Rothar Routes

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

Posts tagged ‘Carlow cycle routes’

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

Ducketts Grove Night Ride

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!

Turas Columbanus

Life is a real road,

broad for some,

and narrow for others

Columbanus of Carlow

These story boards of the early stages of Turas Columbanus, the latest addition to pilgrimage routes, give a great insight into the life of Columbanus and his journey from Myshall to Bangor and eventually to Bobbio in Italy. Hopefully they will be rolled out soon for the rest of the route to Bangor in County Down for the Irish sections of the route. The route moves to Europe where it crosses through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. I cycled a version of the Irish route last year and the map of my version of the route follows after the story boards. Credit to all involved in the research and production of the story boards that highlight the life of one of the great saints of Ireland.

Summer Cycling 3 – to Tomard & beyond!

The bicycle is a curious vehicle; the passenger is its engine

John Howard, US cyclist

Climbing any of the roads up towards Bilboa and Killeshin or the Ridge at Old Leighlin definitely reinforces that quote! There’s nothing quite like a good steep climb on a bike ride to reduce you to a quivering mess. Heart rate is through the roof, legs are full of lactic acid and you just feel …. great to be alive!

It’s nice to change things up and get up a few hundred metres to admire the views back across Carlow towards the Nurney Plateau, the Blackstairs and the Wicklow Mountains. Especially at harvest time, fields of golden brown mixed with forty shades of green stretch out before you like a painting. The views are stunning and make the bit of effort to climb the hill so worthwhile.

The Blackbog Road is a great road for getting out of Carlow Town; it’s so quiet, has a good surface and brings out to Milford in a flash. Instead of crossing over the skew bridge at Milford I turned left and carried the bile over the drawbridge across the canal, then took the local road out by Ballygowan to Tomard and continued up to Tomard Upper. These are just perfect roads for cycling, virtually traffic free and so peaceful.

This route is a nice weekend route; its 37kms with about 400 metres of uphill – and better still 400 metres of downhill!

Love these ‘dual carriageways!
Map of route

The descent from Rossmore down past the Reservoir and Killeshin Romanesque Doorway is just fantastic but caution is needed – this section fo road can be busy at times and you pick up serious speed so don’t be taking any risks! There’s a lovely walk around the Reservoir and the Romanesque Doorway is always worth a stop off.

Summer Cycling 2

Carlow – Leighlinbridge Loop

Hang this man!!

Sir Richard Butler

And we all think our bosses are the worst in the world! Poor Phil Kennedy worked as a farm steward for Sir Richard Butler of Garryhunden, the part of the county we visit on this route. He was a member of the United Irishmen during 1798. Sir Richard gave him a letter to deliver to authorities in Carlow. When it was opened, it read ‘hang this man’ and the poor man was executed.

I love these gems of local history that I pick up on cycling the backroads of Carlow and beyond. Well done to Carlow Tourism on erecting fantastic storyboards at heritage sites across the county. This one is at Clonmelsh graveyard, where many of the Butler family are buried. One of their ancestors went on to become a signatory of the American Constitution and the creator of the daft Electoral College systems used in American elections!

This is a lovely flat 30kms loop that takes the quiet Blackbog road out of Carlow Town and out to Milford. Just before Morrisseys Quarry, take a right onto a bóitrín which brings you down by the two graveyards. Continue on and you meet the back road to Bagenalstown. Stay on this road as far as the Harrow Cross and turn right for historic Leighlinbridge, one of the prettiest villages on the River Barrow. I love stopping here at the memorial garden where a lot of Carlovians are remembered. Among them the famous scientist and Alpine mountaineer, John Tyndall, Nurse Margaret Kehoe, Orchard, Leighlinbridge, who was shot on Easter Monday during the Easter Rising in 1916 as she carried out her duties. She must surely be related to Captain Myles Kehoe who fought and died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn with General Custer and the 7th Cavalry.

The Black Castle and the Valerian Bridge, Leighlinbridge. The first toll bridge in Ireland!

There’s lots more to see in the Memorial garden, well worth a stop and a nice place to snack. We took the Barrow Track back to Milford.

The grassy pathway is just perfect for cycling, provided Waterways Ireland remember to cut it…..

We crossed over The Barrow at Milford and returned home along the back road to Carlow Town an in along the Green Road.

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