It has long been an ambition of mine to complete an on road off road cycle route around Carlow County.
We may be the second smallest county in Ireland but we has so much to offer – magnificent scenery, diverse terrain, important historical and heritage sites, great places to stay and to eat. It’s one of Ireland’s best kept secrets!
I was fortunate this week to have the opportunity to complete a circuit of the county and I have made a video of some of the highlights.
The route is 195kms long, takes in 2,680 metres of climbing, has 45kms off road cycling and most of the rest of it on minor roads, with minimal traffic. A joy to cycle on!
Peig Sayers was a great woman for recounting folk stories that were told around the fireside during her hard life on the Blascaod Mór. Her life story was on the curriculum when I did the Leaving Cert. Unlike many of my classmates i actually liked Peig; I loved the stories – probably because we holidayed in Ballyferriter for many years, I had and have a great affinity for all things West Kerry.
One of the stories she recounted was of an old woman who had never left the parish but one day set out to go to Dublin. When she reached the gap at Sliabh an Iolar she turned back horrified at the vast expanse of land ahead of her!
How times have changed. Today our young people (and my generation) are more familiar with the four corners of the World than with our own locality!
I have been fortunate to cycle in almost every county in Ireland and abroad from time to time. Especially along the Camino, and it was while cycling on the Camino that the thought first struck me that we have so much to offer to touring cyclists and hikers if we only opened up the country side and developed more trails. That’s beginning to happen now and hopefully we will see more of them.
Anyway I have had it in my head to cycle a route around County Carlow for a long time and I wanted the route to be as interesting as possible, with good views, historical sites and quiet roads. The weather has not been kind the past two weeks and I only got to complete the route today.
I started the final leg in Clonegal and marvelled at how well the village has captured the old stories and the old ways of life and commemorated them in the life of the village. Willie White was a great man for local history and he was one of the drivers behind the drive over many years before he passed away some years ago. I was day dreaming about Willie and times past as i was leaving and took the wrong road, heading out the Ardattin road instead of the Wicklow Way. realising the error of my way I detoured and after a fair old climb returned to the route none the worse for wear!
Today I headed up onto the Wicklow Way for a 5kms off road section. It’s a lovely route, very steep but the rewards make it worthwhile. There are great views right across Carlow, Ballon, Tullow and Carlow are all visible in the distance. Add in the Jays, the squirrels and the deer and there is plenty to keep the mind off the steep climb.
The Wicklow Way of course ends in Clonegal and there are road sections; the section out of Clonegal being the first if travelling north, and then later on towards Aghowle. The Church ruins in Aghowle are over the border in Wicklow but what’s a border but a line on a map. It’s one of my favourite places. A simple Church ruins facing towards the Wicklow hills. A beautifully remote setting. Continue past Aghowle and head straight past the famous Crablane Pub of John Byrne and soon you will be travelling along the award winning Pure Mile of Killinure. It’s a lovely pretty stretch of road, well manicured by the residents and notable for a number of road side shrines and a defibrillator conveniently mounted on the road side!
Rath Gall Ring fort is an incredible heritage sight that is under promoted and in need of investment. It could be a great attraction. You would need Carlow Weather’s Drone though to capture it’s magnificence!
It’s a short hop to Clonmore, another hugely important monastic site from the 6th century. There are a large number of slab crosses, a damaged high cross, a bullaun and Clonmore Castle. All worth seeing and knowing more about.
Haroldstown Dolmen is in my opinion a much nicer example of a Dolmen than Browneshill Dolmen and indeed Robert Kee must have thought so too as it featured on the cover of his book of the BBC series a History of Ireland. Very like Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren. Just across the road at Tobinstown is Lisnavagh House, home of historian Turtle Bunbury. An historic house owned by the Bunbury’s since the 1700s. Worth a visit!
Onward to Rathvilly, three times winner of Ireland’s Tidiest Town Award and closely associated with Kevin Barry who was executed in Mountjoy in 1920. Of course the town is also associated with St Patrick and there is a famous well where he baptised a local king and his family.
The route now headed back towards Carlow, but only staying on the main road as far as the Bull Ring Cross as this road is quite windy and busy. Turn right at the Cross and head into County Kildare for a short while, passing beautiful Kinneagh Church before turning left in the direction of Knocknacree Cross where another left turn is taken to head in the direction of Ducketts Grove and back into Carlow Town passing the Browneshill Dolmen.
74 kms in total and 1227 metres of climbing. A challenging route that packs in a lot of Carlow history and unspoilt scenery!
