Breakfast was causiously eaten by a collection of tired and a little worse for wear people however it was much needed. Returing to our vehicles we once again hit the road. Traveling through more incredible scenery we took a very beautiful drive along the ‘Skye Road’ and ventured to Omey Island. What was special about this particular place is that during low tide you can drive from the mainland across a sand bank to Omey Island, naturally we had to take advantage of this and take a drive across a beach.
From here we went straight to out final destination of the trip, Kylemore Abbey and gardens.
Kylemore Castle was built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London. The castle was designed by James Franklin Fuller, aided by Ussher Roberts. Construction first began in 1867 and took four years to complete. In 1920 the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey castle and lands after they were forced to flee Ypres, Belgium during World War I. The nuns offered education to Catholic girls, opening an international boarding school and establishing a day school for local girls. The school ended its tradition and closed its doors to students in June 2010. Today the nuns still reside in the castle and produce many products including soaps, sweets and jams using ingredients grown and gathered from the land surrounding the castle and its incredible garden. Five rooms are open to the public and walking through this historic and opulent building was extraordinary.
Overhearing another fellow tourist playfully attempting to convince his companion that this was the actual Hogwarts doesn’t seem so unimaginable. How must it have felt to live here as a young girl? I can’t even imagine. Within the castle there is an education centre that takes you through the history of the school over the decades, a truly interesting past. Lots of little treasures and relics were on display and stories of past students told. Vividly interesting and captivating.
The grounds are stunning and fanning out from the castle are walks and forest trails. It is such a picturesque location, right on the lake, surrounded by ancient and wild forest and landscape. Walking along the lake in the sunshine there was a stillness and calm that was so inviting. It called for you to sit a while under a tree, rest a minute on the soft grass by the water, close your eyes and breath in the forest. Unpredictable beauty.
Following a path along the lake you can reach the little gothic chapel which Henry built on the land in 1874 in memory of his wife who died tragically of Nile fever at only 45 and left behind nine children. The chapel was build with the intention of resembling a miniature cathedral and the result is hauntingly beautiful. Secluded by trees, walking distance from the main residence, I can see how this might have been a peaceful place for him to come and pay respect to his late wife, a tranquil hideawy.
The award-winning 6 acre Victorian Walled Garden was built by Mitchell Henry at the same time as the construction of Kylemore Castle between 1867 and 1871. Over time the garden fell into a neglected state with many of its buildings becoming lost to time. The original structure of the garden and layout was unearthed and painstakingly restored beginning in 1999. Walking through the vast garden divided as was typical of the Victorian time into very specific sections for different purposes, I was overcome by aromas and the feeling of finding an oasis in the midst of total wilderness. One aspect of the garden I found particularly interesting and a clever use of engineering was the way the main lawn was designed, angled creating two sloping hills presenting the main lawns to visitors as they drove comfortably in carriages through the valley of the lawn.
The original main east gate of the garden continued a road from the castle straight through the garden allowing carriages to carry its passengers through the garden ensuring the garden could be viewed elegantly, without the crudeness of walking amidst the garden and also strategically hiding unslightly areas and the workers from view behind bushes or out of eye line, again a perk of the angle of the lawn. At the time vegetable gardens and seeing servants was considered improper and vulgar. Continuing this road out the other side of the garden leads to another road. It is unclear to me if back then this road looped around again to the castle or if it lead to perhaps stables or was simply a turning area allowing for carriages to correct their course back through the garden. Now it is a mystery, over grown by time and leaves wonderful possibilities to my imagination. Total, beautiful wilderness lies outside the west gate. It is clear however that when the garden was created care was also given to this area, tree planted, walls erected but now all intentions have been lost to time. I loved this secret garden the most, the unknown and possibility of it all. It had an air of enticement to it and an allure I didn’t feel inside the immaculately organized and pristinely planned walled garden.
After purchasing some home-made vanilla-chocolate swirl fudge, unbelievably delicious by the way. We clambered back into our cars and began the long drive home. Feeling exhausted but elated by the past few days we arrived where we began refreshed by the trip. As is the case with many family adventures personalities clashed at times, emotions were exposed and excited by environment and tiredness but overall I feel like we bonded. I am so grateful for this time with my family and will cherish the memories, struggles, laughs and oh course photos dearly. Make time for those you love, it is difficult and I know family itself is sometimes the most difficult to spend time with but that time is some of the most valuable there is.