With Covid-19 having temporarily shut down world travel in 2020/21, we gave our 2019/20 Forbo Escapes competition winners the chance to select experience prizes closer to home. So, we decided to catch up with James Hopkins, Senior Architect at Blake Hopkinson Architecture, to see how his selected escape had gone – a trip to the amazing Ashford Castle in Western Ireland.
It was really nice for all our hard work to be recognised; we don’t often get awards for what we do so to see that recognition felt good. It couldn’t have happened without all the hard work of everyone involved at the company though and the fantastic design team at Forbo who helped us throughout the whole process. We were all really proud of the end design at the Birtley offices and so were Parker Hannifin, our clients.
We chose Ashford Castle in Western Ireland, County Galway – a beautiful building dating back to the 13th century. Founded by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family, it’s been owned by many different people since then, including the Guinness family at one point in time! We picked the castle as my wife has Irish heritage on one side of her family and we saw the castle in a Channel 4 documentary; we knew then that we had to go. It’s a fantastic 5-star hotel, which we’d never have been able to go to - it was a very easy decision!
It was amazing, and the hotel staff were so welcoming – they couldn’t have been more helpful! Like I say, we would never have been able to go under normal circumstances, so we took the chance to see as much as possible. We made it into a little road trip, including a trip to the famous Giants’ Causeway. It was so relaxing, especially after the pandemic where we (Blake Hopkinson Architecture) were as busy as ever - it was nice to take a few days and enjoy the time off.
We took part in a lot of different activities, including the horse and carriage ride around the estate and an amazing boat ride on Lough Corrib. Personally, I enjoyed the falconry the most; we walked through the forest with these large birds of prey on our arms. Occasionally they’d fly away before coming back and eating food out of our hands. It was extremely surreal to see these creatures you’d never normally get that up close and personal with.
Although we were there to relax, you couldn’t help but admire the grandeur of the place. The level and quality of finish is something that we all strive for in the architectural industry. It had been renovated recently and looked absolutely amazing. If I was ever to design a high-quality hotel, I’d definitely use Ashford Castle as my inspiration. The beauty of the colours and materials used really accentuated the grand appearance of the building and in turn enhanced our experience there.
We have a number of projects on the go right now, including another for Parker Hannifin who we won the Forbo Escapes competition with. We also have some residential refurbishment projects underway in Newcastle, where I can’t wait to help restore the spaces like we did with the office spaces in Birtley.