Rothar Routes

Cycle routes & pilgrim journeys in Ireland and Europe …..

I went down to the River

I went down to the river.
When I want to escape from the hum drum of living I take to the bike and head to the Barrow.
One of the few off road trails in the country, it exists along the narrow corridor of the Barrow between Athy and St. Mullins. A mini wilderness. An oasis of peace and calm, of beauty and wonder, A wildlife refuge. A haven for lovers of quiet and nature. The Irish landscape has been mostly tamed. Cultivated. Farmed. Ordered. There is no wilderness, you are never more than a couple of kilometres from ‘civilisation’.
As a result of former colonial rule, a tentacle of tarmac spreads itself across almost every square kilometre of the surface of Ireland. We have one of the best networks of local roads in Europe. In the counties of Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Kildare, Wicklow and Wexford there are 14,000 kms of local roads! 14,000 kms.
The Barrow is the antidote to all of that civilisation.

Yesterday, the brother wanted to celebrate his 60th year by running and cycling 60kms alongside Ireland’s second longest river. Family and friends joined in too to celebrate a landmark birthday in a unique way. To celebrate living.

My role was to park the van in St Mullins and cycle north to Clashganny, meet the gang and cycle back to St Mullins and transport bikes home. It’s a path I know well. Every protruding root and every bend in the river are familiar sights to me at this stage. Yet every time I cycle the Track I see new things and come away feeling blessed. Content. Pleased with myself and proud of the little known beauty of my county.

Yesterday was a particularly busy day along the river. I met big groups of hikers. I met cyclists, canoeists and fishermen. As I wasn’t cycling very far and was in no rush, I decided to hold an impromptu survey with many that I met. And it was very interesting. The Barrow is a long distance walking trail that attracts many hikers to the banks of the Barrow. Experienced walkers. I asked at least 30 people a simple question. Which did they prefer – the grassy surface or a hard surface. All bar two opted for grass. Not only did they opt for it but they were animated about it too. I was surprised at the reaction. Some of the comments were very interesting; two female walkers were sitting having a cuppa tea and a sandwich on the lock gates at Carriglead. They had walked the Waterford Greenway last week and were very uncomfortable doing so as there were so many bikes speeding along. They felt that the Track in so much narrower and so close to water that a hard surface cycle track would be a serious danger for users. It would need be to be 2 metres wider to be used as a safe shared path. Some were annoyed at the characterisation of those who oppose a hard surface as being selfish and unreasonable. All were happy for the trail to be developed but in an environmentally sound manner.

I certainly share those sentiments as you will have gathered from my posts but I have long realised the economic spin off that a property developed Barrow can generate for the local economy. And that should not be dismissed too easily. Many are looking to the success of the Waterford and Western Greenways as models that can apply here. The success of the Greenways has been staggering and its understandable that people will look and say ‘lets develop one here’.
But that is like comparing apples and oranges.
Local knowledge and experience tells us that any hard surface will not last past the first of the annual floods that occur on the Barrow. This is one of the key differences between the aforementioned Greenways and the proposed Blueway. That issue has never been answered satisfactorily – what will happen to the surface after flooding, how will the potholes be repaired and maintained?
The argument in favour of development is purely economic; if we develop and it fails we will be left with an environmental and economic disaster – a potholed surface unsuitable for walking or cycling! The development must be realistic and it must protect the environment. There can be no risks taken.
There are alternatives. If the Western Greenway, the Waterford Greenway and the Westmeath Greenway can all be developed on old disused railway lines wouldn’t it be marvellous if such a disused line existed nearby? Well what do you know, but there is one that runs from Bagenalstown, through Borris, over the viaduct and down to St Mullins, running parallel to the Barrow and the Blackstairs. A stunning route! If it can be done elsewhere it can be done here. And would receive great support. Here are some photos that show the true beauty of the Barrow. Feel free to share!

Pave it or Save it?

Grassy Knoll!

Barrow in Flood

Go with the Flow!

Heron Landing

Rathellin Lock

Barrow Cyclists


Carlow Rowing Clu custodians of the river in Carlow Town

Barrow Cycle – what’s the problem with what we have?

Barrow Promenade


Near Ballytiglea

10 Responses to “I went down to the River”

    • Turlough

      Thanks Very much!
      Really enjoyed your article on the Mass Rock. There are so many unmarked heritage sites dotted around the country that provide important links with our past.
      We need to protect and promote them!

