There are four main walks that cover various aspects of the gardens and grounds: Woodland and Avenue Walk, Devil’s Corner Walk, Boat House Walk and Well Walk. A self-guided tour for each one is described below.
Woodland and Avenue Walk - Approximate time: 20 minutes
Some of the oldest trees on the estate can be found on the Woodland and Avenue Walk. The trees were planted in close proximity to each other which prevents the tree heads from spreading to full potential. Although advised to plant the trees father apart, Lord Headfort wished to plant as many as possible in each area. The walk begins in the Pleasure Garden by the front steps of the hotel. The Pleasure Garden is a sunken garden used in Victorian times by women for making flower crafts and doing needle work and by men as an opium den, hence the name “pleasure.” In restoring the garden, the formal design has been maintained with a central path and a gazebo as a centerpiece. When in the garden, take the central path through the garden to the edge of the woodlands. This path exits onto the Main Avenue by the gate lodge. Turning and looking down the avenue, a tunnel is created by a row of lime trees on either side, which at dawn and dusk leaves the avenue a place of mystery and magic with shimmering shadows and noises of the half-light. Also found on the avenue are prime examples of mushrooms and toad stools. Many types of mushrooms are edible while others are of a more sinister nature. One noteworthy mushroom is called The Champion of the Fairy Ring, a small mushroom that grows in circles. According to folklore, they grow “where circles have been given by the footprints in the dance of the fairy rhythm.” Once the mushrooms have grown, it is believed they are used as seating for the political debate of the elves! Continue along the avenue until you reach the car park. Walk through the car park to get back to the hotel.
Devil's Corner Walk - Approximate time: 45 minutes
Walk from the hotel through the car park and down to the Main Avenue. On your right is the golf course. Approximately half way down the avenue you will take a right onto a new trail. At the head of that trail, a Douglas Fir grows toward the ground then forks before branching upward. The tree is know as “Devil’s Corner” because a tree that grows with gravity toward the earth is thought to be called by the devil. From devils corner to the edge of the lake are numerous varieties of Rhododendrons which are covered in large colorful blooms in April and May. These are only a small sampling of the Rhododendrons on the grounds which were collected mainly from Japan and China by Lord Headfort at the turn of the century. When you reach the lake take the path that veers to the left. This path follows along the Lake Shore and through the woodland. The lake frequently floods the area to the right of the path. Because of the flooding, this area is considered a Wetland and grows a different range of plants than the rest of the gardens including Flag Iris, Spear Reeds and Bull Rush. The Winter Mint and Wild Garlic also grow here and give the air a unique fragrance. All of the wetland plants grow in the intermittent shade of the Alders and Poplars, both of which enjoy a constant supply of water from the lake. The path leads to a gate which exits to the Town of Virginia. Continue up the street through the town and enter back onto the main avenue via the gatehouse. The main avenue will take you back to the car park and the hotel.
Boat House Walk - Approximate time: 1 hour
Take the same route as Devil’s Corner, walk until you reach the split in the path at the lake. At this point, turn right instead of left. The golf course will be on your right and the Wild Flower Meadow is on your left. This meadow has a wide range of native wild flowers. The Marsh Spotted Orchid has been introduced and displays its exotic flowers in late summer. Looking out onto the lake, you can see a perfectly round island. This island was known as a Crannog. These were man made islands which were early Christian settlements dating back to the 16th century. They were made with a wooden base built up with earth and stones. They hosted small communities/ extended families which grazed their animals on the mainland during the day and brought them on to the Crannog at night for protection. Moving along the shoreline you come upon the first of three Boat Houses built in Lord Headfort’s time. This is the largest of the three and is still in reasonably good condition. It possesses a pulley for pulling in larger boats off the lake into the bottom of the house. The small peer to the right side is still used for fishing boat access to the lake. The second house, located father down the trail on the shore at the edge of the woodland, is older and in poor repair, but possesses beautifully shaped gothic windows. In the past this was used for storing boats. To get to the third boat house – Fairy Boat House – follow the path past the wood gate and take the first path on your left. Follow this past the river to the water’s edge. This house is the oldest and is shaped as a miniature castle and used for pleasure boating. To return to the hotel, follow the path back to the entrance of the woods at the wood gate and turn left. This will take you back to the car park.
Well Walk - Approximate time: 2 hours
Taking the path by the clubhouse from the car, park at the bottom and turn right into the woods from the golf course. Taking the path straight ahead, keep going until you see the second exit on the left. On the right a clearance leads uphill to the Ice Pit, which was used into the 1920’s for storing ice cut from the mouth of the river. Taking the path to the left will lead to a Stone Bridge over the river. This bridge dates from around the 1800’s and was used for transporting the ice to the pit. The trail seen to the right side of the bridge will take you up the Water Falls and to the Meeting of the Waters. Here, there is a clearance on the bank for you to stand and look. This is the most narrow part of the river and gives way to a series of five falls. This is where the flow of water exudes great energy and is challenged by a secondary flow which thunders up from the earth from an underground spring. This forces it’s way up against the down coming current, leaving this river to flow in opposite directions. Walking back to the path by the ice pit, you will see the river fall away to your left and will pass a fork in the road to your right. On the left you will see a large rock and just a few more steps on the right you will find a grass trail leading to St. Patrick’s Well. This is a holy well that is dedicated to St. Patrick. Spring wells were seen as miracles in olden times and are thought to possess great healing and fertility in the pure water. This well is blessed in honor of St. Patrick and it was common on St. Patrick’s Day to visit the well to pray, however, this tradition is not carried out in strength today. Following your steps back until you exit the woods by the golf course up toward the car park and the hotel.