It had been a while since I’d donned my equestrian refinery. Rummaging for my riding boots I began to feel a little apprehensive about the journey that lay ahead, but tailored in tip-top gear and I’m looking more accomplished than ever I’ll be, writes Sarah-Jayne Smith. Tally-ho! Castle Leslie Estate beckoned. The seat of the Leslie family, a family with ‘Grip fast’ as its motto, my apprehension had reached fever pitch by the time I bolted the jet black gothic gates of the Leslie estate.
The motto originates from a journey that Bartholomew Leslie took in the 11 century; he saved the life of Scotland’s Queen Margaret. They were crossing a swollen river on horseback when she took a tumble and was saved by gripping fast to his belt buckle. Margaret was a tad dramatic when it came to getting the attention of dashing men.
Only 60 minutes from Belfast and 80 minutes from Dublin, Castle Leslie has remained in the grip steady hands of the family since 1665. Since 1991, Sammy Leslie has continued the family tradition, expanding it into the fine country pile that it is today, the equestrian epicentre of Ireland.
Lazing over 1000 acres, a cacophony of sights and sounds, bees buzzing in canopies above the lanes, horses galloping freely by the lakes; listen intently, you can even hear the stout settle in the glass at Conor’s bar.
The Castle looks over one of the biggest lakes on the estate, Glaslough. Glaslough derives its’ name from the Irish meaning ‘calm or green’, although it wasn’t either when I decided to partake in a little boating.
The pike cruise menacingly just below the surface, goading you to ‘catch me if you can’. Fishing is another pastime at Castle Leslie, although make sure that you have a strong enough back to snare one, in 1991 a pike weighing 38lb 9 oz was caught, breaking an 18 year record. If fishing doesn’t float your boat, try falconry, clay pigeon shooting or walking.
The Castle found rock-pop-paparazzi notoriety in 2002 when it hosted the wedding of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills. Thankfully its longevity proved to be more robust than their nuptials; for though money will buy you a swell time at Castle Leslie, it don’t buy you love.
Once you step inside the castle you leave behind the rigours of the outside world and step back in time, into the middle of a storybook family history punctuated by high class celebrity – Sir Winston Churchill’s christening gown is framed and sits in the ‘front room’.
Each of the bedrooms are individually designed; some are flamboyant, like the ‘red room’; some are more calm and romantic such as the ‘green room’. Some have a copper sink, some a traditional toilet, and the oldest plumbed bath in Ireland. The ‘blue room’ has the toilet as a ceremonial throne, Mick Jagger stayed here… Each room still has mementoes of family history, letters, hairbrushes, books. Wi-Fi is not available in the bedrooms, though it is downstairs, in the library, study and billiard rooms.
The Lodge has 29 rooms, crafted mostly from the original stable buildings. It’s adjacent to the new equestrian centre; some rooms have a balcony overlooking the stables. The estate is rightly proud of its equestrian heritage and this permeates through the Lodge. It has equestrian images and artefacts, the rooms are named after horses, there is a handy boot room and they named the restaurant ‘Snaffles’ – either after Jagger or a horse.
So saddle up and venture out with the guidance of Jenny, the Equestrian Centre Manager. Aside from the indoor arena, where Cian O’Connor, Olympic medal winner recently visited, there are 21 miles of bridleways, 300 cross country jumps and a very lifelike horse simulator, walk to gallop in 30 seconds.
After parting company with your steed, hopefully on good terms, relax in the Victoria Spa. A grip fast massage is just the ticket before sampling the local food in Snaffles. Locals and visitors alike seem to flock to Snaffles, and dive straight into a plate of Silverhill duck. Silverhill is a village about two miles from the Estate, but if duck doesn’t appeal, try the chilled savoury crepe with crab or saddle back pork. Finish up in with a delicate cheese platter in the courtyard.
As you reminisce on your day, sitting by the peat fire with horses baying in the background, be sure to have at least one soporific gin. There are at least 50 different types to choose from, one for nearly every stable in the yard.
Castle Leslie Estate and Spa Glaslough, Monaghan, Ireland
Tel: +00353 47 88 100
Equestrian packages are available, check the website.
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Brian Maguire – firstname.lastname@example.org
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