Bike the Barrow! Whether a grassy towpath or a Blueway I highly recommend the Barrow Track as one of Ireland’s most amazing cycle routes! The poster says it all – the grass towpath is Paradise on a bike or on foot!
While looking for some other photos I came across this poster I made in 2013. Regardless of whether the Blueway proposal succeeds or fails I still recommend all to Bike the Barrow!
Barrow in Flood Close to the Sugar Factory, Carlow
The proposal to develop a 115km long cycle trail along the Barrow towpath is certainly generating plenty of healthy debate. Public information events have been held this week in towns along the Barrow. A balanced debate has been conducted on ‘Today with Sean O Rourke’ and we heard a balanced report on the RTE Nine O Clock News tonight.
I attended the Carlow Information event yesterday. It was well attended and it seems to have finally captured the public imagination. For a while I have been wondering if the general public was aware or interested in the proposal.
The Information event consisted of detailed plans, maps, drawings, videos and pop up banners. Waterways Ireland staff were on hand to answer queries, and one couldn’t but be impressed by it all. On the face of it, it looks like a massive win win for Carlow!
A 115kms off road cycle track along a beautiful river is certainly every cyclists dream and I am sure local tourism providers must be salivating at the prospect of 100,000 German cyclists advancing south from Kildare to St Mullins!
I haven’t met anyone who is against the promotion and development of the River Barrow and of tourism in Carlow. But there are real concerns about the nature of this project. (And the painting of objectors as a ‘rent a crowd’ or as serial objectors is a cheap shot and unfair to the individuals involved. The funny thing about the individuals against the project, is that they are probably the people who use it most, and know more about the river and the threat this development poses).
As a cyclist I have to be honest and say I have a slight conflict of interest – I am a big lover of off road cycling. And I have included this route in my book South Leinster Cycle routes which will be on sale in the next few months. But I am not in favour of the proposal for a number of reasons.
My thoughts on this project are that the idea is great and the motivations for the proposal are all very laudable. However I believe they are misplaced. I say that because I am more familiar with cycling on the Barrow Track than most – I cycle it most weeks of the year. I have cycled every inch of it and on a number of occasions I have cycled from Grand Canal Basin in Dublin, down the Grand Canal and the Barrow Line to Carlow.
Why am I opposed to it you might ask?
(1) For one, this river is notorious for flooding!
Barrow in Flood at Milford, County Carlow
Every year, without fail, the river bursts its banks. Sometimes it does it for weeks on end and flooding isn’t confined to the winter season. I have seen the path impassable in June. Obviously when it is flooded it cannot be used by anyone – unless they are in a boat!
But the big problem is that the floods damage the hard surface areas. Waterways Ireland have, by stealth, laid hardcore surfaces on long stretches of the river bank and every year this is damaged and washed away. The vast majority of the planned surface (84.8%) will be covered with an unbound surface type. I am not an engineer but I cannot see how this will not be badly damaged each winter and after heavy falls of rain. This will result in potholes.
Clashganney is beautiful even when flooded – but impassable!
(2) This is a living breathing ecosystem. It has been described as ‘the most beautiful riverside walk in these islands’ by environmentalist Dick Warner. And it is. A hard core path through the middle of it can only harm the balance of nature. The river bank is teeming with wildlife and plant life. I am no expert but while on my bike on the grassy path, I have encountered hares, otters, foxes, rabbits, swans, water hens, herons, kingfishers, egrets and buzzards not to mention the more common species we are all very familiar with. I fear the cycle path will have a negative impact on their habitat. They own it too!
Barrow in Flood at Mickey Webster’s Lock, Carlow
(3) This is a well established national long distance WALKING route! The route is shared with walkers, runners and fishermen. Throw in the targeted 100,000 German cyclists and we are likely to have mayhem! That 100,000 figure is not mine – it is in the planning application!.
It is widely recognised that there is a major problem in Ireland with access to land for walking. There are few rights of way and as a result many of our long distance walking routes actually end up being routed for long stretches along roads! Here we have 115kms of a grassy path and we are thinking of removing the sod and replacing it with a hard surface!!
This has potential to be dangerous for users. I am not scaremongering. But I have been on my bike while fishermen have been casting their rods and that has always presented danger for me as a cyclist. It would be some catch for a fisherman but not too nice for the biker!
There is also the danger of someone ending up in the river. And I speak from experience because, yeah I know it sounds stupid but I was that cyclist! I was deposited in the River close to the Sugar factory one December day some years when my front wheel hit one of the many ruts caused by heavy vehicle traffic that has rutted the track. Luckily I could swim and got out.
