Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Secrets in an Ancient Woodland

Sunday morning was a good day for a walk in the sunshine, being neither too hot nor cool. I chose to revisit one of Ireland's ancient forests which stands about 9 miles north of our home. The forest woodland consists of 400 -1,000- year old oaks, birches and copper beech trees and many interesting species of plants.

The King Oak of Charleville

The Pedunculate oak - Quercus robur Is less common than the Sessile Oak and is not as popular for use as commercial timber . In Charleville Wood, Co. Offaly the famous Pedunculate ‘King Oak’ is said to be between 400-800 years old. Four of its lower branches touch the ground, with the longest of its branches stretching 76 feet from trunk to tip. The family who lived in the nearby castle were under the impression that when a branch fell off the King Oak a member of the family would die, so as a preventative steel supports were put under the lowest branches!

Charleville Castle, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

The Castle, designed in 1798 by one of Ireland’s leading architects of the day, Francis Johnston was not finally completed until 1812. Unlike many gothic castles built later by the Victorians, Charleville Castle is quite compact rather than a rambling edifice with many wings. True to its time, it is basically a large scale Georgian house with added castellations and towers.

This magnificent building was almost lost through vandalism for it stood vacant from 1912 and by 1968 the roof had been mostly removed. The turn around came in 1971 when the restoration work was started and is still proceeding.

A stone archway

After walking through the archway our path led us to a large tree covered mound, which unfortunately due to the amount of trees on the lower level prevented me from taking a photo of it so you will have to use your imagination :)

A barred window opening in the mound guards a secret grotto

The Grotto quote: ' an artificial grotto formed for the purpose of giving employment

during a season of scarcity' ref quote: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in two volumes by Samuel Lewis MDCCCXXXV11 (1837)

A few years ago access to the grotto was easy gained by a doorway which has now been blocked off. Which I daresay was done for good reason as it is quite dark in side and large stones that make the roof do protrude downwards restricting the headroom in places and can give the unwary a hard knock on the head.

Inside the grotto a doorway

I managed to get this photo of the inside the grotto by putting my arms through the gaps between the window bars and taking several chance shots and this is best one.

A stone porch to the Grotto

This was once another entrance to the grotto, now walled up.

Regardless of what Samuel Lewis had to say about the reason for building the grotto it was quite common for country houses of that era to have places such as these, some of them very ornate. They were not just ornamental follies, they were used in a variety of ways and as this one stands close to a shallow river then it may well have been a good place to have a picnic on fine days and bathe.


  1. Oh, imagine having a grotto in one's garden! That would be my fantasy garden, with ferns and dappled shade, trickling water and secret places to sit. I loved the stone arch too.

  2. What a wonderful tree and a lovely place to visit.

  3. Magical photo's Mel and you relayed the history beautifully, oh to be in Ireland :)

  4. Wonderful trees, no wonder they've been sacred to people through the ages.

  5. Thank you for taking us on a visit to this magical place, Mel. Good to hear the house is being restored. It's always so sad to see places of beauty fall into neglect, but at the same time, I have to admit I don't like to see things improved beyond repair!! A touch of the old and worn should always be allowed to remain...buildings always look the better for a bit of experience.

  6. Glad you've got your comments problem sorted. Bet that was funny, you having your arms through the grills of a grottoes window, but hey! it got results, and now I feel like I'm in on a big secret. I am fascinated by follies, and as you may remember I have a certain tower close by. Going to see if therfe are any grottoes near me, or perhaps I might make one in miniature down in my garden, it's ripe for something.

  7. I tried to post a comment yesterday but kept getting an error 503 message! Beautiful walk! I think the Stone Archway is my favourite - it's as if there is some kind of undiscovered mystery through the arch. I love it!

  8. Very strange, on the 6th I too took a long walk through an old parkway with ancient trees and a grotto, stone archway and all...haven't posted the pics yet though. Lovely!


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