There is a lot of disquiet about the proposed investment in a bike route along the Barrow towpath.
As a regular user of the track for cycling I was at first delighted to hear that it’s potential was now being recognised yet I wondered about the ‘development’ planned. I cycle on the Barrow Track every week from the Spring through to the Autumn, less regularly in Winter and so I know it pretty well.
A couple for things strike me about it.
- Parts of it are stunning. From Goresbridge to St Mullins is possibly the finest riverside scenery in the country.
- The extent of the Towpath is unique – thirty miles from St Mullins to Carlow.
- All of it can be cycled. The are some difficulties in cycling it such when the grass gets too high (it’s not very well maintained) or where Waterways Ireland has butchered it in carrying out ‘repairs’ to the surface. They use heavy hardcore in places to provide grip for their four by four vehicles. Seriously, you would break an ankle walking over these rocks on sections the River Griese and Maganey Lock. Maybe a better solution would be to invest in more environmentally friendly vehicles.
- It links with the Grand Canal and thus is a Greenway into and out of Dublin for walkers and cyclists alike.
- Relatively small numbers use it. There are locals in various towns and villages who appreciate the wonderful gift of nature on their doorsteps but the majority of people would hardly have walked 500 metres on the track.
- There’s a great story attached to the river reaching back as far as the mythology of the Fianna, the establishment of St Mullins, the use of the river to access the entire of the island, the use of it for invasion, for trade and of course the story of it’s bio diversity.
- The Barrow has huge tourism potential and it would be good to develop it. But this needs to be considered and appropriate.
How best to serve the people who use it or who might use it in the future?
In my opinion, very little development is needed. The surface is excellent for 90% of the route. It does need some repair work – to be carried out to the highest standards and not by the methods used in the recent past.
Good signage, some more access points onto the track to create shorter loops, picnic areas and seating along it’s length; an interpretative centre centrally located, more investment in maintenance and provision of appropriate vehicles and machinery to do the job without causing more damage to the environment.
If reports of the type of surface that is being proposed are accurate it will be an unmitigated disaster. We need less hardcore surfaces, not more, we do not need to replace natural grass banks with plastic grass grids – that never work. Especially on the Barrow Track where nature will take it’s own course and regular flooding will ensure this system will not take root and we will end up with a disastrous surface that will not be replaced afterwards as it will cost millions.
Look at what nature can do on the Barrow track – here is a video of flooding in JUNE 2012!!! This after just 2 days rain.