Castle Leslie Estate, County Monaghan, Ireland, early November 2015.
The prospect of bumping into Sir Jack Leslie, the fabulously eccentric 4th Baronet of Glaslough (he began nightclubbing in his ninth decade and celebrated his 85th birthday at the notoriously hedonistic Manumission club in Ibiza!), had me unreasonably excited about my stay at Castle Leslie Estate in County Monaghan. At almost 100 years of age, Sir Jack, Cambridge scholar, Prisoner of War during the Second World War, author of the marvellous memoir “Never A Dull Moment”, and Italian resident of 35 years*, still resides at Castle Leslie, his childhood home, along with his niece Sammy Leslie.
Home to Clan Leslie since 1655, rather splendidly the Estate’s current Castle is also a luxury hotel allowing guests the opportunity to experience life - for a few days at least - as it would have been for generations of Leslies. The Castle, with glorious forests, woodlands and lakes as a backdrop, sprawls majestically atop a small hill on the 1000-acre estate. Exploring on a crisp autumn afternoon, I am transported back to another era: the stately rooms of the Castle are filled with a remarkable collection of priceless artwork (many, exquisite portraits of the Leslie family themselves, some painted directly onto the Castle walls), antiques and books; the air is perfumed with the scent of beeswax polish, leather, wood and smoke, and a heady fragrance that I can’t quite identify but which I always associate with grand country piles. It is the sort of place where I suddenly expect a beautiful porcelain-skinned lady to waft past in voluminous swathes of rustling silk, her lady’s maid bustling behind while naughty giggles from unseen children emanate from rooms above and dogs bask lazily in front of the fire.
Downton Abbey fantasies in full swing (and feeling rather underdressed in my sweater and jeans), I ascend the stairs to the Castle bedrooms. Each of the charming bedrooms are decorated with Leslie family heirlooms and furniture: quirky, sumptuous, ornate or romantic – there is a period room for every taste. My favourite is the Mauve Room, a frothy confection of lavender, mauve and sage green with pretty floral curtains and fresh white furniture. A gorgeous bathroom with immense freestanding tub and fireplace – perfect for a soak after a day walking the Estate or in the saddle – adjoins the bedroom. The Castle rooms are said to be haunted – I cannot attest to this – but from my inspection of the Leslie family portraits I suspect that any ghost would be perfectly charming with impeccable manners, a jolly disposition and beautiful attire.
For guests who prefer their accommodation with a little less patina, a short stroll from the Castle is The Lodge, the original hunting lodge on the Estate with adjacent equestrian centre. Completely refurbished in 2007, rooms at The Lodge are generously proportioned, calm and elegant, decorated in rich shades of green or red with freestanding roll-top baths and sublime king size beds. Some rooms have balconies which overlook the equestrian centre – wonderful for equine peeping and waking to the soft whinny of horses eager for their breakfast.
The Estate’s magnificent grounds are a joy to wander, even in the drizzle. We borrow wellies from the Boot Room at The Lodge and spend a good few hours exploring on foot: Summer’s vibrant greens have given way to autumn’s burnished gold, warm bronze, pale yellow and amber tones. We sink into lush green lawns, skirt ancient forests and sit by the pike-filled lake watching two white swans preen themselves while dreaming about what it would have been like to have grown up in such splendour (conclusion: extremely good!). Our cheeks ruddy and tummies empty, we head back to The Lodge and the warmth of Conor’s Irish Bar for pints of Guinness and fish and chips.
And as for Sir Jack? One afternoon, I am lingering in the shadows of the Castle hall admiring the paintings when a tall, elegant figure dressed in a crimson red dressing gown, pyjamas and jaunty feather-topped beret strolls by assisted by a staff member. As he passes a painting of an exquisite woman, he turns and blows her a kiss. Noticing me, he gestures “Lady Constance” and slowly ambles off. Oh, Sir Jack I raise a toast of crème de menthe** to you!
*Sir Jack spent much of his life restoring an ancient monastery near Rome, Badia San Sabastiano. With no running water, no electricity and no modern amenities it would have been a very different environment to that in which he grew up.
**Apparently Sir Jack finishes each day with a glass of crème de menthe.
Eat + Drink:
Breakfasts at Castle Leslie Estate are served in Snaffles Restaurant and, appropriately for a castle, are feast-like (no need for lunch!). After fruit with yoghurt, and buttered brown toast with marmalade, we tucked into exceptionally good porridge with lashings of honey and cream, a full Irish (pork sausages, black pudding, white pudding, potato bread, bacon, tomatoes and an egg) and Eggs Benedict with truffle-scented hollandaise.
While the more formal Snaffles Restaurant serves dinner in the evenings, we ate supper in Conor’s Bar which has a relaxed, friendly vibe. Pints of Guinness and decent pub food combined with a cosy atmosphere made it the perfect place to unwind after a long day walking and exploring.
Ambledown Tea Rooms, Glaslough
Despite the name, this is a pizza restaurant in Glaslough village. Friendly service and thoroughly decent pizza in a warm, cosy setting. Best of all? It is just a short stroll from the gates of Castle Leslie Estate.
Whether you fancy horse riding, fishing, walking, clay pigeon shooting or simply sitting by the fire with a good book, Castle Leslie Estate has something for everyone.
We were guests of Castle Leslie Estate during our stay.