The Barrow Way out of Monasterevin skirts the edge of the mighty Bog of Allen which covers an area of almost 1,000 square kilometres, taking in parts of Kildare, Laois, Offaly, Meath and Westmeath.
Peat production is coming to a complete halt across Ireland as Bord na Móna reinvents itself. A number of raised bogs have been successfully restored (such as Clara Bog, Abbeyleix Bog, Pollardstown Fen) and have become important areas of biodiversity, attracting a lot of support from the public and have become tourist attractions in their own right. Not something that would typically come to mind as such – we tend to think about mountain scenery, lakes and rivers, valleys and rich farmland first but there is a wildness and earthiness to the bog landscape with its different palate of colours browns, tar black waters, copper, golden browns, purple heathers, white bog cotton, green mosses and lichens.
Its strangely remote along this section of the route as the Canal crosses over the sparsely populated bog lands of Kildare. I loved it. The weather was good and importantly I had a tail wind!
Leaving Monasterevin I took the left hand bank for the first three kms before crossing over at McCartney Bridge (1784) to the opposite bank. There was heavy covering of grass which slowed progress, but I was in no hurry along this isolated towpath and I was enjoying the peacefulness of it all.
There are a few mile markers still to be spotted along the way, but the names are feint at this stage but Monasterevin can be made out with a bit of effort.
Its quite open ground for the 10kms to Rathangan but there is a welcome break from the wind at a wooded section just over halfway.
It isn’t too long before Spencer Bridge comes into view on the approach to the town. Spencer Bridge is named after a local landowner James Spencer who was killed by pikemen in the Battle of Rathangan in 1798. He was reputedly a distant ancestor of Lady Diana.
The Canal provides a really pleasant entry to Rathangan with a lovely linear park alongside.
There are plenty of places for refreshments in the town before getting stuck into the next 15kms.
The surface is quite good most of the way to Roberstown and it is very similar to the first part of the route; open skies, remote and very quiet.
Ballyteigue Castle comes into view in another 10kms. It’s a very pretty part of the Canal here with the 20th and 21st Locks very close together and the surrounding area well maintained. The Castle is a typical fortifies Irish Lords House from the 16th century and Lord Thomas Fitzgerald or as he was better known, Silken Thomas, took refuge here after the Battle of Allen in 1535. He earned the nickname, Silken Thomas, because of his richness in clothes and the silken banners carried by his standard bearers. He had been tricked into believing his father had been beheaded in the Tower of London and on hearing it rebelled against King Henry VII. No sooner had he rebelled when word came that it was untrue, but the die was cast, and he was executed alongside his five uncles at Tyburn.
The next bridge is called Skew Bridge, for it is skewed and the Barrow splits in two here into the New Barrow Line and the Old Barrow Line.
I followed the Old Barrow Line passing the Milltown Feeder along the way. The Feeder is the main source of water for the Grand Canal and this line goes as far as Pollardstown Fen, now an area of special conservation. It is recognised as an internationally important fen ecosystem with many unique plants and a great bird sanctuary. It is fed by several springs in the area. I visited it on another cycle and it is well worth a visit at another time.
The Barrow Line meets the Grand Canal at Lowtown just outside the pretty village of Roberstown.
Today’s route was only 25 kms but it was hard enough work as the grass bank was quite high and I was glad to call it a day!
2016 was a strange year. A lot of depressing news from all over the World and it leaves us wondering what 2017 is going to bring!
But 2016 presented me with a great opportunity – writing the Cycling South Leinster Guide for Collins Press. 30 graded routes that show off many of the hidden gems of the region. I’ve always had it in my mind to take on a project like this and it was a real joy to head out exploring the back roads that provide some of the finest cycling terrain in the country.
Here is a random, sometimes quirky, selection of 30 photos each representing one of the routes. Enjoy and feel free to comment on any of them. If you would like more information please get in touch!
The Blackstairs Loop.
Wild horses emerging from the mist on the slopes of Mount Leinster. The Blackstairs Mountains from the border between Counties Carlow and Wexford.
Duncannon – Hook Head
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Duncannon, County Wexford is unique in that it takes place on the beach. FAI supremo John Delaney and Emma English led the parade down the village and onto beach every year. A beautiful day for a parade!
Arthur’s Way and beyond!
Oughterard Cemetery sits high above the Grand Canal near Ardclough, County Kildare. It’s a stunning setting where Arthur Guinness is its most famous resident!
Daniel O Connell famously shot and killed John D’Esterre in a duel fought over the treatment of the poor of Dublin in the field alongside, an act he later deeply regretted
Follow me back to Carlow
The River Barrow Track is one of the finest off-road cycle routes in the country. Currently there are plans to develop a Blueway that many fear may impact on the natural beauty of the route.
The Slieve Blooms
The Slieve Blooms are situated along the Laois – Offaly border and provide some of the finest cycling routes in the land.
It was a foggy morning cycling through ‘The Cut’, above Clonaslee.
Ollie Walsh Way
A rare sign on Irish roads, spotted in south Kilkenny!
As this route starts at the statue to Ollie Walsh in Thomastown, I thought it would be nice to name it in honour of the great Kilkenny goalkeeper.
I was reminded of cycling in Galicia while cycling in County Kilkenny by the number of large guard dogs / sheep dogs in farm yards across the county. It was unique to Kilkenny but I should say that none of them were loose or posed any threat to passing cyclists! Kilkenny surprised in other ways too – it was very hilly and possesses many unheralded heritage sites worth exploring.
