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Walking is the new Cycling … for the moment!

Someone once said “I do the same things I did when I was 12 years old: I ride bikes, I read books, I walk in the woods. And I listen to music”.

For the past 11 weeks and for the foreseeable future I won’t be riding bikes but I will be doing everything else and I can add going to the training field!

A walk on The Wicklow Way..


John Muir, father of the American National Parks, talked of ‘washing the spirit’ and whether it be on two wheels or two feet there’s a great sense of freedom to be out in untamed nature, to be on your own with your thoughts or none at all..some like to golf but I prefer to seek out new places to visit, new hills to climb and that elation of reaching a peak or covering a distance…

Along the boardwalk..
Climbing back out of Glenamalure
Looking across towards Ballinacor Estate and Mullach
Giant Timber Stacks
Beautiful undergrowth in the forest
Looking down towards Drumgoff
Finally it was time to hang up the boots..

These Hills were made for Walking

I broke my arm eight weeks ago, smashed it in a fall from the bike, entirely my own fault. Having cycled over 7,000 kms in 2021 I had targeted getting beyond that this year. From cycling every night to having my arm in a sling was a real downer. With a 6 – 8 month rehab ahead I won’t see much of the bike in 2022 but rather than sit and mope I’m using it as an opportunity!

I hate walking on the flat – but I love hill walking, which while it is physically more demanding is infinitely more interesting and there’s a great sense of achievement in completing any of the many scenic loops or a hiking routes that are on our doorstep.

Knockroe Cross

I’m always surprised at the tendency of people to flock to the same beauty spots on weekends, especially when the sun shines as it did today. The crowds detract from the tranquility of walking in nature and with a little bit of imagination its easy find places that are quiet and every bit as attractive as the usual locations that we tend to be drawn to.

For me Shannons Lane is the nicest walk in the Blackstairs, it’s a defined path, rocky and grassy in places and its surrounded by stunning scenery. It gives a completely different view of the Blackstairs which I tend to view as linear and narrow but the range is in fact quite quite broad and has many wide open vistas of counties Carlow and Wexford. On a good day it’s possible to see the Saltee Islands.

Mount Leinster

There’s some good work going on in south Carlow to promote the area and it’s nice to see these strong markers for Knockroe to show the way.

I’m no expert on the routes in the Blackstairs but I do know there are many starting points and places of interest that are not that well promoted so far, except among the hill walking community.

The walk top Shannon’s Lane passes a number of ruins of old houses located high up on the hillside. Not an easy place to make a living but after eviction during famine times families moved up here and sowed potatoes high up on the hill side.

Cottage ruins

A little bit higher up on the hillside a path has been marked as far as a big rock, known as the ‘Giant’s table’ from which there are great views across to the summit of Mount Leinster.

The Giant’s Table

A coupe of other really pleasant walks were Coolmeala, between Bunclody and Carnew and Grange in Tipperary – with an amazing viewing point on top of an old Tower.

2021 – a great year for the bike!

What a year of joy, cycling north, south, east and west of this beautiful island!

Approaching the finish of Malin to Mizen

I’ve said it before but we have an unbelievable network of local roads suitable for riding bikes, whether it be an hour loop or a long distance tour. The beauty of the local roads is that it takes you into the heart of rural Ireland, into small villages and off the beaten track. Virtually traffic free the roads are super safe. As rural Ireland declines, eco tourism offers a mountain of possibilities and the growth of hiking trails and bike routes will aid in the promotion of local areas and perhaps keeping them populated with increased economic activity associated with sustainable tourism. With Covid concerns in 2021, we really enjoyed avoiding the ‘tourist hotspots’ over the year and travelling the road less travelled; people have more time to be friendly and it has a more authentic feel to it.

The Blackstairs Mountains, County Carlow

There’s massive potential for off road touring too if routes can be accessed and developed. Any route development needs to be minimal; in most cases all that is needed is some annual maintenance and good signposting.

Ballycarney, Co Wexford
Sunset Dungarvan Harbour

It’s taken me a while to come to the realisation that a Greenway is definitely not designed as a cycle route. At this stage I’ve now cycled on all the Greenways across the country:

  • Great Western Greenway, Mayo, 42kms
  • Waterford Greenway, 46kms
  • Old Rail Trail, Westmeath, 42kms
  • Royal Canal Greenway, Longford to Dublin, 130kms
  • Suir Blueway, Tipperary, 21kms

My experience on the Greenways is that the routes are used more by walkers than cyclists and by families with young children. Consequently most of the activity is typically in the 5 kms close to the hub points, with the mid sections very quiet. As most of them follow the path of old railway tracks they tend to be very straight and boring after a few kilometres. While there is stunning scenery on the Western Greenway and the Waterford Greenway, most of the routes are enclosed by the old banks that bordered the railway line or hedging. I find them a bit soulless and sterile and much prefer the local roads that twist and turn offer up interesting heritage sites and beautiful views. The Greenways are great additions to an area but for cycle touring I would tend to probably avoid them unless they linked specific places I needed to get to.

