Winter walks and an idyllic country retreat
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Picture the scene... it's a bright and clear November day with a slight chill in the air. Autumn is still putting on a colourful show as you turn down a tree-lined driveway. Into view comes your accommodation for the weekend: a charming wood-paneled lodge nestled away in the Co. Meath countryside, surrounded by trees and rolling fields. The lights are on and the atmosphere is cosy and inviting. Step inside and pull up a pew beside the fire. Add good friends, a glass or two of red and a shedload of cheese and I promise you, happiness will be yours.
Welcome to the beautiful Annie's Cottage in Creewood, an absolute haven of tranquility just a short distance from Slane and less than an hour's drive from Dublin. It's an ideal base for exploring some of Meath's most popular tourist attractions such as Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth and other historical treasures of the Boyne Valley. It offers easy access to some of the county's loveliest river and forest walks, including the Boyne Ramparts Walk, and foodies will be delighted with the culinary delights on your doorstep. That's if you can manage to drag yourself out of the cottage, of course.
Designed to take every advantage of its beautiful location, two large windows in the living area frame picture-perfect landscape views to enjoy as you cosy up in front of the fire. Décor is elegant and tasteful, and the attention to detail is second-to-none with thoughtful touches to make your stay even more special.
It sleeps up to eight people with four uniquely decorated double rooms, each with a fabulous view. The main bathroom has a deep clawfoot bath, and the bird-print wallpaper is to die for. This is the perfect spot for a few day's respite and retreat. What could be more romantic than snuggling up with a book in front of the fire on a cold winter's evening after a day's walking in the countryside? Annie's Cottage is available to book through AirBnB.
Boyne Ramparts Walk
Following the path of the river as it meanders through the Meath countryside, the Boyne Ramparts Walk links the towns of Navan and Stackallen. The picturesque route runs for 8 kms along a gravel path and the terrain is flat, making it accessible for most levels of fitness and abilities. Bear in mind that it's a linear trail so you'll need transportation at both ends if you're planning on walking the full length. And I would highly recommend that you do.
The Boyne is a Special Area of Conservation and from the start the walk is teeming with wildlife, the air punctuated by birdsong. It's incredibly peaceful and one of the nicest few hours I've spent in nature of late. We started our walk at Stackallen Lock, crossing the magnificent six-arched Broadboyne Bridge which dates to the early 19th century. Running parallel to the river is the one of the Boyne Navigation canals - the two were linked by the construction of Stackallen Lock in 1792.
Within minutes, we'd seen two heron fly overhead and position themselves majestically on the river bank, and watched as a family of moorhens swam nonchalantly past. We were on high alert for the resident otters and kingfishers but we weren't so lucky on that front. The route is lined with tall and abundant woodland, breathtaking at this time of year in a spectacular palette of Autumn colours. An expanse of fiery-coloured trees reflected beautifully in the still grey water as you follow the path through this peaceful and unspoiled landscape.
There are many sights of interest along the route including a number of canal locks, remnants of a once thriving Boyne Navigation system built between 1748 and 1800. Of particular note are the ruins of the lock-keeper's cottage at Rowley's Lock and an attractive stone bridge - a plaque on the wall dates it to 1792.
After a couple of kilometres, the striking ruins of Dunmoe Castle come into view, commanding a spectacular hilltop location overlooking the river. Thought to date to the 15th century, it originally boasted four turrets though just two remain today. Barely visible in the distance are the ruins of Ardmulchan Church and graveyard, its bell tower protruding above the trees from an elevated location on the site of a Norman motte.
Further along on the opposite bank is the imposing red-bricked Ardmulchan House, built in 1904 in the Scottish baronial style. A private home, it was originally designed as a hunting lodge and a house for entertaining. It occupies a dramatic position, high on the south banks of the river, surrounded by trees and with an impressive series of steps leading down to the canal.
As the river snakes its way through the landscape, staggering views reveal themselves around every bend. It's particularly beautiful at this time of year when the woodland paths are carpeted with brightly-coloured leaves.
Towards the Navan end you'll find Babe's Bridge: a local out walking his dog informed us that this was, in fact, the oldest surviving bridge in Ireland, dating to the 13th century. Further research revealed that it was actually mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters and survived the great flood of 1330 that washed away all the other Boyne bridges from Trim to Drogheda. Originally it had eleven arches, though just one survives today. Quite extraordinary.
Access: there are car parks at both ends of the walk, though the one at Navan ramparts is substantially bigger than at Stackallen Lock.
After all that walking and fresh air, you'll have built up quite an appetite. Food trucks have become quite the pandemic success story, and the Silver Fox food truck at Slane Castle is no exception. Its silver airstream truck offers a small but delightful and innovative menu of soups, sandwiches and organic sausage rolls, not to mention some darn fine coffee. With plenty of outdoor seating and overhead heaters to keep you toasty and warm, you can sit back & enjoy those autumn hues & woodland views. My 'mushroomazing' toastie certainly hit the spot: balsamic and garlic braised portobello mushroom, topped with smoked Gubbeen and Bán cheese on sourdough, served with mustardy mayo. Yum! The courtyard is currently open from Thursday to Sunday.
Make sure to take a stroll through the lovely grounds on your visit. The castle stands at the heart of a 1,500 acre estate, surrounded by woodland and overlooking the Boyne Valley, and is an imposing sight upon entering the car park. It's been a family home since 1703 but its present Gothic Revival incarnation dates to the late 18th century, the work of some of the most distinguished architects working in Ireland at the time: James Gandon, James Wyatt and Francis Johnston. Today Slane Castle is best known as a venue, hosting some of the greatest outdoor rock gigs ever to have taken place in Ireland over the past forty years.
Dining in Slane
There are lots of terrific options in the area but we opted for Inside Out in Slane, on a recommendation from our AirBnB host. It was a winner in every sense with a buzzy atmosphere, fantastic service and fabulous food. The cuisine is a fusion of locally-sourced produce with a Mediterranean twist. Expect lots of innovative taste combinations and fresh flavours. The pan-fried hake dish got top marks from all of us, served on a summer green cassoulet with bacon, lemon butter and parsnip chips. It's no exaggeration to say it was one of the best fish dishes I've had in years. The steak got a massive thumbs up too.
One piece of advice - arrive hungry as you'll need to leave space for those delectable desserts. Despite complaints of being too full, we somehow managed to demolish these three beauties: a white chocolate panna cotta with raspberry bomb, the wonderfully presented 'chocolate plant pot' with vanilla ice-cream and mascarpone, and last but not least, a salted caramel and nut tart with vanilla ice-cream. These are the type of desserts you'll be talking (and writing...) about for weeks afterwards. Don't believe me - book a table and see for yourself!
We left our country haven feeling rested and relaxed, exactly as you should after a weekend away, with our bellies happy and our energy levels restored. It's amazing what some fresh air, beautiful scenery, great food and excellent company can do for your wellbeing. We've already booked to come back in January.