A Wander through Wells by Michael O’Callaghan
kkI visited the stunning Victorian Wells House and Gardens recently to go for a good stroll in North Wexford’s best own healthy fresh air.
I drove down from Gorey to Ballyedmond. The weather was crisp but nice and was an ideal morning for walking in the woods. A bonus was that the entrance barrier was up Monday to Friday during the day till December 23rd.
When I reached the entrance, I turned left and drove down the long tree lined drive with a great view of the house.
Immediately I was struck with a huge sense of history on viewing this great edifice. It was designed by Daniel Robertson in the 1830s who also designed such other iconic buildings as Powerscourt House and Johnstown Castle.
The first house was built at Wells in the second half of the sixteenth century by John Warren. This area was so named because of the number of springs found in adjoining fields.
The estate and house were later bought by Robert Doyne in 1704.He was one of the native Irish families coming from the O Duinnes who were leaders of UÍ Riagáins of Laois. The house remained in the Doyne family until 1966 when Charles and Marjory Hastings sold it, ending their family’s 262-year-old ownership of the house. Charles died in 2005 aged 98 years. His ashes were buried in Wells and the service was held in Kilnamanagh Church followed by a celebration in the school hall for 50 people who had worked on the farm or were connected to the family.
It was then bought by Gerhard and Gisela Rosler parents of Uli Rosler who runs the house and farm now with his wife Sabine.
When I visited, I met Sabine at the reception desk and having exchanged pleasantries, I armed myself with the guide map and went off on my stroll.
I loved the authentic courtyard holiday cottages individually characterised with such lovely names as The Tack Room, The Forge, The Bothy, and the Workshop.
Now I went on to the covered all weather children’s play area with life size chess and draughts games. I noted that they were attracting the attention of a few adults as well.
As I was walking along, I took notice of the signage with both pictorial and written forms used for all areas. I liked this idea because it really helps people who might have literacy issues.
My next port of call was the Animal farm. I was looking in at the meerkats and learned that a group of meerkats is known as a mob, a clan, or a troop.
Next door was a smelly neighbour in the form of a skunk who seemed friendly enough to my uneducated eye.
As I was searching for the provost squirrel a lady named Heather was feeding the animals and she asked me if I needed assistance. I readily accepted and I was immediately struck by her enthusiasm and her love of her charges. I learned that the squirrel uses his tail for communicating by thumping and raising it. The provost is black, chestnut with a white stripe. I had only always heard of red and grey squirrels, but the provost has his stripes and must be further up the command chain in the squirrel world. Incidentally the word Calloscriurus means beautiful squirrel.
We continued our animal world tour by visiting The African Spurred Tortoise, which can live to be 150 years old and the Leopard Tortoise which can live to 75 years old. The group name for these is nest, bale, or creep. So, the next time you hear someone use that word creep think tortoise.
We visited the rabbits, pygmy goats and the lonely, sad looking racoons and the budgerigars. Heather pointed out the cere just above the budgie’s beak being blue on a male and brownish /pink on a female. Budgies are the third most popular household pets in the world after dogs and cats.
When I started my walk today an elegant peacock was strutting proudly in all its colourful regalia near me. When I was leaving the same proud colourful peacock was strutting along next to me as if to say goodbye.
I just can’t believe the amount of education I have received so far during my visit to Wells today. It is truly learning on the hoof, and it will be retained more easily than book or screen learning.
And so, I thank her and bid farewell to Heather.
I progressed down to the start of the lovely, level, dry, well drained Mogue’s walk. It is fitting that this walk is so named after Mogue who used to be the head gardener. He cycled down this drive every evening on his way out the old back entrance to his home in Kilmuckridge. Mogue was married to Molly who was the cook in Wells house.
Sabine told me about the trolls and wood carvings which were all carved from wood of trees which had fallen in the estate and were carved out by their own wood carver Paul. In addition, Uli has also carved an impressive collection of wooden animals, seating and toys for children who visit Well’s House and Gardens.
I just adored the peace of this walk away from distracting street noise and pollution. It was sheer heaven to be able to stop at one’s leisure and read the excellent posters and notice boards on falcons, hawks, buzzards, owls, ants, spiders and many more. It was one great outdoor education and one which can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
I loved all the trolls and carvings. I was particularly impressed by the dragon and was totally absorbed in this enchanting territory so excellently presented. Its creativity and informative nature are difficult to surpass. It is spacious, fabulous, brilliant, stupendous, educational, and truly amazing. I just loved it
Now I wind my way back to visit the fairy walk aimed at a more junior age group. I pass through the restaurant, kiddies’ playground and then on to the fairy wonderland walk.
The fairy walk by day is transformed into light the world by night. Here I met Kevin Rowe an events manager with www.landoflight.ie from Dublin who was transforming this woodland area into a winter magical wonderland with thousands of lights and high-end technology.
I loved the troll prison, the Santa and reindeer and the lovely musical and lighting effects used in this transformation from woodland to the enchanted land creating a lovely festive atmosphere in the great outdoors. Tickets for this lighting experience can be bought online.
Wells house and gardens is just one lovely friendly open welcoming place to visit. I spent over 3 hours walking around in major unwinding mode. I loved it and will be back again to enjoy its peace and tranquillity. In the future I look forward to visiting the house, craft courtyard and some more of the many attractions Wells House has to offer.
When I was leaving, I bid farewell to Sabine, and she told me a little bit about the ancient woodland in Wells. It is very rare in Ireland to walk through ancient woods which existed before records began in the late 1600s and of all the woodlands in Ireland today only 2% is ancient woodland. The ancient woods in Wells are on the left-hand side of Mogues walk and Uli and Sabine and their staff are going to work to restore this area and return the biodiversity to this area that existed in Victorian times.
It will certainly be great times ahead for the house with this evolving project in addition to the work being done on their 3 walled gardens. I look forward to these exciting arboreal and botanic experiences that lie ahead for us in North Wexford.
Thank you Uli and Sabine for being such excellent hard-working custodians of this great heritage house and gardens.
There is an excellent Visitor’s guidebook for the house simply entitled ‘Wells House and Gardens’ which is well worth a read if you are interested in the history of this area.
Michael O Callaghan
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