Barrow in Flood at Braganza, Carlow Town
(4) Maintenance. I was taken aback by the lack of information on proposed maintenance of the surface, once it is laid. There appears to be no plan. I commend the representative for being honest and telling me that they recognised the surface would be pot holed by rain and floods etc. but he didn’t realise the extent of the flooding that occurs or the amount of pot holing that is created by rainfall and temperatures alone. There is no detail about maintaining the surface in the plans. I was surprised to hear representatives not realising the extent of flooding that occurs and more surprised that they would ‘have to see’ what could be done.
But in truth knowing how the track is currently so poorly maintained I was not really that surprised. Heavy machinery is used to cut hedges, grass, transport stone and rock along the tow path. This has caused dangerous rutting and subsidence. It has resulted in extensive areas of grass being removed and replaced with a pot holed hardcore surface. When I attended an information event in the Lord Bagnel, maybe two years ago, the engineer told me that this was the only way the work could be done because of budget restraints. That’s understandable but obviously not really acceptable. The conundrum now is that the track will still have to be maintained and if it is necessary to use this type of equipment, surely the new surface will also be torn up and damaged while trying to maintain it! Cyclists currently using the track face an annual problem with punctures when hedges are cut as there is no tidy up done. Thorns are worse than glass for punctures and if you puncture on the path it can be a long walk to civilisation!
This is the major issue that prevents me from supporting this project. Millions will be spent on developing, what all the promoters would genuinely hope to be, a major tourist attraction. i can tell you, that once the surface becomes pot holed and if the potholes are not repaired within a reasonable time, cyclists will give this a wide berth and the damage will be irreversible. We will have no cyclists and no grassy towpath.
I have outlined in earlier posts my own ideas about alternatives and I won’t go into them again now but I will finish by saying this is a very important planning application that requires extreme caution. I am all for development but it must be sustainable and I suggest Waterways Ireland be required to provide full detail about future maintenance plans and budgets before this can be agreed to.
Comparisons with the Mayo Greenway and Waterford Greenway are futile as they are not comparable routes. these are laid along the path of old railway lines and not along an established walking route and a towpath used daily by many fishermen.
Waterford Greenway Tunnel – a different type of route. Magnificent cycle route.
The target of attracting 100,000 German cyclists seems overly ambitious to me! Assuming that they would come in June, July and August, they would have to literally be bumper to bumper on the towpath all summer long and I haven’t yet seen all the camp sites, bed and breakfasts and hotels to cater for such numbers. I hope I am proved wrong on that!
To finish on a positive note, the plan definitely excites, and recognises the untapped potential of the Barrow. It needs serious revision and due consideration by our planners and all the partners involved. The success of the Waterford Greenway shows there is interest in off road routes; but we need to ensure that the Barrow Blueway is fully thought through. I can see no reason why the grassy towpath couldn’t be properly maintained as a natural surface with quality development close to the towns and villages.Thousands of cyclists cycle the Camino in Spain across farm land without any difficulty and the best stretches are the unbound surfaces there too!
Olivia O Leary mentioned recently that this could be more appropriately developed as a pilgrim route and I fully agree with her. The potential is enormous. Think about it. We have St Miullins in deepest south Carlow, we have St Fiacre, Duiske Abbey In Graiguenamanagh and Ullard; St Laserian in Old Leighlin and the great St Columbanus from nearby Myshall. There is serious potential to develop an eco friendly pilgrimage route incorporating the lives of some of Ireland’s most important saints. It could rival the Camino and truly attract 100,000 Germans, French and Italians in time!
According to the Kilkenny People website, an engineer’s report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, raises serious questions about the suitability of the controversial Waterways Ireland “Blueway” plan to replace the grassy towpath along the River Barrow with a hard-surface cycling trail.
In a recent posting here I commented on the issues that he has raised that make the route unsuitable. His opinions will not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the route but it is surprising that these concerns have not carried sufficient weight with project promoters, resulting in the project becoming controversial.
It’s fair to say that most people opposed to the proposal are not guilty of ‘nimbyism’ but are doing so through conviction that the proposal is indeed flawed and from a love of the beauty of the Barrow Track. I am sure that the vast majority would support a different proposal that respects this unique riverside habitat and maintains as much grass surface as possible.
Local knowledge should always inform these proposals; the engineer’s report refers to maintenance issues for a hard surface – and that is even without taking into account flood damage that will occur!
I would support the upgrading of the Barrow Track and the benefits it could bring to tourism in the area and for the health benefits attached to outdoor pursuits – walking, cycling, swimming and running on a well maintained grass surface with quality quayside developments in the towns and villages along the route. Carlow County Council got so much right in Carlow Town with the beautiful promenade and park which have truly enhanced the river in Carlow Town. An extension of this development a little further towards the town boundaries and in other towns and villages – Athy, Milford, Bagenalstown, Goresbridge, Graiguenamanagh and St Mullins would give us an international quality riverside development.