  1. Pete MacGowan

    Hi Turlough,

    thanks for such an interesting article, and your photos are wonderful.

    Your vox pop raises some interesting questions about the River Barrow Blueway.

    You compare the Blueway to the the Greenways which follow old railway lines. However have you tried the River Suir Blueway? I think a number of your questions, and the concerns of the River Barrow Blueway users, would be answered if you checked it out. There’s a great opportunity for those who are interested in the development of the River Barrow Blueway to come down to check out the River Suir Blueway.

    Eventually the River Suir Blueway will run all the way from Carrick to Clonmel and then to Cahir. The blueway is not completed yet but the path between Carrick on Suir and Kilsheelan is tarmaced now. I’m not sure how much progress has been made from Kilsheelan to Clonmel, or to Cahir yet.

    It’s not a wide path, only about 2 metres, but for the most part this isn’t a problem for walkers and cyclists. Admittedly I only cycle there when it’s relatively quiet, but I find that once you’re a couple of kms out of town it’s very quiet, and when you do meet people everyone is friendly and courteous. The first stretch heading out of Carrick is a narrow concrete path which has been in use by walkers for years, but is too narrow to accommodate walkers and cyclists really. I’m not sure if it will be upgraded to tarmac eventually. However, once again, everyone is friendly and courteous. Although I have to say that when I’m walking it is noticeable just how many cyclists fail to use bells or warn pedestrians properly that they are coming up behind you.

    That said, when I’m cycling I prefer to join the Blueway just outside town where there’s a small parking area and where the tarmac begins and continues all the way to Kilsheelan. When you reach the bridge at Kilsheelan the tarmac disappears an there is a grassy path for about a kilometre before the tarmac begins again. I’m not sure how far this tarmac extends now as I’ve only walked this section for about 2 kms.

    I mention all of this because of your pop vox on the Barrow grass vs tarmac debate. There’s a few points I would make from my experience of cycling and walking the River Suir Blueway.

    I find I don’t cycle so quickly on the River Suir Blueway as I do on the Waterford Greenway. I think this is due to both the narrowness and the twisty nature of the path, and the wish not to fall into the river! Generally speaking I average about 24 km/h on the Greenway, but only about 16 km/h on the Blueway.

    When the Blueway first opened I have to say that I was very sceptical about cyclists and walkers sharing such a narrow path. Again I would say that everyone you meet on the Blueway is friendly and courteous, so I have not encountered any issues between walkers and cyclists sharing the path. Although I have noticed when I’m walking just how many cyclists fail to use bells or warn pedestrians properly that they are coming up behind you. Cyclists are generally better at this on the Waterford Greenway which I think is probably due to the fact there there is a well advertised Greenway code.

    So I think it’s fair to say that yes, a wider path might seem safer, but in reality the narrow path isn’t a problem and most likely slows cyclists down a little bit, thus making it safe. But I also think it is imperative however that there is a proper, well publicised Blueway Code.

    You raise the question of maintenance of the the tarmac, especially with regard to flooding. The River Suir floods regularly enough along the stretch from Carrick to Kilsheelan, and this is exacerbated by the fact that it is a tidal river, but I have not seen any major issues due to the flooding. There are some very short sections of the River Suir Blueway which have been reconstructed, but it looks like this has more to do with poor construction than anything else, and these sections now look well constructed.

    The one issue that was noticed recently is that once it floods, the water sometimes doesn’t drain away very well from some sections near Carrick. I believe this is, again, a result of poor construction and is fixed relatively easily. Some would argue, and they’d be right to some extent, that this would not be so much of an issue if the path was grass rather than tarmac. Again, I believe it’s all down to the quality of the construction of the path.

    Regarding the maintenance of the path, I think the repairs that I’ve already mentioned were done pretty quickly. Secondly, I think a tarmac path takes fewer maintenance man hours than a grassy path which needs constant attention. Thirdly, if the path is well enough constructed, then potholes etc shouldn’t be an problem.

    I walked the grassy section from Kilsheelan towards Clonmel the other day, a couple of days after some flooding. The ground was still very muddy and rutted, and despite the fact that I was wearing hiking boots, I found myself slipping around quite a bit. Once I reached the tarmac section again, I obviously had not problem, and I didn’t notice any damage to the path caused by the flooding.

