Castle Leslie – heaven on horseback
There aren’t that many things which make me break out into an uncontrollable grin. Riding around the Castle Leslie estate on Fernando the hunter on a beautiful late spring day is definitely one of them.
I loved my two day trip to a premier equestrian centre in county Monaghan, in the lush Southern Irish countryside. Eighty minutes drive from Dublin, Castle Leslie boasts a combination of luxury accommodation. There is a hotel in the Castle and in the nearby Lodge and in self catering cottages.
Castle Leslie is also a leading equestrian centre. The estate has over 300 cross country jumps for all abilities. The riding centre has a first class indoor school, outdoor school and highly experienced instructors. They even have a virtual horse!
The centre can cater for everything from the novice to the advanced rider. You ride in beautiful surroundings and the horses are well schooled and forward going, a dream to ride.
A premier equestrian centre.
Beautifully turned out, the horses are well shod by the regular farriers, and have a visit from the chiropractor every week. I loved my huge Irish hunter Fernando who gave me lots of confidence. Enough even to try a few modest jumps!
The virtual horse is called Prince. He is a mechanical version of the real thing and ideal for giving non riders a first go at how it feels to be on horse back without the risk factor. Even so, Eireann the instructor did say some people had still managed to slide off him.
Prince is also very good for the more advanced rider to try trickier manoeuvres and particularly useful for strengthening those ‘core’ muscles that everyone seems to be trying to get to grips with these days. Eireann’s opinion was that everyone ought to have one of these in their living room to practice on. I think it would probably just turn into a clothes horse.
Prince’s buttons take him from walk to trot to canter and if you kick in the right place you can get the idea of how you might give aids to a real animal. Sometimes Prince just doesn’t want to play the game (also like a real horse) and after a bit of furious kicking with no response I managed to get him to leap into life and bolt off at speed. On the spot of course.
The Castle Leslie estate
The estate around the castle has 1,000 acres of rolling Irish countryside. There are acres of ancient woodland and a huge glittering lake. ‘Glaslough’ the name of the village is translated as ‘calm or green lake’ and here is that very lake. You can fish for pike here, take out a boat or just wander your horse into it for a paddle and a drink.
Ireland is often called the ‘Emerald Isle’ and with good reason. Just at this time of year the green is at its greenest. Banks of white hawthorn hedges and dark pink rhododendrons fringe the pathways through the early summer meadows.
There was torrential rain just before we got there and so it was muddy now and again. However, the sun was shining for us and showed the lush landscape at its best.
Orla looked after us on the estate ride Jenny the Equestrian Centre Manager runs the whole yard and riding school ( together with her Dachshund, Dylan) Jenny gave us lessons on the flat, jumping and over the indoor cross country course.
Side saddle at Castle Leslie
There is even the opportunity to try riding side saddle here. Riding side saddle involves winding your legs sideways through a leather pommel and balancing in what looks like an entirely unnatural position.
Ladies had to use these in days gone by as it was considered unladylike to ride astride. Sitting side saddle apparently dates back to antiquity. It was a way for women in skirts to ride a horse in a modest fashion while also wearing fine clothing.
It has retained an equestrian niche even in the modern world. Castle Leslie is certainly the only place I’ve come across where you can try it for yourself. Wearing the outfit helps get you into the swing of things.
Sir Jack’s ancestral home
Castle Leslie is unique in that there is no other castle estate in Ireland where the founding family still live there. Indeed Captain Sir John Norman Ide Leslie, the 4th Baronet (known as Sir Jack Leslie) lived there until his recent. death.
Sir Jack was still around when we visited the castle. We came across him reading his morning paper in the drawing room but we didn’t disturb him. His eventful life included spending five years in a POW camp in World War II, living in New York and Rome and travelling all over Europe.
Sir Jack finally returned to his family home aged 78. He spent his 85th birthday in Ibiza and apparently inadvertently revealed the wedding location of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills. He admitted to reporters that it was to take place at Castle Leslie but that it was “a secret.” We did see their honeymoon suite, the red room in the castle. Very nice.
Weddings at Castle Leslie
Weddings are big business at Castle Leslie. It is a most romantic setting. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the beautiful Castle rooms as they were set out for a wedding that very day. It certainly looked perfect to me with an attention to detail typical of the whole place. A fairytale destination indeed.
You can get married in the castle in a civil ceremony but the church on the estate is Presbyterian so Catholics need to visit another nearby church. There are bespoke wedding packages at different prices from the intimacy of the Lodge to the Pavilion at the castle which can cater for up to 260 guests.
Dining at Castle Leslie
We stayed in the Lodge overlooking the stables. We awoke to the sound of gentle whinnying and a bit of stomping as the horses anticipated their breakfasts. Our meals were absolutely delicious, and as far as possible everything is sourced locally. We enjoyed fine dining in Snaffles restaurant and my Kilkenny crab starter was delicious. We also tried a local pub in the picturesque village of Glaslough and of course there is one thing you must always try whenever you’re going Gaelic. Guinness of course.
Apart from riding, there are an incredible amount of other things to do at Castle Leslie. Falconry, hot air balloon rides, clay pigeon shooting, fishing and boating on the lovely lake. There are even some Victorian Treatment Rooms at the Lodge providing a whole range of pampering beauty treatments.
Whether you want to hack out, jump cross country or learn to ride from scratch, the riding packages are really good value and the facilities are the best I’ve ever experienced.
It really is quite a special place where you get the warmest of welcomes and the best that Ireland has to offer. Karen the Sales Manager at Castle Leslie summed it up for me when she said ‘I don’t think I could work anywhere else.’
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