The Natural World at Ballynoe House
As an amenity for guests, a woodland trail has been made through the Ballynoe House boundary, along three sides of the 1.5 acre Paddock. The trail is generally narrow, to avoid the removal of existing trees. It also helps preserves the ambience.
The general inherited planting scheme is one of an outer hawthorn boundary hedge with mixed inner woodland comprised of alder, ash, elder, hazel, field maple, ancient fuchsia trees, oak, sycamore and varieties of willow, with some conifers and the odd single specimen tree (which can be a target for nature-interested guests to find). The traditional mix has been added to with some garden shrubs to enhance insect life (such as buddleia) and to provide the additional splash of colour throughout the year.
Some areas of the original planting is undergoing rehabilitation after being reclaimed from brambles. In two areas, more than a dozen young oak trees were discovered smothered beneath a thicket. Seeds of various shade-loving woodland plants were also sown in early 2016, and some of these are beginning to appear along the trail in the appropriate season.
Spring & Summer Flowers
The woodland area is kept as natural as possible for the benefit of wildlife, so there are nettles, thistles and brambles off the path. In late Spring & Summer, the woodland floor is dominated by Angelica and Herb-Robert. Proactive division is ensuring the number of primroses is increasing each Spring.
Quiet explorers will enjoy hearing and seeing all types of wildlife including many birds and woodland butterflies. Two benches have been provided along the trail where wildlife will often come to you. The boundary between woodland and meadow is a particular favourite of the speckled woodland butterflies.
Insects & Birds
Trees Along the Woodland Trail
The starting point for the Woodland Trail is at the Paddock gate in the corner of the Upper Meadow above the accommodation. The trail is marked by green arrows. There are more than 20 species to identify (with the occasional new discovery), and younger guest may enjoy leaf collecting to see how many they can find.
The first section of the wood is dominated by sycamores. There is more going on here than is obvious, as there are three types of sycamore due to natural variation, with very different leaves.
The SE corner of the trail turns around a single larch tree. Lining the paddock are a series of service trees (Amelanchier lamarckii) with their distinctive pink leaves (white flowers in Spring).
Within the first stand of field maple is the “Fuchsia Bench” set under a couple of ancient fuchsia trees growing out the old boundary wall. This enclosed space provides a haven of coolness and stillness on the hottest days and many smaller bird species, such as goldcrests, can be observed moving through the understorey in the search for insects. Unfortunately, the trees were “rolled over” by hurricane Ophelia in October 2017, but they have their roots still in the ground. Consequently, Ireland’s iconic bushes should quickly recover.
The southern leg of the trail continues through a stand a viburnum (full with deep red flowers in the autumn) and some single specimens of confers, with a whitebeam to try to identify (with its distinguished pale blue-green leaves). Passing through a stand of elder (white fragrant flowers in Spring) there is a Japanese cherry tree (beautiful large white blossom in Spring) but otherwise distinguishable by its leaves.
Along this section, there are three of the four types of willow, recognised by the colour of the stems of the new growth (purple, red/orange & green).
Before reach the SW corner of the trail, there is the opportunity to spot a walnut tree. It is easily recognised by gently crushing the leaves and being rewarded by a spicy citrus fragrance.
At the SW corner of the trail is a viewing point (adjoining the bridle path), which provides a sea view over Dunowen & Red Strand towards the Galley Head lighthouse. The western edge of the trail then starts in a dense stand of field maple and alder.
The “Honeysuckle Bench” is situated at the start of one of the areas undergoing rehabilitation. Honeysuckle plants are being trained up the trees around the bench (elder, ash & hazel) to provide a fragrant bouquet. The bench provides a view over the paddock and valley towards Farran.
The glade is popular with speckled woodland butterflies in early Spring and additional butterfly friendly plants have been added to attract summer visitors. Colour has also been added with roses and phormium. Guests may spot the wren that nests nearby, if very quiet. His song is very loud for such a small bird, and you may get to see the surprising detail of his plumage close-up if very lucky. Very close to the bench is an example of a corkscrew willow.
The final section of the trail passes yellow dogwood, a stand of elder, red dogwood, service trees and a standard of various varieties of birch. The observant may spot the single example of Mahonia in this section, but it is only flowering in the Winter. All this section is the wren’s territory, so keep an eye and ear out.
The end of the woodland trail is a loop at the NW corner of the paddock, ahead of the private garden of Ballynoe House, so it is then possible to return and find what has been missed. All along the trail there are a secret number of fairy doors, some of which may be hard to find.
Mark Grace, Ballynoe House