I have walked there in the dim light of the early morning when the wide swathes of emerald-grass meadowland were still wrapped in a blanket of slow-rising mist.
I have trudged there, too, through winter wind and rain, sheltering on occasion under some of the trees that have stood sentinel for over a century.
I have picnicked there on sunny summer days, the last time over a decade ago and accompanied that day by my husband, my mother and my father, all of them now gone; every time I return, though, my eye catches the spot where we sat that day and the memories flood back, making me smile in that fleeting moment of remembrance.
Avondale, just outside Rathdrum in Co Wicklow, is a place that has been close to my heart for almost 40 years. When I lived in nearby Glenealy, it was my go-to walking territory; the beauty of the morning forest never ceased to provide its own kind of tonic for the day ahead. I can still picture that rising mist, can still remember the silence being broken only by the sound of a squawking bird or the rustle of the grass underfoot as my dogs scampered happily at my heels.
Avondale House, built in 1777 and later the family home of Charles Stewart Parnell, is ordinary enough in scale and grandeur, but it’s impossible, when you stand there, not to imagine a young Charles, his sisters Anna and Fanny and their other many siblings all coming and going through that front door, escaping into the wonderland that lay beyond.
It’s that natural dimension that makes this place so special. The grounds of the estate are always beautifully maintained but never manicured, and while there are specific delights dotted throughout, it’s the overall impact of just strolling through the natural forest that delivers the biggest punch.
Yes, there are various trails highlighted and routed along different forest paths, but, in all honesty, I have never consciously followed any of them. For me, it’s simply about wandering there, getting lost on occasion and then rounding a corner, only to spot a familiar landmark that tells you exactly where you are.
There’s an anonymity about Avondale that has always been, for me, its unique selling point.
So, with the opening earlier this week of its new attraction, a pay-for-the-privilege 1.3km treetop walk complete with a viewing tower, is that glorious anonymity now under threat? Are we talking, dare I even say it, about the beginning of the Disneyfication of Avondale?
Despite my aversion to natural surroundings being messed with (I still resent the cafe that appeared amid the unspoiled tranquillity of the Botanic Gardens’ Kilmacurragh site in 2015), I have no fears for Avondale. In fact, I’m surprised at my own excitement, but to walk “beyond the trees”, as the new Avondale walk has been tagged, seems to me like the most natural thing in the world.
With the focus still on what matters – the forest itself – it’s still Avondale as we know it. I have booked my slot for tomorrow. Bring it on.