THE HERMITAGE Tollymore Forest Park Mournes, Co. Down
Words by Maureen McCoy
Photos by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media
From the car park at Tollymore Forest follow the River Trail under the impressive stone arch and follow the stream as it chatters on its way down to meet the Shimna. The first of many pools sits just below a small waterfall and bridge, pleasant for swimming with broad flat rocks on the edge.
Continue walking upstream and in a matter of minutes you come to the Hermitage, perched on the edge of the rocks, this whimsical folly leads you through tiny medieval style buildings. The open windows look down into the miniature gorge beneath and a deep pool that curves around the rocks. Follow the path through each room to a low, castellated wall, step over and climb down the rocks to the pool.
Allow your imagination to run wild as you swim downstream, under the turrets of the Hermitage, looking out for trolls or other dangerous creatures hiding in the crevasses! Returning upstream, the light, dapples as it breaks its way through the trees to play on the waters’ surface. As you approach the top of the pool the flow of the water increases as it spills from the river above, forced into a narrow channel. With the thrill of fast moving water bubbling past your ears, swim hard towards the fall into the melee of churning water, a natural jacuzzi, then relax and let the force sweep you back to the calm of the wide pool.
The little row of charming buildings tends to bring out the child in each of us, the urge to duck through the low doorways and play games of knights and castles. They never fail to bring a smile to my face and it’s lovely to think of the thousands who have sheltered from the rain in them since they were built in the 1770s by James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Clanbrassil, in memory of the Marquis of Monthermer. In those days gone by the ladies would shelter inside while the gentlemen fished for salmon in the Shimna below.
Children will love exploring the path and buildings and for a longer walk continue on up the river where there are many more pools to explore. A full day can be spent happily walking the many paths of this superb park.