, Edinburgh department store we used to visit on our annual trips to the Fringe Festival, closed its doors in 2020.

Well Wadsworth of Newcastle is still going strong!

Another day, another forest park.  This time, Castlewellan Forest Park, the entrance dominated by this rather splendid Victorian castle.  The castle itself is not generally open to the plebs/public, but we were keen to explore in the sunshine.

Still, it warrants a potted history.  The original estate, which is situated north of the foothills of the Mourne Mountains, dates back to medieval times.  The Annesleys, who bought the Manor of Castlewllan in 1741, can apparently date their line back to a nobleman who came to England at the time of the Norman Conquest.  However, the Irish branch of the family seems to have begun with Sir Francis Annesley, employed in Ireland by James I, who acquired land there in various counties by both Royal Grant and purchase.  Over the generations, the Annesleys improved the estate and, in 1750, laid out the nearby town of Castlewellan, as well as the formal park.

In the early 1800s, the second Earl built himself a summer villa known as The Cottage on the north shore of the Castlewellan lake (demolished in 1861) and around this time the surrounding parkland was transformed into the more naturalistic landscape we see today.  It's thought that this was undertaken by John Sutherland (c. 1745-1826), the most celebrated Irish landscape architect of the time.  However, the Annesley family lived elsewhere rather than at Castlewellan and it wasn't until a generation later when the 4th Earl, Hugh's elder brother William (1838-1874), built the Scottish baronial style castle on the shores of the lake (between 1856-1858), that the family moved there.

Itching to explore, we completed a circuit of the lake...

...before entering the Peace Maze, planted in 2000 and representing the path to a peaceful future in Northern Ireland.  The maze is one of the largest permanent hedge mazes in the world, comprising 6000 Yew trees and forming around 2 miles of winding pathways.

We immediately went our separate ways in a race to the centre.  Gareth, who in real life, has no sense of direction, was first.  Obviously his whole counter intuitive way of thinking works wonders in a fantasy maze setting.  I'm not bitter!

On the way home, we passed one of many derelict buildings from yesteryear.  Many are in a much worse state than this, but are rarely touched, partly due to the costs of renovation, but also as the Irish value them as important examples of the island's social history.  

Just look at that patina!  

I'll sign off now, but I'll return very soon with scenic roads, St Patrick's trail, and Titanic tales!


  1. Welcome home!! Well despite all the stress of getting there, Ireland looks wonderfully tranquil and your accomodation was gorgeous. You've captured the old-fashioned feel perfectly in your beautiful photos.
    That herd of cows is very unnerving and probably explains why the countryside gives me the creeps. I love your verdant wander along the riverbank and the pastel coloured Wes Anderson lido. Those crumbling cottages and the marvellous pattina of the gateposts...stunning!
    Finding that Barbour jumper was meant to be!
    Looking forward to Monday! xxx

    1. Thanks Vix. I don't know why your comment was in the spam folder.
      What a lovely day we had! xxx

    2. Yay! So glad you found my comment, I'd hate for you to think I was ignoring you! xxx

  2. Very beautiful photos! It is as if they have a story to tell from long ago, or as if they stepped out of the setting of a fairy tale! I love your blog and will be following!

    1. Thank you for your kind comments! Glad you enjoyed the photos. :-)

  3. ireland looks and sounds gorgeous!
    thank you for the report - wonderful photos - and your text makes me want to get there too.........
    waiting for the next....... :-D

    1. Thank you! I'm sure you would appreciate the people and the pace of life. xxx

  4. What a magical place! Tollymore Forest is looking satisfyingly spooky in the fading light, and I'm with you on the Wes Anderson vibes of the outdoor pool.
    Well done for Gareth on finishing first. Jos would quite possibly still be finding his way out :-) That patina is fantastic, by the way, and so are your always atmospheric photos! xxx

    1. It really was!
      Jos sounds like me. I'm hopeless in a maze, even though I always start out feeling positive!
      I loved everything about that gate. Thank you! xxx

  5. It's all about the patina! Holy smokes, that is just gorgeous and sounds so lovely!


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