Walk for the Weekend: Mount Congreve, Kilmeaden, Co Waterford
If you are used to looped walks through coniferous plantations you will find this magnificent place an overwhelming assault on your senses
Mount Congreve garden boasts 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 rhododendrons, 600 camellias, 300 acers, 600 conifers, 250 climbers and 1,500 herbaceous plants
A garden that boasts more than 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 rhododendrons, 600 camellias, 300 acers, 600 conifers, 250 climbers and 1,500 herbaceous plants should be swarming with visitors. But when I mentioned that I planned a visit recently, I was surprised by the number of people who had never heard of Mount Congreve.
Not being a serious gardener, I had long planned a visit in the hope that I might bump into Ambrose Congreve, who rode around his estate on his horse until he was 104. He died in 2011 at, appropriately enough, the Chelsea Flower Show, where he had won 13 gold medals over the years.
It slipped my mind until I came across a recent reference to Mount Congreve, which stated that it had 16km of paths around its 70 acres. This had all the makings of a superior loop walk, so off I went.
The first thing that makes it attractive to the walker is that it is accessible from the Deise Way, the greenway that now runs along the old railway line from Waterford to Dungarvan.
The 3km walk from Kilmeaden station was a pleasant introduction. On the right rhododendrons poked out from the woodlands, while on the left the majestic river Suir swept past the ruins of Kilmeaden castle.
A path led from Mount Congreve station to the ticket booth, where a very helpful woman furnished me with a map – at which my heart sank. I was too polite to point out that it wasn’t a map at all but an artist’s impression of what a map should look like, and was a recipe for getting lost.
Still, it didn’t really matter: this is a place to wander, so if you found yourself on the same path twice, well, there was always some plant or tree that you had missed the first time. This is a garden for all seasons. I was too late for the camellias and the rhododendrons were beginning to go off, but they still looked magnificent.
If you are used to looped walks that run mainly through coniferous plantations, you will find this magnificent place an overwhelming assault on your senses. Autumn will bring its own magic, and I will be back if only to find the iconic temple which I failed to discover after three attempts. The nice woman in the shop offered to show me the way but male pride prevailed, and I made the excuse that I had to continue on the Deise Way.
One would imagine that a walk along an old railway line would be a letdown after such exotic profusion, but this was not the case. The embankments, unsullied by cutting or fertilising, were a riot of wildflowers such as I hadn’t seen for some time.
My reason for walking to Gracedieu junction just outside Waterford was for the pleasure of experiencing the heritage narrow gauge railway journey back to Kilmeaden.
The Congreve family motto is “He does not die whose good name lives on”. Ambrose, having left his estate in trust to the nation, has ensured that.
Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 75 & 76
Start and Finish: The railway station in Old Kilmeaden. Grid Reference: 515 108
How to get there: Coming from Waterford on the N25, take the last exit at the Carrick Road Roundabout on to the R680
Time: 3 - 5 hours
Distance: 16km if you cover all paths in the gardens. Deise Way from Kilmeaden to Gracedieu is 10km
Total Ascent: 100m
Suitability: Route is easy.
Food: Food at Kilmeaden and Mount Congreve.