By Derek Fanning
Sometimes when you are driving through the countryside you come across a place which you had not been aware of before and which immediately looks fascinating and atmospheric. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I was driving through part of North Westmeath.
I was on my way to a meeting when I found myself in a long valley flanked by two attractive hills. The hills were only 800 feet, but in this relatively flat part of the world they punched above their weight.
The lower slopes of the hill on my left were covered in mixed woodland but about halfway up the trees were replaced by a green expanse which looked like a verdant carpet spanning much of the upper slopes.
The hill on my right had an eye-catching expanse of limestone cliff beneath which were two small, lovely church buildings (which I discovered later were the Anchorite’s Cell and St Fechin’s Church).
Over to my left beside a river were the magnificent remains of what was indisputably a monastery (this I would later discover was a Benedictine Priory).
I knew then that I had to return to this place and spend a few hours exploring it.
The place is called Fore. I had never heard of it and I suspect that many people living in the Midlands haven’t either. It is without a doubt a gem.
I discovered later that it is quite a popular place in terms of visitor numbers but hasn’t been swamped yet by bigscale tourism which means it has a certain amount of charm.
My wife and I and our two dogs returned to Fore a few weeks afterwards. We had our walking boots and gore-tex jackets with us because I had been delighted to discover that there’s an hour long walk in the area, which was opened a few years ago. This is called St Feichin’s Way.
We parked at the edge of the village. The Benedictine Priory (also known as Fore Abbey) was very near the carpark, temptingly so, but we put off its pleasures until the end of the walk, as a sort of crowning glory to the route.