Paths of Glory
Is there anything nicer, or more therapeutic, than strolling through mature woodland? No matter what the season, woodland walks lift the spirits – the trees’ ancient boughs calm busy minds, their towering trunks dwarfing our worldly worries. Sylvan balm for the soul.
Depending on your starting point wheather its from the Hotel Westport Bridge entrance, The Quay Entrance or entering from Westport House the new 3.5km looped walk takes you through some of the most beautiful Riverside, Lakeside and Woodland view points of the estate. With two routes to choose from, be it a an easy walk on the flat land your looking for (Blue Line) or something slightly more challenging (Orange Line) through the woods. Look out for some of of the beautiful view points on route
The Brownes of Westport House knew the value of trees in a landscape too, as the stunning woodland in the estate’s grounds attest. Westport Demesne retains 100 acres of historic woods dating back to the 1700s.
Back in the day, these trees provided a number of resources for the Westport House Estate. They created a shelter belt from the harsh Atlantic weather systems, they provided a fuel and timber source for heating and building materials, and they created a lush green back drop for the ‘naturalised parkland’ design landscape.
The lords and ladies loved to interact with the landscape by promenading along a deep networks of track and trails. They would bring their visitors along these paths too, impressing them with the grandeur and beauty of the estate’s stately woodlands. Aptly enough, these design pathways and the areas of woodlands they ventured through were known as ‘the pleasure grounds’.
An elaborate network of serpentine pathways meandered along, softly curving – following the style of landscape design that was popular during the 1800s and remains timeless to this day. The trails led the walker deep into the woodlands and surrounding landscape, where they could discover hidden design elements, such as sculptural pieces of architecture, exotic plant and tree species and new views.
The pyramidal cone of Croagh Patrick was one of the most emphasised views in the Westport House Demesne, and a number of the historic pathways were specifically designed to yield the most captivating vistas. The woodlands even had purposely made gaps to seduce the stroller with sudden framed glimpses of the famous Reek.
Restoring the pathways
One of the key aspirations for the conservation of the estate has been to restore the original pathways and to introduce today’s visitors into this magical landscape environment. As with all projects, we headed straight to the historic maps to find some clues for where to begin.
With careful research and on-site GPS surveying, we identified the historic routes. The most obvious pathway, and the first restoration we undertook, was that of the path to the southern edge of Westport Lough, from Quay Lodge to the south wing of Westport House.
The pathway had become overgrown and was in a state of disrepair. After we discovered its original remains, we set about restoring it. In April 2019 – after three weeks, numerous tons of gravel, lots of drainage piping and great determination from the Westport House maintenance team – the pathway was reopened at last.
This charming walking route has brought a whole new dimension to the estate, introducing the public to the most beautiful views of the estate, across the lough – views that had been forgotten about. It wasn’t long before news of the new pathway spread, and soon countless walkers and runners were delighting in it daily.
With the wind in our sails, we set about finding the next trail. One of the most beautiful locations in the estate – and one that had not been accessible to the public for many years – is the naturalised cascades, rapids and waterfalls on the Carrowbeg River, between the Chinese-style red bridge and the gorgeous 300-year-old stone-faced bridge that leads to Hotel Westport. It was the obvious choice for our next pathway.
After deliberating on the pathway style and material finish, we decided to opt for the most simplistic option: informal. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, we felt a heavy gravel pathway might disturb the naturalistic setting of the parkland grazing field. We also know that people like to feel immersed in nature, part of it – and if this means getting your boots a teeny bit mucky in certain weather conditions, sure that’s all part of the fun.
We did introduce two access points and signage, though – and to help direct the public, we also mowed a lawn strip to define the pathway route, and it worked like a dream!
It’s a real treat to watch people exploring the estate’s stunning woodlands, rediscovering the beauty of the Carrowbeg River and historical gems like the ruins of Westport House Church and Graveyard (built in 1735 and once the only church building in Westport). Definitely worth all the hard work.
A number of more extensive routes through the north and south woods are now being investigated – all will be revealed in the near future, so get your walking boots ready!
About Oisín Griffin, Landscape Consultant at Westport House
Oisín is a qualified landscape architect with a master’s degree in construction project management. He placed in Bloom twice and starred in RTÉ’s Super Garden. For fun, he enjoys surfing, running, biking and all things outdoorsey. Oisín worked his way through college – for five summers – in Westport House and most recently was our Estate Manager. He is now advising us on the layout of the gardens.