The strangest of years in living memory saw us rediscover our own country in 2020. Fear, worry, stress, anxiety were all our bedfellows as we wondered where the invisible enemy would strike next. Travel was restricted, social contacts likewise and to get away from it all we sought out the quiet places.
We escaped into nature. It’s amazing how much the most popular trails have deteriorated during lockdown as people took to the outdoors for exercise, fresh air and their sanity. Luckily we have lots of green spaces on this beautiful island of ours.
As soon as lockdown was lifted I found myself heading away almost every evening to somewhere new.
I’ve covered over 1500 kilometres since March on my bike. All of it on quiet country roads or off road along the Barrow Way, the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal and a myriad of cycle trails. Counties cycled in this year were Carlow, Laois, Kildare, Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford, Meath, Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Tipperary, Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down, 18 counties in total! All beautiful and all equipped with that network of rural roads that are safe and a joy to cycle on. I’ve donned hiking boots to visit Máméan in Connemara, the Devils Bit, Slievenamon, the Blackstairs, Ballycumber and Askamore to name but a few.
I’ve made a short video above of some of the sights we saw in our travels. Many thanks for following my blog during 2020 and I hope it brought you some enjoyment.
On a day when thousands are marching in London for the right to kill their Grannies, it was a tonic to get out on the bike today and take in the wonder of Autumn. People find the Covid guidelines stressful and restrictive, especially the 5k limit. But if you think of it differently it can actually help you to enjoy your local area so much more. When we were in school (many years ago..) we learned that the circumference of a circle is measured as π (3.14) multiplied by two times the radius. And so instead of the limit being 5km it is more like 31kms!!
Today we cycled 40kms – all inside the 5k limit, and it was magnificent. At a time of pandemic there is a real threat to our mental well being and we can be stressed out by worry, fear, restrictions and lack of contact with others. Its important we look after ourselves and the good news is there are simple measures we can take to not only cope with Covid but to thrive in a time of Covid.
Gretchen Reynolds had a great article in the Irish Times last week and it dealt with the benefits of walking compared to the benefits of walking with your eyes open to the wonders of nature and our heritage. Studies have been conducted on this which prove that ‘awe walks’ are really good for our mental health. Highly recommend you read this article!
So much to take in today! Our route took us out past the Browneshill Dolmen, which has the largest capstone of any megalithic tomb in Europe, Urglin Church, around by Oak Park, across to Graiguecullen and the Cruachán, over to Lanigans Lock on the River Barrow, back into Town, visiting Carlow Castle before heading out the Blackbog Road to Tinryland, Staplestown, Kernanstown, Bennekerry and home by the Browneshill Road. 40kms along mostly quiet local roads, virtually traffic free with lots to stop and photograph. The stops are as important to me as the cycle and there is so much to see, if we only open our eyes and take time to admire the beauty and remember our past!
After a good cycle I like nothing better than a hot bath and a good book! I avoid reading too much about Covid etc and prefer to read something positive, interesting, funny and hopefully that involves epic journeys by bike or any other means for that matter! I’d highly recommend Bill Bryson and the one I am reading at the moment is ‘Neither Here nor There’, an ode to an American Anglophile travelling in Europe. It’s hilarious!
Here’s a funny piece of him travelling in Paris with a friend of his…. you probably need to read the full chapter to really get it… but I was hugging laughing!! Laughter truly is the best medicine.
I’ve gone on a bit, but the gist of my post today is to recommend exploring your neighbourhood, 5k gives you much more latitude than you might think, keep your eyes open as you go on your walks or cycles. There’s a lot to be said for fresh air, exercise and stimulation, followed by a hot bath and a good book! I hope this might help anyone struggling with Covid worries at this time and If anyone wants to join myself and Mary at any stage, please get in touch!
Thanks to Pádraig Dooley of Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society for telling me about this fantastic Youtube clip of the now defunct railway line from Bagenalstown to Pallas East! Its a great piece of Carlow history.
