A trip to Bantry house and gardens
Hi everyone! I’m delighted to be back on track with the blog – during April and May I was a total mess with it! But after a good break, I’m ready to make this blog what I originally wanted it to be, I’m ready to write again and to share some of West Cork with you.
Ireland is slowly reopening. Travel restrictions (within the country) were lifted a while ago, and this week, pubs and restaurants opened for outdoor service. As usual I feel worried and uncertain about it. Is this going to work? Will people behave and socialise safely? Will we have yet another setback? I try to be positive, but it’s hard. Of course I’m happy for the people who can finally return to work! I’m just… worried. But the Covid situation here is quite good, the majority of cases each day is among younger people who aren’t yet vaccinated, the hospital situation is stable and improving, and the vaccination rollout is now proceeding with good speed, so there IS reason to be optiimistic, at least for now. And after a dreadful winter and spring, I’m more ready than ever to enjoy life as much as I can.
Something we’re both totally ready for is to travel! We love our garden, we love our town and the local area, but oh, how nice it is to see something else now and then! We’re having major troubles with our car at the moment, but on Sunday my husband took the bus to Cork to collect a rental car that we’ll have for a month while we try to figure out if someone understands the issues with our Renault.
After lunch, we left home for a lovely road trip. We had no plan really, only to go west towards Glengariff and then decide whether to go into county Kerry or to the Beara peninsula. On the way there, you’ll pass Bantry, which is a nice little seaside town where they have a very nice market on Fridays and floods every time there is a storm. There is also an old mansion – Bantry house – with a famous garden. It was my first time there, but D has mentioned it and that we should go there some time. I’ve always thought that it’s a botanical garden of sorts and that you go there to see fancy plants and pretty roses. Whoa, did I get a surprise!
Like something from the book “The secret garden”
Have you read the book The secret garden? It was one of my favourite books as a child, and I would certainly enjoy it just as much today! It takes place in the Victorian England and tells the story about a 10-year-old girl who is brought up in British India, but after the death of her parents she’s sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moor in England. After some time of being miserable in her new home she befriends her maid Martha, and learns that the estate has a secret garden that has been locked and hidden for ten years. She becomes curious about it, starts exploring the surroundings, and one day she finds the key to the hidden garden. There’s more to the story that I won’t go into here, but it’s a fantastic book (read more here) and I really hope children of today also get the opportunity to read it.
When I was a child, this story enchanted me. I dreamed about finding a garden like that to explore! And when I came to the Bantry gardens, in some areas I felt like I had arrived to THAT garden.
Some info about Bantry house
Bantry house was built around 1710, and was purchased by councillor Richard White, Earl of Bantry, in 1765. Over time, the family made further purchases of land, and in the 1780s they owned about 320 square km of land. The gardens were initiated by the 2nd Earl of Bantry (Richard Jr, I suspect), and are built in seven levels, surrounded by forest areas. The different levels can be accessed by steps and walks through the forest.
From the 1930s the gardens were abandoned. Some areas have undergone restoration work, and you can read more on this page about the house, area and the future plans. When we were there, my impression was that most of the garden is quite overgrown and wild, although it’s noticeable that some work has been done in certain areas.
The bottom levels are definitely the most curated areas – some probably prefer it like that, and it definitely fits for having weddings or other events. During normal times a music festival is held here. The house normally also offers accommodation, if you fancy something extra posh during your holiday in West Cork.
But to me, pretty shape-cut trees and neatly placed plants in a fancy garden are a bit same old same old, and I think the rough and wild areas are much more interesting. I’m enormously intrigued by abandoned places, hidden rooms and doors, old, rough and overgrown buildings, old rusty objects… you name it. When we entered the Bantry house gardens and came up the hill, I nearly jumped up and down with excitement. The old, wild feel made me immediately fall in love with the place. When you come walking from the parking area, the first thing you’ll see is a pretty area and a footpath with azaleas and rhododendron along the side. The footpath will take you up to the second level and the back gardens.
This first back garden is so charming! It has such a medieval feel to me – which is almost correct because one of my fellow students in my Italian conversation class said that both the house and the gardens are built with a renaissance style, which I didn’t think of when I was there.
There the really interesting stuff begins. I really admired these gorgeous steps – like taken straight from a fairytale! There are 100 steps that will take you to the upper levels. Now that I’ve learnt that there are seven levels, I realise that we must have missed a few. But I’m not sorry – then we have a good reason to go back soon.
Every level has its own area to explore, and there are footpaths that give access to the other levels. If you’re a coward like me, the footpaths help you get back down safely. These steps are uneven and a bit scary in places, at least for me. But getting to the top was absolutely fantastic. The view over Bantry bay is quite decent too!
And walking through the mid levels and back down…
During this visit, I totally forgot about the photography crisis I’ve had recently. Isn’t that great!?
And if this isn’t enough, while visiting the Bantry area, there are two other gardens to visit, including one with tropical plants. You can also take the ferry to Garnish island, famous for its gardens with rare plants. These are now on my to-do list.
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