2014 – Day Thirty

Wow. Day thirty. That came quickly. I remember last year’s first thirty days seemed to take forever to pass. This year it seems to have gone very quickly.

Today we continue our tour of county Donegal. We are in wilderness, nearing the Glenveagh national park and castle. The landscape is mountainous and quite untamed, with peat marshland in the valleys.

Wherever we have encountered wilderness in Donegal, there’s heavy peat cutting. In many areas, the landscape is like a relief map with the peat cut to over one or two metres. It makes me wonder whether the restrictions on peat cutting that are in place in the south are as a result of what’s been done to this area. Given that the peat is thousands of years in the making, it’s not a quickly renewable resource. When consumed in volume, as it clearly is here, it decimates the landscape.

We just make the turn off to the castle and national park – distances can be deceptively short, when you’re used to navigating from an Australian map!

The castle was built as a summer home in the 1800s by an Englishman. He bought the valley (as you do) and built the castle alongside the lake. The purchase was not a popular one with the locals. His overseer was murdered during this time and in retaliation, very controversially, he cleared the land of his tenants, some 247 families. This was an act of some bastardry. These people were tenant farmers, removing them from the land left them with nothing. The local church stepped in and funded a large number of passages to Australia and the rest (presumably those how didn’t want to go) went to the poorhouse, leaving them the poorest of the poor.

Karma can be a bitch though, and the owner shuffled off his mortal coil not long after. His wife, a more community minded person stepped in and tried to repair relations with the locals. She opened up the house year round and employed a great many of them to create a beautiful walled garden, build a round three story addition to the castle, and add an outdoor pool, heated by a peat fire underneath. As the castle was then open all year round, it also offered employment on the house and gardening staff.

It stayed in the family for a further two generations before it sold externally. The first externally owner also came to a sticky end, disappearing one day when out on a cliff walk. The last owner though, appears to have been a bit of a glamour boy, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Greta Garbo, Sean Connery and other showbiz folk. He kept it until the late fifties and then in an act of generosity that countered the original clearing, sold it for a nominal amount to the State, on the proviso that it was make into a national
park and open to the public. A pound an acre apparently.

The castle itself is colourful, reflecting Victorian, Art Deco, and 1950s decor as each successive owner redecorated. Ladies were always served breakfast in bed by tradition and there was a gentlemen’s corridor where single men were sequestered for the evening.

The showcase though, is the garden. Laden with summer flowers, it also has vegetable rows interspersed with the flower rows. The maroon dahlias in particular are beautiful. There is also a glass house and a little robin has taken refuge from the rain and is fearlessly mixing with the visitors. I get a good photo of him.

The lake is stunning too, running for five kilometres, but it’s hard to get a good feel for it in the rain. Not quite weather for a long rambling walk.

There are around 270 red deer on the site too, introduced by the original owner – we don’t see them though, they head up to the high ground in summer and only come to the valley in winter.

The rain has set in for the night – we end the day and settle in for a wild rainy and windy night. Summer. Yay 😦