The brouhaha has died down about the proposed development of the Barrow Blueway by Waterways Ireland since An Bórd Pleanála refused permission to change the use of the Barrow Track to a cycle route. But is that the end of it?
Surely fresh thinking is now required. Where do we go from here?
The concept itself had great merit; rural ireland is crying out for sustainable development and eco tourism offers some hope to isolated communities that are trying to stay alive and reinvent themselves in a country that is becoming as urbanised and centralised as most developed countries around the globe.
I don’t believe any of the people opposed to the development of the Blueway were anti development but they had the foresight to realise the plan was fatally flawed.
It didn’t mean that they were opposed to developing the national Greenway infrastructure in Carlow, rather that they wished for deeper consultation and the selection of the most appropriate route. The establishment of the Greenway network has been hailed as a major success, developing new places of interest for visitors and increasing employment in tourist related activities along the routes. What was overlooked when it came to developing a Carlow Greenway was the basis on which routes were selected in other counties. Disused railways featured heavily across the network.
Ironically we in Carlow have a disused railway running almost parallel to the River Barrow through some of our most beautiful scenic areas – and it would visit our villages of Drummond, St Mullins, Glynn, Borris and Bagenalstown along its 30kms of pristine natural beauty.
The difficulty of course is that the lands have gone into private ownership and accessing it presents a challenge. it’s no different to the challenge in Waterford and Mayo. With leadership, vision, consultation, dialogue and goodwill there is no obvious reason why we in County Carlow cannot achieve the same outcome.
It would be a major tourist infrastructure for the County and would need the support of statutory bodies to be developed. if we can dream it, we can make it happen. It’s about selling an idea, it’s about promoting our locality, its’ about developing an eco tourism product that will benefit all the stakeholders along the route and one that will not damage the natural environment as the proposed Blueway would have done.
Here is a link to what I have marked as the Bagenalstown to Pallas East Railway based on satellite imagery of South Carlow. Could the route become part of the national Greenway infrastructure?
One of the most beautiful off road cycle – hiking routes in Ireland!
Last night was just an amazing evening to spend a few hours on the Barrow Track. I’ve added the drone footage above and a few photos to this post I previously wrote some years ago about this stretch of the river.
Hanging Gardens Of Graiguenamanagh
Hanging Gardens Of Graiguenamanagh
River Barrow and Brandon Hill
Pave it or Save it?
It’s only 30 kms from Goresbridge to Graiguenamangh, return journey, along the banks of the Barrow but it takes a lot longer than expected as there is so much to see!
The river wanders between steep wooded hillsides of ancient oak, ash, scots pine and conifer on its path to the sea.
It seems to have its own micro climate. Lush and green.
And it’s only by walking it or cycling it that one can truly appreciate why there is such controversy about paving this most wonderful natural walkng / cycling route.
My favourite section to cycle, the grassy towpath is smooth underneath apart from the odd disturbance where the roots of trees protrude and progress would be swift if it were not for the constant stopping and starting to marvel at the stunning scenery or to ponder the many historical sites along the way. The hurlers of Mt Leinster Rangers favour this section too for their pre season fitness training!
There are 6 locks on this section of the river – Lower Ballyellin, Ballytiglea, Borris, Ballingrane, Clashganny and Ballykeenan. In times past the lock keepers lived alongside in the adjoining cottages; some are now used as pretty holiday homes. If there are locks there are weirs and the trip southwards is often accompanied to the sound of water cascading over them, the only sound to be heard.
The river is dotted with some massive rocks in this section which are more visible than usual thanks to the dry summer we have had. Elusive herons favour them as isolated perches to rest upon.
Ballytiglea Bridge has five arches and is the access point from Borris to the Track. It is one of the most used access points and you are almost certain to bump in to local fishermen, walkers or swimmers once you pass under the arch. Yesterday I met one lady, who I often meet, that favours a spot about 500 meters south of the bridge for a daily swim.
