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Great Walks at Athy

Great Walks

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.

The Barrow Way
It 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.

Moore Abbey Wood, Monasterevin
It 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.

Mullaghreelan Wood
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.

Bog of Allen Walks
Could 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.

The Curragh
Famed 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 stroll.

The Grand Canal Way
The 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.

Athy Heritage Walks
Run 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 century.

Pollardstown Fen Nature Reserve
A 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.

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