Gougane Barra, West Cork
Free Derry Corner, The Bogside, Derry en route from Malin Head to Mizen Head

The majority of our cycling is of course locally and we have got into the habit of cycling all year round. Night cycles on cold winter nights are exhilarating and we have so familiar with our favourite routes close to Carlow Town that the bikes almost steer themselves!

Night cycle on the River Barrow
Heat Map of our cycle routes

We covered a lot of ground in 2021, most of it local but looking at the heat map, we are only scratching the surface of places to see and visit in the years ahead!. Roll on 2022.

How now brown cow?
Training run before Malin to Mizen
Barley Cove, West Cork

The Greenway for south Carlow?

When all the controversy over the proposed Blueway, which was refused by An Bord Pleanála, was in full flow, many of us expressed legitimate concerns about the conversion of the national way marked hiking route, that is the Barrow Way into a hard surface. The Barrow Way is the Irish Trail with the least amount of road walking, as confirmed by the great walking couple, Ellie and Carl who run a fantastic YouTube channel dedicated to trail walking in Ireland.

This Irish Times report may be a game changer for the Carlow route and would give us the best of both worlds – our own greenway through the nicest part of Carlow and retains our walking route along the narrow green corridor of the Barrow Valley, thus protecting its biodiversity, its grass surface, its multi purpose use and its status as an area of special conservation.

Sunday Miscellany

There’s nothing I enjoy more than leaving early on a Sunday morning and heading cross country for a football match in the afternoon. Today it was for the battle of the wee counties, the 2nd smallest, Carlow v the smallest, Louth as I travelled to support Rathvilly taking on Naomh Máirtin in the Leinster Club SFC first round. Unfortunately the game came too soon for Rathvilly, who had only won the Carlow Championship last Sunday and then suffered the invisible arrows of misfortune, inflicted on some of their players by Covid.

I often recall a story my father told me many years ago about the great Grange Gael, Kevin McNally. Kevin had developed a tradition of travelling to the Connacht Football Final with his sheepdog and climbing Croagh Patrick in the morning before heading into Castlebar for the Final and then driving home. One man and his faithful dog.

Now that I’ve a bit more spare time I’ve resumed my own practice of the past and like to take off early, listening to Radio One as I head to a venue in any of the provinces. Leaving early allows me to ramble a bit and take in a sight or two that talks to us today of our ancient past. North Leinster hasn’t featured on my cycle journeys so far but I’m looking forward to fixing that in the coming years and the Táin Trail beckons at some stage.

The West Cross at Monasterboice with the Round Tower behind.

Didn’t realise until I arrived in Monasterboice that this was the home of the Naomh MartĂ­n Club! It’s just off the motorway and if you find yourself heading north it’s well worth a visit. There are two of the finest examples of High Crosses in the country here. These crosses were the Facebook of their time! The carvings are still superb despite their age – these crosses are from the 10th Century and the iconography depicts various scenes from the Bible and were story books of the people. The West Cross is the tallest High Cross in Ireland.

Muiredach’s Cross

This is one of the great treasures of Europe and as you can see the scenes are almost as clear today as when they were carved. There’s a storyboard nearby that explains the various scenes. You can only look in awe at the craftsmanship and imagine a scene where monks explained the Gospels to the gathered believers.

Close by is another very important Christian ruin, Mellifont Abbey which I visited on the way home.

Mellifont Abbey

This was the first Cistercian Abbey in Ireland and was built by St Malachy of Armagh in the 12th Century. He had visited Clairvaux in France while on his way to Rome and asked Bernard to teach some of his followers the Cistercian monastic way of life. He returned to Ireland with his followers and with some French monks and built the Abbey which became the ‘motherhouse’ of the Cistercians in Ireland. It thrived until Henry VII suppressed the monasteries in 1539.

Surviving section of the Lavabo.
Impressive ruins of Mellifont.

Many is the time I’ve driven through Slane but never seemed to have the time to stop off and visit the famed Hill of Slane. Today was a perfect day to rectify that. The air was crisp, the sky was blue and it was lovely to make the short walk up to the top of the Hill, one of Ireland’s most mystical places, stretching back in the mists of time to the ancient Firbolgs but now forever associated with Saint Patrick. This is where he lit the Paschal fire bringing Christianity to Ireland defying the pagan King, Laoghaire on the nearby Hill of Tara.

Hill of Slane

Long before Patrick arrives on the Hill, the Fir Blog King, Sláine, was buried here underneath the mound which sits on the very pinnacle of the hill. There is a great sense of mysticism attached to the Boyne Valley and there are so many great sites to visit with Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth and Loughcrew all nearby. It feels like the centre point of our national identity.

Hill of Slane

The sun was setting at this stage and time for exploring over for today. Certainly made for an enjoyable day, even if the match did not go to plan!

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