‘Well, we’ve been here quite a while,’ said Susan Kellett, chatting on the doorstep of Enniscoe House on a beautiful spring morning, her elderly labrador Frodo at heel. ‘Francis Jackson came over from Leicestershire in the 1660s, and the family just never went back to England – never moved far from County Mayo, in fact.’ She smiled, indicating the lawns and woods of Enniscoe, the far-off glint of Lough Conn, the hills shaping beyond. ‘Why would you want to?’
Why indeed? Mention of Mayo brings images of rugged mountains, of treeless boglands and mighty black cliffs – magnificent country, stark and sombre. But here on the north-western shoulder of the county’s great central lough is a modest Garden of Eden, intimate and small-scale, a fine square house and well-tended garden set in lushly tangled pleasure grounds from which paths snake out through woodlands as thick and green as Adam’s back yard. The Enniscoe estate, though privately owned, has made a point of welcoming walkers down the years, and now Susan and her son DJ have created one of Walk Ireland’s ‘Looped Walks’ around their property.
I followed the mossy garden wall and then the marked paths into what were once immaculately manicured pleasure grounds – less regulated these days, and more pleasing to the walker in consequence. In among the specimen beeches and pines, the rhododendron bushes and shrubby thickets, I came across the mausoleum built when the pleasure grounds were laid out in the 19th century, a castellated oval open to the skies, with a single slab on the leafy floor.
A track led through overgrown woods loud with robin and warbler song. The sun struck with intense gleams of gold and green on fallen boughs, carpets of ground ivy and mats of moss three inches thick. A spatter of kingcups adorned the black peaty bank of a stream, so vividly yellow they might have been of molten metal. Beyond the trees the path led between sedgy fields, bogs bearded with rushes and thickets of alder saplings. Every gorse bloom was fully extended, a miniature Don Quixote helmet backlit by the sun into translucency as if made of delicately spun sugar. Down among the reeds on the shores of Lough Conn I stood transfixed, half my attention on the twenty swans that were sailing before the breeze out there, half on the magnificent muted blue hump of Nephin mountain down in the south-west. Thanks to the mists and clouds of the Mayo boglands, I don’t think I had ever before set eyes on the summit of Nephin. It looked simply beautiful.
Turning north, I found myself back among the trees once more on a path flanked by an old woodbank that encircled the refuge of Fox Covert. This woodland track grew thick with woodspurge, a shade-loving plant like a pile of little green and yellow saucers that our ancestors called ‘mare’s tail’. Further into the woods the squelchy path, pockmarked with the double dint of deer slots, passed between drifts of waxy yellow celandines. There were few sounds among the trees: the bell-like note of a great tit, a very faint susurration as the wind stirred the tree tops, and the dry whisper of last year’s weightless, insect-riddled oak leaves parting around my boots. I picked one up and blew on it, at first gently, then as hard as I could. The tissue of ribs, finer than any lace, trembled and strained away from the anchoring spine, but refused to break.
Back at Enniscoe House I went into the Heritage Centre for a cup of tea and a look at the little museum. Huge drag saws, great thick chains, sturdy winnowing machines, mighty irons of ironstone – none possessed the gracile endurance of a light-as-air leaf. Whatever strength the Supreme Architect built into that wonderful structure, I’d very much like some of it myself.
WAY TO GO
MAP: Map/guide available at Enniscoe Heritage Centre; downloadable map/instructions at www.discoverireland.ie/walking.
Rail (www.irishrail.ie): nearest station is Ballina (10 miles)
Bus (www.buseireann.ie) to Crossmolina; then taxi (2 miles)
Road: N59 to Crossmolina; R315 towards Lahardaun; in 2 miles, Enniscoe signed on left.
WALK DIRECTIONS (purple arrow/PA waymarks): From Enniscoe Heritage Centre, left along garden wall. Follow PA, then PA and ‘Lake’ signs through Pleasure Grounds, detouring to Mausoleum. Turn left along Lake Road to lakeside. At fishing lodge, left (PA) into woods. At 2 old gateposts, ignore ‘Nature Trail’ sign and keep ahead between gateposts and round left bend. Follow narrow path through trees (occasional white waymark blob on tree trunks) for ¼ mile to west edge of trees. Narrow path heads north here just inside trees (meadow and drive to Enniscoe House on left). Continue through trees on faint path till you meet a stony lane (gates to the right). Left here; follow PA along lane, then path through woods. Cross drive and on (PA) to return to Heritage Centre.
LENGTH: 1½ miles: allow 1 hour
CONDITIONS: Paths can be muddy – wear walking shoes
DON’T MISS … !
• fascinating small museum in Enniscoe Heritage Centre
• mausoleum hidden in the Pleasure Grounds
• view of Nephin Mountain beyond Lough Conn
REFRESHMENTS: Enniscoe Heritage Centre
ACCOMMODATION: Enniscoe House, Castlehill, Ballina (096-31112; www.enniscoe.com) – dble B&B (€90-116 p.p., dinner €50) or self-catering (€450-600, 2-bed; €550-800, 3-bed)
ENNISCOE HERITAGE CENTRE: 096-31809; www.enniscoe.com
INFORMATION: Walking tour operators, local walks including Discover Ireland’s National Loop Walks, walking festivals throughout Ireland: www.discoverireland.ie/walking
Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
20 June 2009