Living free and riding free – it’s one thing to do it. It’s another thing altogether to provide a whole universe that allows others to do it. Castle Leslie in Ireland is that place. A thousand acres and a castle, an equestrian tourism paradise, a place people go to disappear into the hills and forests of the border region, a research and learning site for climate and soil science, a treasure house of baroque and renaissance art that you can live in, the sort of place that rock stars go on honeymoon, and special needs families can find healing in. Sammy Leslie has created that world – a sort of Hogwarts for the soul – from the ancient seat of the family of the same name.
Yet this is not a story of an aristocrat inheriting and then repurposing the old estate with canny business acumen with a bit of altruism thrown in. Sammy Leslie did not inherit the estate. The illegitimate daughter of the Jewish mistress of the estate owner, whose hippy commune at the castle during the sixties and seventies provided fun and fantasy but little in the way of sustainable income, Sammy went to the local school, roamed the wilds of the estate, forged her own career as a riding teacher and hotel manager in the UK and further afield, and finally, when her father died, instead of inheriting the estate decided to buy it, piece by piece, with an entrepreneurial flair matched by a complete and total lack of capital. Yet she did it and created one of the world’s most legendary heritage resort hotels. That would have been enough, but Sammy’s deep love of the land, of the nature, of the paradisical estate led her to forest management, soil restoration and environmental activism and education.
Everyone has struggles as they build their professional worlds – Sammy added cancer and MS to those – allowing them to inform her desire to make the estate not simply a playground for the rich and famous, or the ecologically minded, but also for those vulnerable people who would not normally have access to such a world.
How does one create such a universe, overcome such odds, both build and run an insanely complex business without burning out completely? How does one in fact cope with the inevitable burnouts that such an intense live free, ride free journey must entail?
Well, a sense of humor helps. Sammy, as you will find out as you listen to this edition of Live Free Ride Free, is herself excellent craic, as they say in Ireland.
There is much to learn from Sammy Leslie, much to be inspired by and laugh with. Best of all, once you’re done listening to her incredible story, you can pack your bags and go experience the world she has created first hand. If you’re looking for a place to live and ride free, Castle Leslie is it, and Sammy is its chatelaine. Enjoy.
Links and books mentioned:
Dear Daughter Campaign
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World – Michael Polland
God is an octopus