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!
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.
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.
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.
We crossed over The Barrow at Milford and returned home along the back road to Carlow Town an in along the Green Road.
With county wide travel allowed in recent weeks, it was nice to be able to visit beautiful South Carlow and enjoy cycling routes along the Barrow and under the Blackstairs.
I noticed a revival of an old tradition with the decoration of the May Bush. It seems to have been revived in County Wexford in recent times and is now catching on in the south of the County. Below are a few of the examples I came across in the past few days.
As with much of our traditions, it appears to have its origins in Pagan rituals as much as Christian traditions and some suggest they are to provide sacred protection against the fairies who are very active around May Day! Another theory associated it with the start of summer and in more recent times are linked to honour the Virgin Mary.
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 particularly like the section of the Barrow Way from the Lower Ballyellin Cut to Ballytiglea Bridge. This section has a really good level grass surface, although I notice Waterways ireland ‘maintenance works’ have begun to provide a ‘washerboard’ effect on what was a pristine surface for walking and cycling…. The river meanders through fertile farm land and some lovely wooded sections.
There are a number of weirs and there are lots of herons and cormorants nesting in this area and there is a great isolated perch mid river on a huge granite boulder.
Its a great place to do a 10km walk, starting in Goresbridge as far as Ballytiglea bridge and back along a very quiet section of the river.