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“There are one hundred acres here. The train will take you through the lower fifty and you can walk the upper fifty.”
So we were told as entered the fabulous Oakfield Park in Raphoe, County Donegal. The train will cost you an extra five euro so we added that on. Probably just as well as the 100 acres is packed with various attractions, parklands, woodlands, sculptures (of all shapes and sizes), a traditional walled garden, a kitchen garden and more, including a lovely bistro. The only part not open to the public is the 18th century Georgian house originally built for the Dean of Raphoe.
We pick up the mini-train at the station (where else?). And the station buildings look like the real thing, red brick dominant, even used in the front of the restaurant which is, appropriately, named Buffers.
The train winds its way through the woods and the open spaces, getting close to most of the features in the lower fifty. The biggest one, the most eye-catching, is the Longsleeper, a sculpture by local artist Locky Morris and unveiled for the Spring 2015 re-opening of Oakfield Park, commissioned by park owners Sir Gerry and Lady Heather Robinson. The same artist created the imposing Polestar sculpture which you may see on one of roundabouts in Letterkenny
Longsleeper is made from 17 tons of oak and appears to perform visual and structural acrobatics!And that impression is certainly and dramatically enhanced as the little train winds its way around it. Oakfield Park is renowned for its narrow gauge train and some of the inspiration for the massive piece comes from the railway. Longsleeper may also be viewed from various distances between two rows of trees with Croaghan Hill, an ancient burial mound in the background.
Flower meadows, lakes and streams, as well as wild and wetland areas are entwined with over 4km of narrow gauge railway to give hours of pleasure.
Deer by Rupert Till
We treated ourselves to lunch in Buffers when we arrived back at the station. They support local here of course, Ballyholey Farm Shop, Donegal Rapeseed Oil, Kinnegar Brewery and McCarron’s Butchers among the suppliers. And much of the fruit and vegetables comes from the kitchen garden up by the big house.
I enjoyed my Toasted Sourdough Sandwich, Baked Ham, Cheddar, Caramelised Onions with Soup of the Day (8.50). The sourdough is nicely cut, not those big thick slabs you get in some places, and the soup is a full bowl by the way. Well pleased with that. The Goats Cheese Salad, flavoured with their own honey, Candied Hazelnuts and Pickled Slaw Salad (9.95) was another fine dish, full of flavour and both were well-priced. This is quite a large space and there is room to eat outside as well.
Next we crossed the road and entered the upper grounds with the big house on the hill dominating the view unless you go into the woods of course. More thoughtfully placed pieces of sculptures around here. The first big feature is the lake, planted with reeds and wild flowers. A gurgling fountain powerfully pushes white water a few feet above the surface and a Castle Folly provides stunning views towards the house above and also the lower grounds. There is also a boardwalk that takes you on a loop through the reeds and back to terra firma.
Make your way then up the hill and soon you’ll find the perfect parterre and next to it the beautiful walled garden with its ponds (colourful carp circling) and pillars. Last month, the gardens were at their summer best, full of colour. Took our time around here before making our way to the kitchen garden. This is a working garden, lots of fruit and vegetables here for the house itself of course and also for the restaurant below.
A leisurely walk, with detours here and there, took us back down to the car park and, with a final look along the avenue of trees to the Longsleeper we said goodbye to Oakfield and headed back towards Letterkenny.
All in all, a superb visit to a very well equipped place. Lots to see and do for adults and kids, the train, the bistro and picnic tables, WCs of course, and no shortage of parking. Very Highly Recommended.