A Sunday morning cycle on the Barrow Way alway throws up something new and interesting!
This morning was just my third cycle since January 29th and was 20kms out and back to Maganey. Sunday morning is always a nice time to be on the River and I like nothing better than to keep a sharp eye out for what Mother Nature has in store.
Today it was Mink near Maganey Lock, the elusive black coated mammal loves to frolic along the river bank but is too fast to get the camera out!
On the way back into Carlow Town I came across a Dragon Boat Race. What a spectacle!
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.
The thrill of riding in the dark is something I’ve come to savour these past couple of winters!
First thoughts about it were that it would be dangerous and boring, with nothing to see in the pitch black of night. How wrong could I be! Nothing compares to being out on a quiet country road or along the Barrow Track on a cold crisp black night, with stars twinkling overhead or occasionally with the Space Station making its way across the skies. Or a clear moonlit night making it easy to pick out familiar landmarks that aren’t so familiar looking in the half light. Especially trees, which take on a whole new shape and appearance. Throw in a few gusts of wind and it can be damn scary!
It’s only possible of course if you have good lights on your bike, front and rear and you pick your route carefully. With 1800 lumens in my front light I can safely get a good 90 minutes of a ride in. Tonight took me out to other worldly Ducketts Grove – is there a more iconic building for the Halloween season?
Another favourite is the along the River Barrow towpath between St Mullins and Clashganny which I did last year, starting out in daylight on the outward journey and coming back by the light of the bike. It can be tricky on the Barrow in winter as the track softens and becomes slippy so you need to be extra vigilant.
And it shortens the winter; being able to keep up the evening cycles is just magic and helps keep a level of fitness up for the following season!
“A Zen teacher saw five of his students returning from the market, riding their bicycles. When they arrived at the monastery and had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”
The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my back!” The teacher praised the first student. “You are a smart boy! When you grow old, you will not walk hunched over like I do.”
The second student replied, “I love to watch the trees and fields pass by as I roll down the path!” The teacher commended the second student, “Your eyes are open, and you see the world.”
The third student replied, “When I ride my bicycle, I am content to chant nam myoho renge kyo.” The teacher gave his praise to the third student, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly trued wheel.”
The fourth student replied, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings.” The teacher was pleased and said to the fourth student, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”
The fifth student replied, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.” The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth student and said, “I am your student.”’
I can so relate to this when I go on a long cycle, as I did on Saturday, when I took to my bike cycling to Wexford Town from Carlow. Believe it or not I was going to a 70th birthday party (she looks 30 and I put it down to all the hill walking she does and of course her doting husband!). Every journey brings so many benefits; I love to look over the hedgerows, up onto the hills, down at the fast flowing Slaney and marvel at the beauty of it all. Something that cannot be truly appreciated from inside a tin box travelling at 100kms per hour. And getting lost in the art of cycling. The simple act of cycling for cycling sake.
The network of local roads is so expansive, it’s possible to go anywhere on your bike and feel perfectly safe. Saturday’s route took me out via Kellistown, a tough little hill with the old church ruin commanding great views of the surrounding countryside.
From Kellistown its cross country towards Aghade. Fr. Murphy, of Old Kilcormac, made his last journey across these roads and the route is commemorated with signposting. The events of 1798 resulted in a lot of death and destruction in the south east principally in Wexford and Carlow and as I was heading for Wexford it was nice to cross the path.
And the Yeos at Tullow took Father Murphy
and burned his body upon a rack
Boolavogue by Patrick Jospeh McCall
I had a route on mind to head via Ardattin to Clonegal but when I met a fine gaggle of geese at Aghade, forcing me to ask the question…. ‘goosey goosey gander, where shall I wander?‘ Interestingly one theory about the origins of this nursery rhyme is that it refers to Catholic persecution in England which forced parishioners to hide their priests, similar to here during the time of the penal laws and entirely apt when we talk about Fr, Murphy! So they stopped me in my tracks and I had a rethink, deciding to head over by Altamont Gardens and on to Kilbride Cross where a recent memorial caught my eye while driving but where it was too dangerous to stop.
