We head for Fivemiletown, once called Blessingburn but renamed in 1750 when someone realised it was located 5 Irish miles from Tempo, from Brookeborough and from Clogher. We successfully circumnavigate the town’s one-way system and park on the main drag, the same street down which the Clogher Valley railway ran from 1887-1942.
Attached to the side of a building that was once the Petty Sessions, is the cast iron clock made by townspeople to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902 and recently restored to its former glory.
Given the elegant dresses on display at the Queen Bee fashion shop and the Serendipity Bridal boutique next door, today’s shoppers still come to Fivemiletown with celebration very much in mind.
We enjoy a coffee at the intriguingly named Pinochos café, (no, not the Pinocchio made famous by Walt Disney) then drive the short distance down the Murley road to the Blessingbourne country estate. Seat of the Montgomery family since 1820, Blessingbourne house and the surrounding 550 acre farm is currently owned by Montgomery relatives Colleen and Nick Lowry.
We pass the attractively refurbished Tudor style gate house then continue along the Aghingowly Road to the public entrance where we pay £5 in a coin slot machine and park in the farm yard. Our aim is to complete the 4 kilometre walking trail which, together with the 13 km mountain bike trail is one of the many attractions open to visitors.
Passing through the courtyard we walk down the main driveway then follow a path that circles Lake Fadda. At the water’s edge, snow white waterlilies peep up from their leafy beds. Rhododendron bushes meet in a Dark Hedges type archway. In the wooded area they call the ‘planting’ the silence is broken only by birds singing lustily in the tall trees. Those trees that have been blown down in a storm lie where they fell, moss covered and darkened through time, their branches twisted into strange sculptural shapes. Somewhere in the undergrowth there’s a secret rock garden fashioned at the turn of the 20th century by Mary Montgomery wife of the Rt Hon Hugh de Fellenberg Montgomery who built the present Blessingbourne manor house. The two and half storey Victorian mansion with its mullioned windows and carved round chimney stacks was designed by London architect Frederick Pepys Cockrell in an Elizabethan Revival style and completed in 1874.
We pass a pair of Nissan huts, prefabricated half-cylindrical steel structures with corrugated roofs that stand as a reminder that the American Army’s 8th Artillery regiment were billeted on the estate during World War II.
Two helmeted bikers whizz past at an intersection of the walking and mountain bike trails. They follow a red arrow which indicates they are heading not for the beginner or intermediate but the expert section of the trail which was designed by Phil Saxena and is the first of its kind in the UK. It includes specially graded stages with suitably challenging humps and hollows to test the cyclists grit and endurance. At the head of the trail is a Pump track and skills area and there are chicken runs for the kids. Adult bikes can be hired for £15 and child bikes for £5 and pre-booking on the website is essential.
As we reach the end of the walking trail we pass through open farmland where Nick Lowry’s prize Aberdeen Angus cattle are safely grazing. Before we leave the estate we must say goodbye to Percy the peacock who roams freely between the walled garden, the courtyard and the front terrace. With his exotic blue plumage he is a firm favourite with children who may also enjoy an outdoor play area with climbing frames and slides. Colleen and Nick Lowry take group bookings for a tour of the house and gardens and a visit to the carriage and costume museum.
It takes us just over 20 minutes to drive back to our base at the Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel where we enjoy a delightful meal.
For further information on Blessingbourne Estate visit their website: www.blessingbourne.com
or phone +44 (0) 28 8952 1188