"One of the greatest things in human life is the ability to make plans. Even if they never come true - the joy of anticipation is irrevocably yours. That way one can live many more than just one life."

Maria Trapp-The Story of the Trapp Family Singers - Ch. 12 p. 4

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

- St. Augustine

Friday, May 20, 2011

Staying at Mrs. Havisham's

At a break in the greenery alongside the highway we turn into a gated drive. A lonely, once beautiful but apparently abandoned gatehouse stands to one side. Following the long, winding way along the lake, we emerge upon the 18th century Ashley Park Estate house. 

From the first, all does not seem quite as it ought. There is no answer to our ring of the bell. Cars are parked in front, but the house is dark and the grounds quiet save the crowing of a rooster and unique scream of a peacock. We are a bit early, so we decided to shrug into our coats as a guard against the wind and walk the grounds and gardens.
Amongst the oaks and ferns we stumble upon crumbling stone stables and farm buildings, overgrown gardens with white iron benches and rock lined paths overcome with moss and fallen limbs. A childhood paradise. Mysterious paths to follow, underbrush to explore that might just lead to a fairy’s fort. Old ruins of buildings to climb amongst and create worlds out of.  A cottage once lovely and could be again sits ruining in the vines. All spoke of what once was enchanting and beautiful and now has been retaken by nature and become something that begs to be restored.

As we make it back to the entrance and try the bell again, we have better success. The door is answered and we are let in. Not, however, by the hostess we expected. A housekeeper hired by the absentee landlady asks our names as she leads us into a broad foyer. She is very sweet and accommodating but like the grounds seems to need a little restoration. A bit frazzled, with lanky, greasy hair and a slightly awkward yet welcoming persona, she shows us to our room and brings coffee and fruitcake on a tray.

We climb creaking stairs and look about at grand, even opulent, surrounding that seem to sag from their places and crack and peel as we pass. Rooms filled with fine, dark woodwork and grand Victorian furniture exude and air of mustiness and decay. The ornate stained-glass window on the second level of the winding staircase bows with age and disrepair. The heavy brocade curtains and acres of oriental rugs are tattered and worn. The elaborate moldings are cracked and the fine wallpaper is peeling. The whole place exudes a feel of forgotten glory gone by and grandeur lost to decay.

Once we have settled into our rooms, we explore the house a bit further. There are hallways to everywhere – grand dining rooms, back service stairways, a breakfast room and sitting rooms with peat burning in the fireplace grate. Our room is palatial in size with latticed windows, an ancient four-poster bed, both a sitting room and bedroom and a bathroom with a coffin-sized bathtub.

All is incongruity. There are pictures of the Irish president staying at this house and awards lining the walls. There are framed newspaper articles telling the story of the now 90 year old Sean buying the estate with 4 other farmers in the early 80’s and restoring the house. Yet our room looks as if the walls are all leaning and the ceiling may fall in. Sean invites Doug to take out the boat and fishing pole to go fishing the next day as promised. But the boat is full of water and the pole has no reel. The housekeeper proudly displays the great rooms without irony as the cobwebs flutter in the fading light. The dim and silent rooms are almost romantically historic, but only rise to murky and oppressive.

We have entered the time between times and met the fairy people. This place is bewitched. The residents all see a beautiful palace, glittering with magnificence and grandeur while we walk through rooms decaying with age and neglect. Every guest or staff whom I come across asks if I don’t find it all lovely and grand but as I walk the halls I feel sure to come upon a door behind which Mrs. Havisham will be sitting at her wedding feast. It’s as if in when the light glitters through the mullioned windows beauty sparkles and then when the light fades the skeleton is revealed.

If ever I was tempted to believe in ghosts, they would live at Ashley Park. The eerie majestic decline of the place is haunting. The strange stillness of the rooms makes one feel as if the life of the house has died and it is frozen in time at the moment of its death. Even in my most prosaic and practical self, I find creepy-crawlies sending shivers across my skin. Katie Wilson would find the gloom and mystery of the place inspiring for dark prose. Amanda may find the overgrown woodlands and gardens enchanting. I find that this place gives me the heebie-jeebies.

And so we will spend the night in the mysterious manor house. What could be seen as the disaster of our trip is an adventure into all that is dark and enchanted in the old stories of Ireland. Maybe the strange air of the place will inspire murky and mysterious stories written in the shadowy rooms as we sit by the peat fire, laptop at hand. If you never hear from us again we have been stolen away by the fairies in the woods of Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland. That or the ghosts of Ashley Park arose and carried us away!


  1. This should go on their website. :)

  2. It's 80 degrees here and I shivered...

  3. Sounds a lot like Sirius Black's Manor. Maybe JK Rowling stayed there and felt inspired?

  4. Fascinating... I didn't know those types of places really existed. Reminds me more of an Agatha Christie...