As we were driving into Trim, on our first full day discovering The Boyne Valley, we noticed a small blue boat with the word “Braveheart” written on it. “How strange!” my friend commented. “Everyone knows Braveheart was filmed in Scotland!“
It wasn’t until we stepped into the small Meath visitor centre next to Trim Castle and saw photos of a very smiley Mel Gibson on the wall that we had to ask someone what the connection was between Braveheart and the town of Trim!
Little were we to know that 25 years previously this magnificent, 800 year old Anglo-Norman castle was transformed into King John’s Castle for the filming of Braveheart. Am I the only person in Ireland that DIDN’T know this?!
Braveheart and the town of Trim
Once the Braveheart connection was made, we could not escape the endless connections between the hit movie and the town and surrounding area of Trim. Show a little interest, as is always the case in Ireland, and the stories will begin to flow.
We heard it took months to transform Trim Castle into what would become the English town of York, and how extras were recruited from all over the area including members of the FCA (the Reserve Defence Forces) to be part of the battle scenes at the castle.
Our jovial guide Derek, from Beautiful Meath Tours, had many a funny story to tell about the filming of Braveheart here. He says there’s not a soul in Trim that didn’t have some part to play in the filming of the movie, and there’s still a character in town who claims he once played the part of “Mel Gibson’s legs!”
We were soon to find out that it was not just the spectacular Trim Castle that was used as a filming location but also the nearby Bective Abbey.
Bective Abbey is a ruined Cistercian abbey on the river Boyne that dates back to 1147, although the structure we see today dates back to around the 15th Century. It was in the cloisters of this ancient Abbey that scenes of the Princess conversing with her maid take place.
The ruins are free to enter and are an amazing place to explore for both young and old. There are small chambers and dark rooms, stairs to be climbed and giant window frames to be photographed.
Braveheart wasn’t the only movie to be filmed here – with Hollywood star Matt Damon spotted filming down by the old stone bridge below the abbey shortly before lockdown ended all filming back in March. The Abbey is being used for scenes in his latest movie “The Last Duel” by renowned director Ridley Scott.
While Braveheart might be the draw for many to this quiet town an hour North of Dublin, there’s actually plenty to see and do and Trim is worthy of at least a one night’s stay to really experience its charms. Here’s my pick of the top things to do in Trim including the best place to eat, sleep and play.
VIDEO: Discovering The Boyne Valley
Top Things To Do in Trim
Take a tour of Trim Castle during the day
Whether it be with a private guide, a volunteer from the OPW or a self guided tour, give yourself at least a full hour in the morning to explore the grounds of Trim Castle.
Depending on when you visit (right now sadly you cannot go inside of the main tower building) you might be able to do a group tour to the top which is supposed to have incredible panoramic views of the castle grounds and the town of Trim.
Trim Castle is said to be the largest castle (in terms of area) in the Republic of Ireland and was built by Hugh De Lacey in 1172 after he was granted the Kingdom of Meath by King Henry II.
The original castle was actually built out of wood and was burned down by Rory O Connor, the last High King of Ireland, who saw it as a threat to Gaelic Ireland. The castle you see today took over 30 years to build and was started by Hugh de Lacey and finished by his son Walter De Lacey.
Walk up to the ruined St Mary’s Abbey
St Mary’s Abbey is very much a ruin and only a small portion of the ruined abbey is actually accessible to the public as the main part of the old abbey is now on private property.
The 40 meter high east wall, which dates back to the 12 century, is just a stone’s throw away from Trim Castle, across a cute wooded bridge, and is actually one of the best places in the town to photograph the castle.
Drive out to Bective Abbey
As mentioned previously, Bective Abbey was another filming location for the Braveheart movie and is must-visit historical site in Trim. There aren’t too many buildings like this that you’re allowed to freely roam and explore, something that makes Bective a firm favourite with visitors and more so with young kids.
I think it’s best visited with a guide as that way you will learn about the history of the building and your guide can also point out features you may have missed and all their favourite photo spots. We went with Derek from Beautiful Meath Tours, who also brought us on to the Hill of Tara afterwards and his favourite lunch spot nearby. You can book him as a guide on his website here.
Walk across Ireland’s OLDEST bridge
As you wander around the town of Trim, which admittedly is small but very cute, you’ll no doubt either see the small, stone bridge from the castle grounds or find yourself crossing it on foot.
What you might not realize at the time is that this is actually the oldest bridge in Ireland, dating back to the 14th century!
Visit Meath Heritage Centre
Meath Heritage Centre is located on castle street in Trim Town, and should be the first place you visit in Trim. There’s lots of leaflets, maps and information about all the things to do in the town, as well as photo albums from the filming of Braveheart here and photos of Mel Gibson and other main characters on the wall.
There’s also a room full of old medieval armoury, including swords, shields and old clothing which pre-Covid tourists were allowed to try on and get photos with.
Walk to the Priory of St. John the Baptist
When talking about the top things to do in Trim, I love the fact that almost everywhere can be accessed on foot by either a short stroll or a longer walk around the surrounding green fields and parkland.
The Priory of St John the Baptist is no different, best visited by walking across the small bridge by the castle through the old “sheeps gate” stone arch, and following the path around the back of the castle and east out of town for about 2km total.
These ruins date from between the 13th and 17th centuries and the buildings here would have once been used as a monastery and old infirmary.
Visit Bee Wise Nature Trail in Kilmessan
While not technically in Trim, just a 15 minute drive from the town is Bee Wise Nature Trail. Se up by Paddy, a local farmer, to educate people on the importance of bees and pollination, this beautiful nature trail overflowing with wild flowers is a fun place for all the family.
There’s a sensory garden, a fairy house trail, a maze where kids get go around and get stamps, and endless beds of wild flowers. The area is about 5 acres large and included a young woodland area perfect for bees with over 10,000 planted trees!
There are beautiful hand painted signs and artwork everywhere you look, letting you (or kids mainly!) know what animals to look out for, what plants they’re looking at and what direction to follow.
Both the farmer and his creative young daughter are very passionate about this project and while it’s still in its early stages I’ve a feeling it will only grow bigger and better and be loved by all, young and old. You can sign up for a tour or there are also workshops run here throughout the year. More info here.
Eat at Stockhouse Restaurant
Whether you’re visiting Trim on a day trip or plan to stay the night, a meal at Stockhouse Restaurant is a must. The staff here are beyond friendly and welcoming (and quite the characters!), and like everywhere else in town, there’s most definitely a Braveheart theme going on all over the restaurant!!
They’re famous for their spicy chicken wings and I highly recommend trying a cocktail or two, especially if you’re a whiskey drinker as they can whip up a mean Whiskey Sour using locally sourced ingredients such as Slane Whiskey.
Leave a little room for dessert though, trust me you’ll thank me later.
Night time castle strolls
Even if you have already explored Trim Castle during the day, I highly recommend walking around it again just as it gets dark. The mood and lighting changes, and it really is the most incredible sight just after dusk.
I adored experimenting with night photography here and some of my favourite shots were taken after dark.
Stay at Trim Castle Hotel
If you decide to base yourself in Trim while exploring the Boyne Valley, I can’t recommend Trim Castle Hotel enough. My mouth nearly dropped to the floor when I saw the view from our bedroom and was even more delighted to discover their huge rooftop terrace with unrestricted views of Trim Castle, particularly beautiful when it’s all lit up at night.
The hotel is very reasonably priced, has a popular bar and restaurant downstairs, and as with many great Irish hotels, serves up an excellent Full Irish Breakfast in the morning – perfect fuel for another day of exploring Ancient Ireland!
Check out their special offers here.