A summer holiday in Donegal will never be complete without visiting Glenveagh National Park. It’s one of the highlights and most visited places in the county. And it didn’t disappoint me.
In the middle of wilderness with stunning lakeside and surrounded by the Derryveagh Mountains you’ll find an 18th century Glenveagh Castle built by Captain John George Adair, a wealthy land speculator originally from the Co. Laois. Inspired by Queen Victoria’s castle, Balmoral, he cleared the tenants from the land and built Glenveagh. It was this action which led to the curse on the owners of the castle. It was said that the owners of Glenveagh would never bear children and this has been true since then.
After he died, his wife took over the running of the castle until the Irish Civil War. Then American Henry Plumer McIlhenny purchased it in 1937. He transformed each room in a different style including a music room with an 18th century harp, a library overlooking the lake and some very stylish touches such as seashell covered walls. He used it as a part-time residence until 1982 at which time he gave it to Ireland. Such a magnificent insight into what it must have been like to live and how well the entire building has been maintained and preserved.
At the magical garden…
There are many gardens within the garden – The Pleasure Gardens, The Rose Gardens, The Tuscan Gardens, The Italian Terrace, The Walled Garden, The Swiss Walk, The Belgian Walk, The Chinese Heath, The Himalayan Gardens, The View Garden…
My most favorite of all the garden is The Walled Garden where nature and art meets. As I walked through the garden there’s a delightful smells that waft through the summer air, the sound of birds, bees and oh – the lovely sights of the garden – are truly a sight to behold. There is color everywhere – bright color, subtle color – pinks, reds, yellows, oranges, purples, greens – you name it. Add in the delightful mix of fragrance that is brought alive by the sounds of nature and enhanced with colors that only Mother Nature herself can create. It was indeed magical and the most seductive attraction in the castle.
By the way, there’s a cozy tea room at the castle with great selection of fresh food (with green and red apples, herbs and vegetables) harvested from the walled garden.
Access to the Gardens is from dawn to dusk all-year-round. Admission to the Park, including the Gardens, is free.
The viewpoint trail…
Every time I walk in the woods my mind relaxes and I feel the happiness of my life bubble up from within. Were it not for the passers by I would spin like a little girl again, arms out wide and fingers spread, but instead I keep my hands in my pockets and inhale deeply. This wind carries the fragrance of the woodland and the essence of my childhood days.
When I stop walking the sound ceases and all I can hear is nature. Looking around, I take a mental snapshot of this tiny section of earth. But I do not save the file to my mind; I save it to my heart. As I glance around at the leaves, and the sky, and the lake, I undergo a sense of smallness. I am humbled. Is this more significant than me? Absolutely.
The View Point Trail is perhaps the best short walk option in the Park. It leads to an ideal vantage point for enjoying views of the rugged scenery, with magnificent perspectives of the castle below, Lough Veagh and the surrounding landscapes. This circular 1.5Km trail starts and ends at the castle, taking from 50-60 min at a leisurely pace. The surface is good at all stages and very steep for several short distances. Follow the direction of the road behind the castle, taking the path uphill just outside the garden gates. The route is signposted from here. From the top, the path returns via the lower garden, passing through a wooded gully and into the gardens where the trail returns to the castle.
How far to get to the castle?
About 15km from Letterkenny to Glenveagh National Park. Most people take the shuttle bus from the visitor centre to the castle. But if you have ample of time and you are adventurous then we highly recommend this 4km lakeside trail. According to my husband, the new bridle trail follows the contour of the lake so it is full of turns as it winds its way along the inlets to the castle and the reflection of the clouds in the lake and the view of mountains makes it a sublime stroll.
Unfortunately I had no chance to walk through the trail. But it’s alright as the castle itself has plenty of walks through the gardens and off up to vantage points above the hills. There’s no phone coverage in the vicinity which is perfect to disconnect and just live in the moment. And I must say that I was totally fascinated by its divine beauty.
So if you’re headed to Ireland, especially the Donegal area, be sure to stop by Glenveagh for an exquisite experience.