As a regular user I have to continue to point out that the maintenance of the towpath is not acceptable and has caused serious damage on long stretches. This has to be addressed. Waterways Ireland need a larger budget if they are to fulfil their obligations to the towpath.
Again I ask – is it not possible to develop the derelict rail line from Bagenalstown to Glynn just as the Déise Greenway has used the old rail line in Waterford? Surely a good solution? There would be no issue with a hard core surface and in fact it could develop into a rally good Loop cycle by using the grass bank from Bagenalstown to St Mullins to give it another dimension!
There has been a lot of focus on the plan to develop the Blueway along the Barrow Track. And a lot of controversy.
Many make the comparisons with the Déise Greenway in Waterford and the Great Western greenway in Mayo.
I thought I would take a spin down and cycle the Déise Greenway when the calendar allowed.
First impressions are that they have done a fantastic job on the route. Waterford County Coucnil obtained a licence from CIE at the turn of the century to develop the line as an amenity. They have completed the section from Dungarvan to Kilmacthomas and are working on the Kilmac to Waterford City section at present. I have to say it’s a great amenity for local and visitors alike. I have cycled on Greenways in Europe on old railway lines but found them a little boring as they were straight as an arrow and flat too. This line offers a lot more with great scenic views of the Comeraghs, Dungarvan Bay and Helvick Head. Other highlights are the Durrow Tunnel which has been tastily lit and is very atmospheric and the Ballyvoille Viaduct.
I started in Kilmacthomas and headed west for Dungarvan returning to Kilmacthomas. It’s a very easy pleasant cycle, ideal for families. There are bike hire facilities along the Greenway.
The surface is a mixture of tarmac and a cinder surface and on this occasion I was fortunate to use a carbon fibre Teschner racing bike, courtesy of Shane Foley – what a machine! I think my full water bottle weighed more than the bike!
For a Monday in January the Greenway was quite busy with cyclists and walkers and I got speaking to a number of them. All of them love using the Greenway but with one complaint – it has become a victim of its own success! Weekends are very busy times and there is little enjoyment on it as a result!
I would highly recommend the Greenway for anyone looking for a nice route easy route in beautiful countryside. It’s 24kms in length at present but will extend to 48kms when the final section is complete.
The thinking is that the Déise Greenway can join up with the Barrow Blueway to form a pretty impressive off road cycle route across the south east. It sounds amazing and would certainly be a boost for tourism in County Carlow. Would it work?
Having cycled both the Barrow Track and now the Greenway there are a number of differences between both routes.
For a start the Greenway will never flood whereas the Barrow floods on multiple occasions every year. The surface would be damaged and possibly washed away.The Greenway is attracting serious traffic on the weekends – the Barrow track could not cater for big numbers and for other users at the same time. I can imagine arguments between fishermen and cyclists – fishermen need the space for their rods and equipment; a bike track will reduce the area available to them. The Greenway runs along a rail line of no important ecological significance whereas the Barrow is Carlow’s most important wildlife habitat. this is a very serious difference between the routes. I don’t see how a hard surface can be considered in such a sensitive area nor how the Barrow track can retain its existing use and also cater for an influx of cycling enthusiasts.
A few other things struck me while cycling on the Greenway today; in places the route is lined with furze bushes and brambles. I could clearly see the thorn branches on the track after the hedges had been cut. Presumably this results is punctures! Maybe it isn’t the issue I think it is but I imagine in Autumn every year that there will be a problem with thorns puncturing tyres. I did notice that close to Dungarvan a sweeping truck was employed cleaning the path but I don’t think it does the entire route. This is a terrible problem on the Barrow Track because Waterways Ireland leaves the track in a terrible condition after hedge cutting – using machinery that is too heavy and never cleaning the surface after cutting. Farmers on roads always tidy up after the annual cut and the same should apply on the track. The route is very well laid out with protective gates at road junctions that are wide enough apart to allow cyclists continue without dismounting yet preventing motorised vehicles entering. A smart gate system also operates to allow farmers access their lands on both sides of the path.
The Déise Greenway is a great success and I think all options must be explored to see how the Blueway can be sensitively developed without harming the environment. Another thought struck me while cycling along this disused railway line. Running parallel to the Barrow is the disused Bagenalstown to Wexford railway line. If the Déise Greenway could be developed under licence from CIE could the Carlow line not also be developed in similar fashion? I assume the Waterford line fell into the same disrepair as the Carlow line so it should be possible to develop it instead of the Barrow as our off road cycle route!