I have an affinity for ancient trees, branches hung at impossible angles, carpets of moss, and green forest light. Tollymore Forest Park just outside Newcastle, County Down, Ireland is a place of my dreams. We arrived early in the crisp morning, entering through a neo-Gothic arched gate. The forest is full of follies. In architecture, a folly is an extravagant structure or building that is built primarily for ornamentation with no real purpose or look different than their real purpose. Most of Tollymore's follies were built in the late 1700s by James Hamilton.
|Just on of the many follies.|
We took the trail that skirted the River Shimna and passed through The Hermitage. This seemingly ancient abode was built around 1770 by Hamilton as a stone shelter to be used while fishing.
The forest, the follies, and more that fifteen bridges: an epic kids (and grown up kids) to explore. There is an air of myth and legend all about this forest - Robin Hood hiding in the Hermitage, trolls collecting tolls at bridges, fairy and elfin abodes hidden about. (And for fantasy fanatics, some Game of Thrones scenes were filmed here). We visited near the end of October so the trees had an autumnal glow to them and the paths were strewn with gold leaves. We spent the first half of the day here and could have easily lingered until the half light of dusk when we may have spied the mythical folk of the forest.
Near the car park is an arboretum with amazing and exotic trees. I recall an ancient Yew, a Cork Tree, and some stunning, towering evergreens. There are public toilets at the car park (much appreciated). There are a few more follies upon exiting including a barn dressed up like a Gothic style church. I believe it cost 5 euros to use the car park, otherwise the forest is free. Possibly the best 5 euro spent on our trip. Tollymore was an immediate favorite of ours. An absolute must if you are anywhere near county Down, which is packed with a lot of other great sites.
|Ethereal morning light|
|Presumably a Gothic-arched door to Faerie|
|Stepping stones across the river. There were several sets of these.|
|The Mourne Mountains in the distance.|