Beyond the Trees Avondale
History, adventure and the captivating beauty of nature lie beyond the trees at Avondale.
Samuel Hayes would be pleased if he visited Avondale today. The young barrister who inherited the estate in the 1800s was a keen naturalist who, driven by his concern for the island’s disappearing natural forests, planted thousands of trees on his land.
His efforts have matured into the magnificent Avondale Forest Park, home of the Beyond the Trees experience where you can immerse yourself in nature as you stroll along a treetop walkway and enjoy panoramic views of County Wicklow from atop the 38-metre viewing tower.
Avondale was also home to Ireland’s great statesman, Charles Stewart Parnell, and a tour of Avondale House offers a fascinating insight into his family background.
“Whether you have an interest in forestry, wildlife, photography or architecture,” says Gretta Doyle of Avondale Beyond the Trees, “there’s something of interest to everyone.”
Amongst the trees
Start your visit with the immersive exhibition at the Coillte Pavilion, which tells the story of forestry in Ireland through the centuries and showcases the work being done to protect and preserve Ireland’s woodlands for future generations.
Then make your way through the walled garden where the brick wall captures the heat of the sun and helps the array of wildflowers to thrive. It’s time to walk among the treetops as you step onto the 1.4km fully accessible timber walkway.
Our advice? Walk slowly. Enjoy the tranquillity of the forest, listen to the birdsong and breathe deeply, filling your lungs with fresh forest air. The walkway itself has only a gentle incline – the land drops away when it crosses over the Avonmore River valley – so you’ll find yourself far above the ground, strolling in the treetop canopy.
These are among the finest trees in Ireland, some planted over 200 years ago, and information plaques along the route offer fascinating facts about the trees and wildlife. Did you know this tree comes from California, and that one from Japan? How many species of bats can be found in Ireland’s forests? Where does the red squirrel sleep?
Back to earth
The walk culminates at a cleverly-placed tunnel which brings you to the impressive viewing tower. A spiral-shaped sloping walkway leads you up to the viewing platform 38 metres above the forest floor. 360-degree views of the County Wicklow landscape reveal the Avonmore River which flows from Lough Dan in the Wicklow Mountains and meets the Avonbeg River in a dark, densely wooded valley known as the Vale of Avoca.
The fastest way back to earth is down the longest slide in Ireland. Sit on the mat at the top of the 90-metre spiral tunnel and off you go – just remember to lean back if you want to go faster. You’ll catch yourself grinning like a child when you shoot out the bottom of the tunnel. This is an optional extra, and you can, of course, enjoy a leisurely stroll back down the sloped boardwalk if you prefer.
Once you’ve experienced the walkway, viewing tower and giant slide, you can move on to the more sedate pleasures of Avondale House.
Avondale has long been synonymous with the name of Parnell. Sir John Parnell inherited the house and estate in 1795 and his descendants went on to play an important role in Ireland’s political history.
Your tour guide will explain how Sir John’s great-grandchildren grew up here, most notably the hero of Ireland’s Home Rule movement, Charles Stewart Parnell, and his sisters, Fanny and Anna Parnell, who campaigned for tenants’ rights and established the Ladies Land League to encourage women’s involvement in political and social issues.
As you walk through Avondale House, you’ll be struck by how much it feels like a home. Perhaps it’s the colour scheme of warm reds, oranges and soft beige, and the comfortably “woody” smell of the furniture and floorboards in this Georgian house.
A shadow on the wall reveals Charles Stewart Parnell practising his speeches from the first-floor balcony. The sparkling ring in the drawer of his desk tells a story of his love for Katharine O’Shea, and how he went panning for gold in various streams around the Avondale Estate in order to make a wedding ring for her. As the sound of the birds draws you to the window, you’ll be struck again by the lush beauty of Avondale.
The perfect way to end this experience is with a meal made from local seasonal produce (some of which is grown in the estate’s walled garden) in Seed Café followed by a cup of Brady’s Coffee, roasted in nearby Wicklow town.
Need to know: Beyond the Trees Avondale
The Beyond the Trees Avondale experience is open all year round, but opening hours are seasonal and change throughout the year.
You are advised to book online for the Beyond the Trees experience and guided tour of Avondale House in advance of your visit.
There’s a maximum of 12 places on each guided tour of Avondale House.
The fully accessible Treetop Walk takes about two hours, and there are places to rest along the route.
Car parking and electric vehicle charging points are available on site. Avondale is a 2km walk from the village of Rathdrum, which is accessible by train and bus.
There is a gift shop in the visitor centre which boasts a variety of local crafts.
There is a range of linear and looped forest trails on the Avondale estate.