Borris house is close by but its view is obscured by the dense cover of oak and ash trees on the estate. The ancestral home of the McMurrough Kavanagh clan was established in Brehon times and is still occupied by the Kavanagh family. It is one of the few Irish estates that can trace its history back to the royal families of ancient Ireland. The house and Borris village are worthy of a visit in their own right.
A humped back bridge spans the Mountain River which borders the estate is one of my favourite stopping points; it’s a quiet spot and entertainment today was provided by playful otters and lightning fast kingfishers who are just a blur of blue as they fly past at incredible speed just above the water line.
The last day down here I took a photo or a boat wreck and jokingly referred to Jack Sparrow. Today I sheltered during a rain shower under a canopy of trees closer to Ballingrane Lock where an unfortunate sparrow must have mistaken the reflection in the water as being the sky and crashed in and shuddered to a halt. The poor thing flapped furiously but hadn’t the strength to emerge and quickly drowned and floated away.
Island at Ballykeenan Lock
For the second successive trip I came across people camping on the river bank, this time beside the ruin of the lock cottage. A lovely secluded place to pitch tent. The iconic photograph of the Barrow is taken from above Clashganny Lock and shows the lock, lock house and the weir from above the tree line of the steeply banked sides of the river. Its one of the few spots on any river where a lifeguard is employed doing the summer months such is its popularity with swimmers. It’s a great spot for canoeing too and Charlie Horan’ of Go With The Flow, has really helped promote use of the river and an appreciation of its history and beauty to holidaymakers and day trippers alike.
Have to say i was chuffed to pass two ladies and one of them to call after me ‘ are you the fella wrote the book?! I had to stop and chat and I was delighted with the reaction to ‘Cycling South Leinster, Great Road Routes’.
Shortly after Clash is the only double lock on the Barrow navigation, Ballykeenan. Behind the island at Ballykeenan Lock is a unique historical link with the rivers past. The monks of Duiske Abbey prized the salmon and eel fisheries of the Barrow and they created eel fisheries on the river in the 13th century. They are still visible 800 years later. Worth seeing!
Its a short spin down to Graigue from here and the surface is good and the scenery spectacular.
Eel Fishery Ballykeenan
Graigue is another great village along the river to visit and explore. But I had to retrace my way to Goresbridge and photograph a few more interesting places!
I love getting a Saturday afternoon to explore a bit of our historic and fascinating county. Today I went down South – again to the Rathanna, Ballymurphy area.
A phone call from Eamon Coleman a couple of months ago to tell me that he had cleared a path to the ancient rock art and holy water wells that are situated on his land had me planning to head down when football commitments allowed.
First port of call was Killoughternane
This single cell Church was built in the 5th Century by St Fortchern. There is a well across the road that has a really interesting history. It was forgotten about until 1880 when the land owner found a bottle with a message inside, written in a foreign language which when translated contained directions to the well! It must have attracted visitors from continental Europe at some point. This obviously created great excitement and the Well became a pilgrimage site with may cures attributed.
Subsequently a lady was cleaning out the well when she unearthed a mud encrusted item from the bottom of the well. It turned out to be a Chalice and Paten – probably hidden in penal times. The Chalice is now in St Andrews Church, Bagenalstown.
Headed over to Tinnecarrig Ballymurphy then to meet Eamon Coleman and view the rock art that is well hidden from view in an ancient overgrown graveyard on his land.
Its hard to make out the cups on this stone but if you look carefully you can see many deep cups peppered all over the surface. What did they signify? Who knows at this stage but its great see that rock art many thousands of years old is still present across the county.
Indeed you could say that this area is the Boyne Valley of the South as there are numerous examples close to the foothills of the Blackstairs!
One of the Holy Wells well hidden from view.
Holy wells or water fonts….
Time to head home but a short dash across to Rathgeran and Carlow’s finest example of rock art beckoned.
There are many more ancient heritage sites in this small area of the County – I often think we undersell what we have to offer…