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September 2012

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Mary Davies visits an old inn

Down on the Wicklow lowlands, not far from the marshy loughs that fringe the seashore, an ancient coaching inn still survives as a well-known hotel of today. Two hundred years ago it was one of the most expensive inns in Ireland, popular with the early travellers who came to marvel at Wicklow's famous beauty spots: a great monastic settlement, impressive waterfalls, steep-sided glens, the carefully-cultivated demesnes of big houses. Now it is an easy drive from the big city, a place for a leisurely meal and a saunter in the gardens.         

And these are restful gardens: trees and shrubs blend into herbaceous borders near the long, low building; wide lawns reach out towards the river bank beyond. From the lawns the view of the hotel is framed in tall cordylines, their multi-branching shapes showing their many decades of growth. In one corner a trellised summerhouse, painted a soft greeny-blue and with a conical thatched roof, sits in a sheltered spot within sound of the river. Old trees twist their branches overhead; one through age has its roots exposed like a giant animal foot.

The fast-flowing river is over a low stone wall and out of easy reach. Its waters have made a spectacular journey to reach this point: starting in the high uplands; spreading out into twin reservoirs before dropping into one of the dramatic glens; then through a famous garden with its shallow cascades and elegant suspension bridges, to flow past this garden and reach sea level in the narrow coastal loughs. In its winding course the river has passed more than once from wilderness to manicured ground.

One of my pleasures here is a simple one - to approach the hotel from the front, where the view of the building is much as it must always have been, and drive through the narrow coach entrance, barely wide enough for a modern vehicle, into the stable yard. Many generations of travellers have done just this, to arrive into a cobbled space surrounded by whitewashed outbuildings. Today the shining whitewash sets off the bright window boxes, great clumps of acanthus and spires of hollyhocks.

The two-storey buildings backing onto the road betray their age by their irregularity, their small windows spaced, it seems, at random; shallow buttresses edge a low doorway and a flight of steps leads to an upper store. An old hand-pump survives against a wall. Take away the parked cars, and it is not difficult to imagine the sound of horses' hooves and jarveys' cries as the visitors of long ago set off in jaunting cars and carriages to enjoy their days in the mountains.

 

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