Every year during the months of March and April the ‘spring greening’ arrives across the Celtic Routes and the rich and verdant landscapes burst into life, showcasing some of the most spectacular scenery you will find anywhere in the world.
Lush meadows, rolling hillsides, leafy woodlands, dense forests, landscaped gardens and grassy river banks are there to be discovered, and here are some of the best places to witness this magnificent spring greening to full effect within the six counties.
So dedicated was Ambrose Congreve to his gardens, he won no fewer than 13 Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. Now in the care of the state, the Gardens comprise around 70 acres of intensively-planted woodland, a 4-acre walled garden and 16km of walkways. The entire collection consists of over 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 Rhododendrons, 600 Camellias, 300 Acer cultivars, 600 conifers, 250 climbers and 1,500 herbaceous plants, plus many more tender species contained in the Georgian glasshouse. Words just aren’t enough to express the extraordinary beauty you’ll find in one of the great gardens of the world.
Wells House & Gardens has a history that goes back over 400 years. Built originally by John Warren in the late 17th century, the estate was bought by the Doyne family upon his death. In the 1830s, the family commissioned renowned English architect Daniel Robertson to redesign the house and gardens as it looks today. The house has been owned by the Rosler family since 1965 and opened to the public in 2012. Join the living house tour and discover the real lives of Lady Francis and the other residents of the house through the eyes of your Victorian tour guide.
The pretty market town of Llandeilo, with its narrow streets, painted Georgian houses and selection of boutiques, coffee shops and galleries is where farming feet meets country chic and for a relatively compact area, the surrounding Tywi Valley packs in a number of heritage and cultural attractions, set in some of the most breath-taking scenery in Wales. Perched on a 90-metre limestone crag, Carreg Cennen dominates the skyline for miles. Dryslwyn Castle sits on another rocky hill, forever associated with the princes of Deheubarth. The Elizabethan gardens of Aberglasney are a world away from the vast gardens of The National Botanic Garden, but just minutes apart. Plus, there are several National Trust properties in the area, like the Neo-Gothic Paxton’s Tower and Newton House, in the heart of the Dinefwr Estate.
The former Waterford City to Dungarvan railway line has been transformed into a 46km off-road cycling and walking trail. This route will take you across no fewer than 11 bridges, 3 viaducts and through a 400 metre-long tunnel. There’s plenty of things to do and see along the way too. There’s the 9th century Woodstown Viking settlement, the world-renowned ornamental gardens at Mount Congreve and the Waterford & Suir Valley Heritage Railway. Or you can just marvel at the beautiful landscapes you pass by, which include the River Suir, the Comeragh Mountains, the Copper Coast and Dungarvan Bay.
Minwear Woods is a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) situated in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, near Narberth. Situated close to the Cleddau Estuary, the combination of salt and fresh water provides a varied habitat for wildlife. Keep an eye out for waterside birds like herons and kingfishers from the viewpoint over the estuary and woodland birds like great spotted woodpeckers and tree creepers. The woodland also sustains a wide range of flora. In spring, the woodland paths come alive with bright yellow lesser celandine, with patches of bluebells under the trees. In autumn, the burnished colours of the red oaks and beech, plus the strange-shaped fungi, provide a feast for the eyes.
Just south of Dublin, County Wicklow – known as The Garden of Ireland – is a wild expanse of coastline, woodland and imposing mountains through which runs the country’s most popular walking trail. The Wicklow Way is Ireland’s oldest marked trail, the brain-child of famous hill-walker J B Malone, which opened in 1980. The Wicklow Way begins in Dublin’s southern suburb of Rathfarnham and travels across the Dublin and Wicklow uplands, then through the rolling hills of southwest County Wicklow, to finish in the small Wicklow-Carlow border village of Clonegal, 127km later. A combination of suburban parkland, forest trails, mountain paths and finally rolling countryside offers a varied and, at times, demanding 7-10 day experience for walkers. En route you’ll pass scenic lakes, spectacular gardens, elegant 18th-century mansions and the ruins of an early Christian monastic settlement.
Two very different but equally appealing gardens compete for your attention in this part of Carmarthenshire. The National Botanic Garden of Wales is a 560-acre complex that opened in 2000, with a range of themed gardens and the world’s largest single-span glasshouse among its attractions. By comparison, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered onto the set of a period drama at Aberglasney Gardens. Its formal walled gardens date from Elizabethan times with a unique cloister garden at its heart.
Pumlumon, meaning ‘Five Peaks’, is a ridge of peaks in the Cambrian Mountains, the highest of which is Pen Pumlumon Fawr at 752m. Although it’s not the highest of Wales’ mountains, many people consider it the jewel in Wales’ crown. That’s because, on a clear day at the summit, the whole of Wales unfolds before the eyes. To the west, Snowdonia links to Preseli via the sweep of Cardigan Bay and, to the east, the Berwyn and Aran ranges connect to the Brecon Beacons along the English border. Pumlumon is also the source of the River Severn, Britain’s longest river, as well as the Rheidiol.
Although mainly a seaside village, the 60-acre wood in Courtown provides a source of shady respite from the nearby beach.
During the 1860s and 70s, James Stopford, the 5th Earl of Courtown, established a pinetum in the grounds of Courtown House. Trees remaining from his collection include a Californian redwood, swamp cypress, Japanese cedar, a cedar of Lebanon and numerous pines, yews and true cypresses. Look out for a yew tree planted as part of the collection, but felled years ago, continuing to grow adjacent to the River Walk.
In 1870, the woodland was planted with oak and ash at a greater distance from the house. This was fairly typical for a Victorian estate woodland; the exotic conifers and redwoods were planted within view of the house and the oaks further away.
Four waymarked easy walks now wind through the woodland, each one between 1 and 1.9km in distance.
Carved out by glaciers during the last Ice Age, Glendalough or Gleann dá Loch, meaning ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, combines unfiltered beauty with heavenly tranquillity. Little wonder that St Kevin founded a monastic settlement here in the 6th century. It’s said that he spent seven years in isolation in a cave at the Upper Lake, known as St Kevin’s Bed.
Even as one of the tourism jewels in the crown of Ireland’s Ancient East, if not indeed all of Ireland, you won’t have to wander too far to find the peacefulness and spirituality that drew monks here centuries ago.