Explore the grassy plains, beautiful waterside routes and heritage trails around the pretty town of Athy
The Barrow Way is the standout walking experience around the town of Athy. With beautiful grassy banks, perfectly spaced-out towns and villages, historic locks and interesting landmarks along the way, it wears its beauty well, particularly in summer when the lush landscape is robed in rich greens. But winter has its pleasures, too, as the cold weather strips the trees of their leaves and the river feels at its most exposed. Here, on quiet mornings there’s a real sense of peace, with barely a ripple to the water and mists that rise from the riverbanks in the pale winter light. Away from the water, the landscape around Kildare and Laois offers up endless surprises hidden within woodland, glistening pastures and silent wetlands. You can escape into beautiful forests, take enlightening nature-trails into remarkable bogland, and uncover some fascinating history on a heritage walk around Athy. It really is a walker’s wonderland.
reaches 114km in its entirety – a glorious curve and curl of river walk that
runs from Lowtown in County Kildare to the forested beauty of St Mullins in
County Carlow. And yes, it might be long, but you don’t have to be a committed
hiker to enjoy the Barrow Way. Around Athy, there are some beautiful sections
of river and canal intersected by locks that make for a natural start or
finishing point for a shorter stroll. For starters, check out the section that
runs from the River Barrow Car Park up to the abandoned but impressive Levitstown
Mill and lock – around 1hr 15 minutes round trip. Fancy a longer stretch?
Follow the Grand Canal south from Monasterevin to Vicarstown, a distance of
about 12km. It’s a pleasant walk along towpaths, some of which feel wilder and
more overgrown than others. Along the way, stop off at The Fisherman’s Thatched
Inn, about 400m from Fisherman’s Bridge. In Vicarstown, you’ll also find the Vicarstown
Inn just by the bridge, which makes a good spot for some post-walk pub grub.
Abbey Wood, Monasterevin
isn’t just modern-day walkers who are lured by the enigmatic beauty of Moore
Abbey Wood. Back in the 5th century, St Evin founded a monastery
here, followed by the Cistercians in the 12th century. In the early
summer, the woods are carpeted by a beautiful bloom of bluebells, but at any
time of the year, the short walks here are a delight with three looped trails
of 30 minutes, 40 minutes and 60 minutes in length. One
of the walks is named after English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was
enormously fond of Monasterevin and the rural idyll that surrounds it.
So much of Kildare’s past is bound up
in its forest and rivers, all of which seem to have their own story.
Mullaghreelan Wood is just one of those places. This picturesque old woodland
adjoins Kilkea Castle, which was the birthplace of Laurence O’Toole, archbishop
of Dublin in the 12th century. But long before that, settlers built
a hilltop rath in this spot, now a National Monument. You can follow the two
waymarked trails in the wood, or go off-road and explore a forested wonderland
of oak, ash, beech, pine and firs.
of Allen Walks
there possibly be a more fascinating landscape than the Bog of Allen? It’s hard
to imagine. The peat here took 10,000 years to form and although a whopping 90%
of it has been removed through mining, it’s STILL the largest peat bog on the
island. And what a place it is – packed with flora and fauna, full of
fascinating mythology and home to traces of antiquity that are kept preserved
within its bowels. To get a good overview of the bog, try the Lullymore
Biodiversity Trail, which weaves through floral-scented hedges, windswept open wetland,
butterfly havens and wildlife gardens.
for its racecourse and military history, the Curragh is a truly idyllic open
plain of around 5,000 acres in County Kildare. But while you might associate
this place with the sound of pounding hooves, it’s also a great place to
explore on two feet! With beautiful grassland, wandering sheep and grassy
plains that are steeped in myth and legend, it’s a lovely place for a relaxed
Grand Canal Way
Grand Canal Way runs to 117km and is a big undertaking with an average
completion time of about five days. It starts at Lucan in County Dublin and
finishes at Shannon Harbour, but it’s got some great sections that run through
Kildare, which make ideal walks. At Lowtown, a junction provides a link to the
Barrow Navigation along the Grand Canal’s Barrow Line. Here you can escape into
beautiful, level grassy walks, some on towpaths, alongside the water. A good
section runs from the picturesque hamlet of Vicarstown (where you can also hire
bikes) all the way to Athy. It’s a distance of about 10.5km and passes across
an aqueduct at Ballymanus Bridge, through forestry, and along hedgerows of
alder, willow and elder. The stretch of canal from Monasteravin to Vicarstown,
also part of the Barrow Way, is worth exploring, too.
by the Athy Heritage Centre, the Athy Medieval Walls Guided Walking Tours are
an ideal way to uncover the history of this small but fascinating canal-and
riverside town. An environment of beautiful lush green grass, dark-coloured
waters and wide, open skies surrounds the town, cradling the beautiful medieval
architecture within. On this tour, you’ll be brought back right to the
beginning of the town’s history and its origins as “the ford of Ae”, when it
was named after the son of a Munster king who was killed in battle in the 2nd
Pollardstown Fen Nature Reserve
rarity in Ireland, Pollardstown is an undisturbed fen ecosystem with unique and
endangered plant communities. Unusually, fens are alkaline peatlands that get
their nutrients from calcium-rich spring water; Pollardstown is the largest on
the island of Ireland and is a National Nature Reserve. The boardwalk route
here is short, it’s only about 1.2km and is perfect for nature enthusiasts. It’s
a tranquil, peaceful place and a good way to get an insight into a very unusual
habitat that hosts black bog rush and saw sedge, orchids, coots and skylarks,
the common frog and smooth newts.