There are few issues I’d moderately do, on a chilly December morning, with ice within the puddles and a crisp blue sky overhead, than go rambling for an hour or two within the woods round Ballynahinch Castle lodge in County Galway.
There is a scorching whiskey ready for me once I get again from my stroll, and a roaring hearth within the bar
One of essentially the most romantic locations to remain in Ireland, Ballynahinch sits on the base of the Twelve Bens mountain vary within the coronary heart of Connemara. It has its personal lake, and a river runs proper previous the eating room, weaving its means all the way down to the Atlantic coast at Roundstone, six miles away. There aren’t any fewer than 700 acres of grounds to stretch your legs in.
The paths are muddy once I head out for my stroll, and my ears and nostril are crimson with chilly, however I have a few incentives to maintain me going. There is a scorching whiskey ready for me once I get again, and a roaring hearth within the bar, and I need to really feel that my rewards have been correctly earned.
I cross the bridge on the primary avenue and stroll alongside a piece of the outdated Galway-to-Clifden railway line, which hasn’t encountered a practice for the reason that 1930s. Along the best way my companion Josh Mcgloin, who runs actions on the lodge, is looking out for fungi. With a basket in a single hand and a penknife within the different, he leads me to secret clusters of ceps, burnt-orange chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms, all of which find yourself in my lunch the next day.
Christmas spirit … a heat welcome awaits on the lodge. Photograph: Doreen Kilfeather
Reaching the immaculately preserved station constructing, we loop again and comply with the river previous the primary constructing, an 18th-century manor home, and on as much as Ballynahinch Lake.
Ambassadors and armers have been identified to bond over a pint on the bar and get animated in regards to the state of fishing
This is angler’s heaven. At Beat No 1, slightly below the lake, wild salmon take a breather. Evidence of this may be seen within the lodge bar, the place among the most staggering catches of latest a long time – together with a spectacular 20lb specimen landed by a fortunate first-timer final yr – are mounted for posterity.
There is deep historical past right here. On the far aspect of the lake, on the positioning of a 2,000-year-old crannóg, or synthetic island, lie the ruins of a 16th-century tower home – the unique Ballynahinch Castle. This belonged to the once-powerful O’Flaherty clan, who owned the land earlier than it was taken away by the British.
The great thing about this spot didn’t escape the poet Seamus Heaney, a daily customer to the lodge earlier than his dying in 2013. In his poem Ballynahinch Lake he recollects stopping by the water “As a captivating brightness held and opened / And the utter mountain mirrored in the lake / Eked into us like a wedge knocked sweetly home / Into core timber.”
A river runs by it … an angler surveys the water at Beat No 1. Photograph: Barry Murphy
Heaney beloved the lodge bar, to which we restore when the rain units in and the necessity for warm whiskeys turns into pressing. I’ve heard folks describe the Fisherman’s Pub at Ballynahinch as essentially the most lovely bar in Ireland, a tough declare to dismiss while you settle in by the crackling log hearth, glass in hand, and survey the clever jumble of work and images on the wall, every with a narrative to inform. (I might, nevertheless, make a competing case for an exquisite pub in Drogheda known as Clarke’s.) “This is an egalitarian sort of room,” says the lodge’s gregarious supervisor Patrick O’Flaherty, noting that ambassadors and native sheep farmers have been identified to bond over a few pints on the bar and get animated in regards to the state of fishing.
In the lull earlier than dinner, I collect that Seamus Heaney wasn’t the one literary determine to patronise Ballynahinch, which marked its 70th anniversary final yr. Edna O’Brien is a daily, and O’Flaherty invitations artists, equivalent to Dorothy Cross, to “stay at the castle and record their response to the landscape”. The ensuing work is revealed by Occasional Press and among the artwork finally ends up on the well-furnished partitions, the place you’ll additionally discover work by Paul Henry, Louis le Brocquy and Sean Scully.
Follow the trail … sand dunes on Inishbofin island on the Galway coast. Photograph: Henry Donald
It can be straightforward for a spot like this to really feel stuffy, given the burden of its historical past however Ballynahinch feels casual, nearly bohemian in character. The meals, too, is fastidiously constructed with out seeming fussy. At dinner, fats scallops are served in a fragile dashi with sea greens and a roe cracker. Roast duck breast from Skeaghanore in Cork – most likely the most effective I’ve ever had – comes with a number of forms of beetroot, cooked to the tenderest pink.
None of this comes low cost: Ballynahinch is a spot for particular events and is ideal at Christmas time. As properly as woodlands to discover and rivers to fish, you may go biking or climbing – the Diamond Hill close to Letterfrack has spectacular views out to Inishbofin island – and it’s value driving a little bit additional as much as Killary Harbour, Ireland’s solely fjord, to have lunch at Misunderstood Heron, a meals truck serving recent mussels and lamb samosas proper down by the shore. Closer to home, Roundstone Ceramics, Rosemarie O’Toole and Séamus Laffan’s pretty workshop, is extremely advisable for its fairly pottery.
Still waters … the unique 16th-century fort sits by itself island
The following day we head to Roundstone Harbour to fulfill our skipper John O’Sullivan for a ship journey to the island of Inishlacken. There’s now not a neighborhood right here, solely the stays of their limestone cottages. The island progressively emptied out through the 20th century however a couple of of the homes have been restored and (but extra) artists come to the island every year searching for inspiration.
You can see why. The island is fringed by seashores of white sand, giving option to tufty dunes and bogland strewn with wildflowers, the territory patrolled by numerous temperamental goats. By the outdated schoolhouse, with its shiny blue door and excessive home windows, Patrick produces a Thermos flask crammed with broth from yesterday’s haul of untamed mushrooms. We drink all of it in. Not each afternoon in Connemara is that this image excellent, however even within the deepest midwinter, with rain driving in from the Atlantic, that is a unprecedented place to spend a few days or extra.
Way to go
Doubles at Ballynahinch Castle from €185 B&B an evening off-season, €300 B&B an evening excessive season. Ryanair flies Gatwick to Knock from £31. For extra data, go to discoverireland.ie