Our roots are in our cultural heritage. We are fortunate in this country to have so many wonderful heritage sites in every county. Some are well known but there are a host of unmarked sites that are not promoted or signposted.
It’s so important that we protect these sites and monuments which are a direct link with our past. As this is heritage week it might be a good time to get out on your bike or walk to visit these connections with our distant and recent past.
I have included a lot of sited on my routes in my book ‘South Leinster Cycle Routes’ and they tell wonderful stories of this part of @ancienteastIRL
Here is a random collection of photographs of some of the sites encountered while cycling the 30 routes across Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford:
Aghowle Church and Cross
3.1 Moone high Cross Base
Ahenny High Cross
Fertagh Round Tower, County Kilkenny. The tallest of Ireland’s Round Towers at 30 metres high.
Rathanna is an ideal stopping off point for hikers and cyclists sampling the delights of Carlow. Osborne’s Storehouse hostel is well located at the heart of South Carlow.
For a small county we have quite a diverse mix of terrain and for day 3 of my cycle around the county that meant a stiff climb as I crossed over Mount Leinster at the Nine Stones.
A tail wind alleviated the physical challenge of the 5kms climb. Showers failed to dampen the spirit and massive cloud formations are very atmospheric in the mountains.
I love the view from Tomduff Cross back across to Rathanna and along the ridge of the Blackstairs towards St Mullins. The patchwork of fields, of forty shades of green, is one of the great sights in Carlow.
I met a Rangers man speeding down from the top on his racer, as I struggled upwards and was glad of the opportunity to stop and chat about times past!
With the wind blowing and low cloud the view at the Nine Stones out over Cúl na Sneachta was more like winter than August. I was glad to head down hill though though it was hard to steer the bike with a savage cross wind taking hold of the front wheel as I headed past the source of the River Burren. I took a right turn towards Bunclody and went off road at Kilbrannish, part of the South Leinster Way. I love to take the road less travelled whenever possible to avoid traffic. The path is stony but easy cycle over and it’s just under 5kms until it rejoins a small side road that takes you into Kildavin.
Clonegal is the next village, 4kms away. Often described as the Switzerland of Ireland! It’s a fascinating place to visit and stay, a real hidden gem. The village is always pristine and decked out in colourful floral displays. Lots to see there too such as Huntington Castle, The Weavers Cottages and there are many historical features signposted and worth exploring. The Wicklow Way (131 kms) officially ends here and the South Leinster Way (104 kms) begins. Both are long distance walking trails which joined together provide hikers with a path from Dublin all the way to Carrick On Suir.
Borris looked no worse for wear following the annual Fair.
The forecast was good, no showers expected but I brought a light rain jacket just in case.
The route today returned to the Barrow and continued into St Mullins. For some reason I was moving at snails pace; there was no rush and I enjoyed the views and the conversations along the way. Inevitably they all turned to the proposal! Again the consensus was to leave it as it is, indeed one elderly couple from Graigue had just been on the Waterford Greenway. I was surprised at that as the lady was using a crutch although she was mobile. She had a close call on the Greenway as bikes whizzed past. They could not see how it can work on such a narrow path.
Offers of tea came via twitter and text from two Carlow hurling heroes from rival clubs. I could take neither up on their offer as time was agin me and I was moving so slow if I stopped I might not get going again! Another time perhaps.
The forecast was wrong! I had to shelter twice under a canopy of trees on the Track and they kept me bone dry. But the Gods must have been displeased as I got a right soaking starting at Gowlin and continuing as far as Rathanna! It just meant the camera stayed under cover and the cycling continued.
I had stopped in St Mullins before that and wandered between the holy well and the graveyard; it is a really interesting place and well worth a visit. I was parched however but the shop was closed! That meant no water until I hit Borris at the end of the cycle!.
The road across to Glynn and onward to Ballymurphy is fabulous cycling surface devoid of traffic. There are great views of the Blackstairs too and reminders of the old railway line are still there making me wonder about the possible use of same for a Greenway! There is a lovely loop along a lane off this road to the right after Gowlin that returns you to Ballymurphy, bordered by stone walls, its a window on times past. But I was too wet today to divert!
Rathanna is a good 7kms from Ballymurphy and its a gradual climb out of the village until the left turn just before the Scullogue Gap. Rathanns has its own hostel, provided by Osbornes and a great facility for both hikers and cyclists.
It was time to head back to Borris via Rosdillig and for home. A good second day of cycling. 50 kms approx. Here is a link to the route: