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!