    You say in your article that ‘local knowledge and experience tells us that any hard surface will not last past the first of the annual floods that occur on the Barrow’. I’m happy to tell you that the River Suir Blueway has not developed potholes nor has it fallen into the river despite annual floods and tides.

    I think that the grassy section is beautiful, but having walked and cycled all of the Blueway from Carrick to Kilsheelan, I’m not so sure that a narrow tarmac path will make it any less beautiful. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

    Another point raised in your vox pop, and one which I’ve seen regularly discussed in the Kilkenny People, on social media, and amongst friends who regularly enjoy the Barrow, is that of the effect of a tarmac path on nature and the environment. I can’t be sure of the full effect of the tarmac on nature, but I thinks it’s true to say that a tarmac path would affect the habits of some wildlife. However, if you develop a path for economic and tourism reasons, and you encourage many more people to use that path, then those people will have a much deeper and wider impact on wildlife than the tarmac. If you end up with the same numbers of people that the Waterford Greenway attracts, then…well…just be careful what you wish for.

    The River Suir Blueway may not yet be complete, but I would recommend it to anyone. It’s a beautiful walk or cycle, and local people who use it regularly speak highly of it. Personally I prefer it to the Waterford Greenway which I find has lots of long, straight stretches and wider views. I find the riverside walks to be much more interesting than the railway line walks because you feel somehow closer and more connected to nature, there’s twists and turns and something new around each corner, whereas the greenways are great for wider views of the countryside.

    I would especially recommend the River Suir Blueway to anyone who has an interest in the future development of the River Barrow Blueway. Maybe their concerns will be allayed, maybe not, either way it’s worth the trip.

    Here’s a small taster of the River Suir Blueway: .
    I should point out that this video only shows the concrete section of the blueway near Carrick!

    • Turlough

      Thanks for your detailed comments Pete which are very interesting and certainly need to be made known. It is very interesting to hear that the Suir Blueway is successful and if that success was replicated on the Barrow it certainly would be a massive asset for Carlow and users of the river.
      However to the best of my knowledge it is a hardcore / grit surface that is proposed for the Barrow. The experience here to date has been that these surfaces become badly potholed and unusable. There are stretches where a hardcore is already laid and its fair to say that it isn’t successful.
      It would be wonderful to think that a suitable surface could be installed.
      I’m not familiar with the Suir route or the history of it; the Barrow is a long established long distance national walking route and the consensus of walkers would be to retain a grass surface for walking.
      I will have to get down and try out the Suir Blueway; pity I didn’t know about it sooner as I have been to the Greenway three times and like you found it a little boring in places although the section from Kilmac to Dungarvan is very scenic.

      • Pete MacGowan

        The River Suir Blueway is based on the old towpath from Carrick to Clonmel, parts of which were in use by walkers, particularly around Carrick and Kilsheelan. Much of it was overgrown, so it’s great to see it opening up properly with a commitment from the council to keep it maintained.

        I didn’t realise the Barrow Way is using hardcore/grit. I’ve just watched your video and it looks dreadful, not good for any blueway users whether they are walkers, cyclists or wildlife. If that’s the final surface, then it looks like the Barrow Way will be less accessible rather than more accessible. It looks especially bad for wheelchair users.

        If the Barrow Way is to have a grit surface then it will be very different to the River Suir Blueway so perhaps my comments are moot.

        That said, I still recommend a spin or a walk on the River Suir Blueway to anyone.

      • Pete MacGowan

        I’m not sure but I’ve not seen anything about any involvement by Waterways Ireland or Blueways Ireland nor do they mention the project on their websites.

        I think the project was originally called a greenway but they decided to also develop facilities for canoeing and kayaking with new slipways and a slalom course in Clonmel so they changed it to a blueway. The river is shallow in places and is tidal so the only boats you can use realistically are kayaks, canoes and cots. (The video I shot was partly from a Canadian freighter canoe which can reach further up River than a cot because it remains balanced even with an outboard engine).

        I just watched your pothole video and was impressed by the stability you achieved. I tried using an old go pro last year but the footage from my bike was awful, probably because it had no vibration reduction and I’d mounted it on my handlebars. May I ask what camera you’re using? It looks like you have a helmet mount?

      • Turlough

        I have a Go Pro 5 and was using a handlebar mounted Karma Grip Gimbal. Is working a treat. Easy mount using a Go Pro mount.

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