On the last few occasions I drove past Kilbride Cross, I spotted a memorial to 9/11, it seemed to consist of a large poster with all the names of those killed in the Twin Towers and an American Flag alongside the Carlow and Dublin Flags and another which I couldn’t make out until today. The poster was gone unfortunately when I got to the Cross but it was nice to see plaques honouring Kevin Barry, the 1916 Rising and Michael Fay of Altamont who was killed in the Ballymurphy Massacre of 1921. The mysterious flag was a United States Marine Corps flag! Not sure why.
By changing direction and heading to Kilbride, it meant an unpleasant 800 metres on the busy main road. I was glad to turn left just before the White Mills pub and take a nice local road down to the River Slaney at Kilcarry Bridge, on of our favourite swimming spots when the lads were young.
It’s only a short few kilometres from here to one of the prettiest villages in Carlow, Clonegal. Full of history, Clonegal is worth a weekend ramble. The first sight you meet are the Weavers Cottages and on the opposite side of the road is a small garden featuring a number of interesting artefacts.
Continue down the street and look out for this fascinating gateway!
This stone is in the Arched entrance to the yard beside what once was the Church of Ireland Presbytery and earlier the home of the Captain of the Yeomen In 1798 this was the home of Captain De Renzy and the stone marked an execution site. The hangman who carried out the executions was Bob Young. Chilling reminder of the persecution our ancestors suffered…. and of course close by is Huntington Castle, well worth a couple fo hours to explore both the castle and gardens. It has a fascinating history but today I was just passing by.
The Derry River flows through Clonegal and forms the county boundary with Wexford and divides the village of Clonegal in two. The part of the village in Wexford is known as The Watch House. The name comes from the fact that when the 1798 Rising commenced a hut was built at the Water House cross which was manned by Yeomen or soldiers day and night. A person bringing an animal to the fair of Carnew had to get a permit at the Watch House cross, and if he failed to sell he had to get another permit from the Yeomen in Carnew to bring the animal home.
I turned right in the Watch House and pointed the front wheel in the direction of Kildavin, all the while admiring the views of the specimen trees across the river on the grounds of the Castle. In no time I was at the Geata na nDeor.
The back roads in Carlow are superb; all of them are well surfaced but that does not seem to be the case in Wexford and the further I travelled the worse the surfaces became. Thankfully my Giant Tough Road is made for just about every surface; I wouldn’t dream of taking a road bike on these roads. Its a lovely scenic route through the Slaney Valley and that more than makes up for the bumpy ride. I was able to avoid Bunclody and instead take a quiet road through Clohamon all the way to Enniscorthy. The great thing about the back roads is there is always something to stop and stare at.
I took a long way round to get into Enniscorthy to avoid the main road and truth be told I was just barely hanging in at this point. So I was glad to finally make it to the Bus Stop on Abbey Quay. Sitting outside having a reviving snack and was glad to meet with Wexford goalie Conor Swaine and have a chin wag about our clashes in recent years! The route continued to provide reminders of 1798 as I head up towards Vinegar Hill and cross country towards Oilgate. I was surprised when I came across this as I didn’t know such a facility existed!
Unfortunately the road was blocked just here and I had no option but to retrace my steps down the hill and head out onto the busy main road. Time was pushing on and I had to up the effort to make the party in time! I was to finally catch sight of Ferrycarrig and head into Wexford Town. The sun finally broke through as it had been promising all day!
Wexford Town is always a great spot to visit and I enjoyed cycling down along the Quayside.
It was a long 87 kms but full of interesting sights and with plenty of stops for photos it was a great Saturday spin; in between stops, I did as the fifth Zen student did; I rode my bike to ride my bike.
Whether we like it or not Covid restrictions are with us in the medium term and we need to adapt or we will all crack up! With the long summer evenings now is the best time of the year to really get to know your own locality.
I’m going to post up some my favourite local routes using Carlow Town as the starting and end point for my evening routes. The routes will follow the local road network and mostly avoid regional and main roads.
We had a terrific easy 24kms cycle this evening on traffic free roads all within 5kms of Carlow Town Centre!
I’m a firm believer that the local road network is not promoted enough for safe cycling; there should be some investment in good signage and in identifying loops that can be connected up to provide an extensive safe network of dedicated shared cycle routes – it could be done at a fraction of the cost of developing greenways!