The Three Sisters
Grannagh Castle is situated on the border of Kilkenny and Waterford on the outskirts of Waterford City. This was a delightful route incorporating the Thatched Villages of South Kilkenny and views of the Barrow, The Nore and the Suir.
North Kilkenny Cycle route
A punt for your thoughts!
This marked cycle route across north Kilkenny was well signposted and easy navigate. Like south Kilkenny, it has its fair share of hills!
Inistioge is one of Ireland’s prettiest villages and is a very popular destination for visitors. Terrific cycling along the side of the Nore and up into the surrounding hills.
Lots of interesting heritage sites on the route.
Bagenalstown – Drumphea – Altamont Loop
Ballyloughan Castle, County Carlow is a little gem off the beaten track that warrants a stopping off on this route. One of the best examples of a twin towered gate house in the country.
Paulstown – Castlecomer – Kilkenny City – Bennetsbridge
Kilkenny Castle is the most popular tourist attraction in the region and the grounds are magnificent. This was a really interesting mixed route which includes a visit to Dunmore Cave and the craft hub that is Bennetsbridge.
Dunbrody Abbey, County Wexford
Starting at the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, the route winds its way down to Ballyhack where we took the only ferry crossing in the south-east to Passage East followed by a short cycle to the Confluence of the Waters – the meeting point to the Barrow, Nore and Suir. On the way back we took in the road to the top of Slieve Coilltia.
Kilcullen to Blessington Lakes
Love this view back down to Blessington Lakes. This was taken from a side road above Lacken village. A wonderful add-on to this route.
In the Glen of Imaal, County Wicklow
Starting in Rathvilly, the route winds its way across north County Carlow and into the Glen of Imaal County Wicklow.
The river Slaney rises in the Glen of Imaal and travels round through Rathvilly. Rathvilly is closely associated with Kevin Barry while the Glen of Imaal is forever associated with the 1798 rebels, Michael Dwyer and Sam McAllister. Hence the Rebel River title!
On the Trail of the Saints
St Mullins Monastic Site, County Carlow.
The route begins in this historic and beautiful village deep in south Carlow and takes in Inistioge, Graiguenamangh and Borris.
An interesting route that takes in the two Canals – The Royal Canal and the Grand Canal, easy cycling!
Abbeyleix – Wolfhill Route
Cycling down from Wolfhill towards Ballyroan, County Laois
This was a lovely route with some nice climbing and some stunning scenery. Maaslough at Ballinakill is a sight in the Autumn when all the leaves are changing colours.
Ballitore to Glen of Imaal
Lugnaquilla from the Glen of Imaal, County Wicklow
From the Quaker village of Ballitore to the Glen of Imaal is a really pleasant route with great views and some gentle climbs.
Carlow Town Circuit
Just outside Carlow Town are the ancestral graves of Walt Disney’s family. A great circuit with a nice climb to the top of Rossmore.
Great cycling country on well surfaced back roads in the heart of County Laois.
The Bog of Allen Route
Alpacas near Clogherinka, County Kildare
A surprising sight near the Bog of Allen – Alpacas from South America! The Bog of Allen is a very ecologically important area – bogs are natural stores of greenhouse gases and carbon, store water, help to control flooding, provide a refuge for plants and animals and provide spectacular places for recreation.
Johnstown Castle – Kilmore Quay
Money doesn’t grown on tree but it seems everything else does!
The silver tree is a wonderful example of public art on the N30.
Taking a break from the warm sun at Ballintemple, near Ardattin, County Carlow.
Just finished this Loop out of Durrow returning by the River Arkina, a tributary of the Nore.
Nice spot for refreshments.
Bilboa and Back!
Cross on the Rag Tree at St. Molaise’s Well, Old Leighlin, County Carlow
Rag Trees are located at pilgrimage site around the country. People leave a piece of cloth, or an offering on the prayer tree. Very poignant and personal.
Goresbridge to Bennetsbridge
This was a favourite of mine, taking in a great climb above Skeaghvosteen and a visit to the Round Tower at Tullaherin.
The Hidden Sky Road
Near Tomduff, Seskin. This road along the north side of Sliabhbán has incredible views – seldom seen by anyone other than locals. Check it out!
This is a great short spin in the evening time, starting and finishing in Borris.
Moone High Cross Base
Many of us have driven up past Moone on the way to Dublin without ever seeing the incredible High Cross just outside the Village, Well worth visiting. This is one of the best examples of a decorated High Cross in the country. The engravings bring to life the stories from the Bible and are incredible works of art. Castledermot too has a number of really important crosses and sites to explore of a summer evening.
The Curragh Loop
The Round Tower in Kildare Town.
One of the shortest routes in this guide but certainly a unique Irish landscape worth an in-depth visit.
The road skirts the boundary of the famed open plain – often called Saint Brigid’s Pastures.
The flat pasture of nearly five thousand acres still retains the right of commonage for grazing sheep which supposedly originated with Brigid.
Around it’s edges are some important attractions deserving of a visit.
The Rock of Dunamaise at evening time.
Another short-circuit which can be easily completed on a summer’s evening.
The views around the Windy Gap and the Rock of Dunamaise are breathtaking and never fail to excite at any time of the year.
These are a random sample of images from the 30 routes. The book will be published by Collins Press early in the new year. Book launch date to be confirmed but I will keep you posted!
Happy New Year too all and hope to see many more people out cycling on our beautiful country roads!