Fore Valley

Top choice in The Midlands

Near the shores of Lough Lene, the emerald-green Fore Valley, 5km east of Castlepollard, is a superb place to explore by bicycle or on foot. In AD 630 St Fechin founded a monastery just outside the village of Fore. There's nothing left of this early settlement, but three later buildings in the valley are closely associated with 'seven wonders' said to have occurred here. It's a deeply atmospheric place with sweeping views across the valley.

The oldest of the three buildings is St Fechin's Church, containing an early-13th-century chancel and baptismal font. Over the Cyclopean entrance is a huge lintel stone carved with a Greek cross and thought to weigh about 2.5 tonnes. It's said to have been put into place by St Fechin's devotions – the wonder of the stone raised by prayer.

A path runs from the church to the attractive little anchorite cell – the 'anchorite in a stone' – which dates from the 15th century and was lived in by a succession of hermits. The Fore Abbey Coffee Shop in the village holds the key.

On the other side of the road near the car park is St Fechin's Well, filled with water that will not boil. Cynics should beware of testing this claim, as it's said that if you try it, doom will come to your family. Nearby is a branch from the tree that will not burn; the coins pressed into it are a more contemporary superstition.

Further over the plain are the extensive remains of a 13th-century Benedictine priory, the Monastery of the Quaking Scraw, miraculous because it was built on what once was a bog. In the following century it was turned into a fortification, hence the loophole windows and castle-like square towers. The western tower is in a dangerous state – keep clear.

The last two wonders are the mill without a race and the water that flows uphill. The mill site is marked, and legend has it that St Fechin caused water to flow uphill, towards the mill, by throwing his crosier against a rock near Lough Lene, 1.3km to the southeast.

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