I have been spending most of my Saturdays over the past few months mapping cycles route across Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Laois and Kildare. The routes are selected for the pleasure they provide; I am not mapping routes for training purposes, my choices are directed by three criteria – beautiful scenery, interesting sites to visit and as traffic free as possible.
My journeys have taken me over the Blackstairs, The Sliabh Blooms, The Bog of Allen and into rural parts of the south east that are seldom visited and places that haven’t really changed very much in decades.
I completed my 21st route this weekend, a kind of coming of age! Yesterday I returned to the Barrow.
There has been an explosion in cycling, the roads are full of groups of lycra clad cyclists every weekend, and families are increasingly going out together for a day out on the Green Ways of Mayo, Westmeath and Waterford (on disused railway lines, not on existing river paths).
Plans are afoot to have a Blue Way along the mighty Barrow. Some of the plans are really exciting and it is great to imagine the river being used much more than it is.
Having spent many years cycling on the Barrow Track I am very familiar with every kilometre of it. It is simply the best off road cycling route in the country. The Barrow Track is a unique resource – no other river has a 70km walking path along it’s bank. It is a an area of natural beauty and national significance, a pristine wilderness, full of wonderful flora and fauna. A real living Green Way.
Any ‘development’ that exploits or damages that for the intention of economic development truly is ill judged and misguided.
The accompanying photographs show the Barrow at is wonderful best and if the intention is to maximise the resource for the benefit of local communities then the plan must surely be to enhance and not interfere with the local environment.
To replace the grassy bank with a hardcore surface can only be described as an act of vandalism. We have seen sections that have had hardcore surfaces for many years and they are all potholed and are the worst sections of the Track. By far. There are many people who already avail of the Track for local walking and it is in fact a national long distance walking trail (many of them are on roadways … why?), fishermen, canoeists, cyclists, runners and nature lovers. These people use the Track and any of them that I meet on the Track are all of the same opinion – no hardcore surface!
This is not an anti development stance, nor a rent a crowd or rent a protest movement; these are people of conviction who treasure what we have.
All these people have seen the Barrow flood in winter and summer and seen the damage done to the stretches of hardcore surfaces that already exist – they are washed away. Why spend millions on a surface that will not stand he test of time unlike the grass path that we already have?
Parts of the Track are areas of special conservation and a hardcore Blue Way just does not comply with that status.
One of the more worrying considerations has to be future maintenance, Who is going to have the budget to repair the surface after each winter and to provide for the upkeep? A pilgrim walk took place recently from St Mullins to Graiguenamangh and a fantastic job was done of cutting the grass and the Track looks it’s brilliant best at the moment. However apart from that the attempts at maintenance by Waterways Ireland can only be described as sabotage. They spread heavy aggregate wherever they can, they rut the track with machinery that is too heavy and which in places causes subsidence. There has to be a more environment friendly means of maintaining this treasure.
I understand the budgetary constraints Waterways works under but regretfully I do not think they are approaching this from the correct perspective.
My cycle along the Barrow yesterday was just stunning. I encourage everyone to experience it either walking or cycling. it’s on our doorstep and we should treasure it.
Some more images from the thatched villages of South Kilkenny. Great cycling country with stunning views of the River Suir.
The Three Sisters – The Barrow, The Nore and The Suir three mythical rivers on our doorstep. Lots of legends and history attached to all three and fantastic cycling route alongside all three. I only read recently in John Keane’s ‘Hidden Kilkenny’ of the Thatched Villages of South Kilkenny and cycling through them yesterday was like a journey back in time. Easy imagine an era when all houses were thatched; The villages are located in a curve in the River Suir that juts into Waterford. It really is unspoiled, a parallel universe where time has stood still. Remarkably John Keane mentions that the area even has a dialect that exists nowhere else and a form of English going back to Elizabethan times.
One of the cottages is the birthplace of Bob O Keeffe, after whom the Leinster SHC Cup is named.
It’s a fascinating enclave, off the beaten track; there aren’t as many of the thatched cottages still in existence as in times past and the remaining ones are in varying condition. But these are the real thing – these are not fake folk villages but a living breathing community. The River Suir is an important source for the reeds used to thatch the cottages and in times past, a plentiful source of salmon. Salmon fishing has been banned for the past three years and one local man I spoke to wasn’t to pleased with that!
I continued on towards Waterford, stopping at the impressive ruins of Grannagh Castle before heading onto Kilmacow, Slieverue and Glenmore with stunning views of the Barrow and Nore combined. Nice climbs to Glenmore and across to Mullinavat and onto Pilltown, my starting point.
The Hidden Ireland waiting to be explored on our doorstep.
The Barrow and The Nore