Embark on a journey into the heart of Ireland along a majestic waterway that’s full of surprises…
Along the banks of the River Barrow, everything is still. Trees barely rustle, water ebbs downstream with hardly a ripple, grassy reeds stand calm. All around, the landscape is radiant with rich green tones – a gentle wilderness that’s utterly captivating.
Stretching 192 kilometres and cut through with short sections of what are known as “lateral canals”, the River Barrow is one of the most scenic stretches of waterway in Ireland. It’s a place of placid beauty and abundant wildlife, charming lockkeeper’s cottages and pretty riverside villages, rushing weirs and fast-flowing rapids. The river is fully navigable from Athy in County Kildare to St Mullins in County Carlow, and up to the 1950s it was an important waterway for commercial traffic. Kayaking down these waters, it’s hard to imagine the hustle and bustle of the Barrow’s industrial past, when tug boats and barges worked the river. Today, it’s a paradise for nature-lovers, with its furtive otters and technicolour kingfishers, gangly herons and fluffy-tailed hares.
Experiencing the landscape is easy here… A towpath flanks the river from Roberstown to St Mullins delivering soft, flat walking terrain that runs past farmland and forest. Running to around 113km in total, the Barrow Way offers several stages to choose from, each with its own unique charm, but one of the prettiest is the section from the town of Graiguenamanagh to the village of St Mullins (6km). Dominated by a huge old mill and sitting on a bend on the river where trees soar and soft mists drift above the water, St Mullins is an intriguing spot with an ecclesiastical history that reaches back to the 7th century. It’s one of the Barrow’s most scenic gems, but this is a river that seems to serve up historic towns and villages at every turn. There’s Leighlinbridge, with its tumbledown castle and nine-arched bridge, said to be one of the oldest in Europe; there’s Bagenalstown, a place once intended to be as grand as Versailles; and there’s the heritage hub of Borris with its majestic estate, old stone buildings and traditional shop fronts.
But nowhere does the past rub up against the present quite so dramatically as in Carlow town. Here, chic art galleries, trendy tapas restaurants, buzzing music bars and cool little cafés mix with a 13th century castle, 18th century college and 19th century cathedral. Layered with centuries of history, from the Neolithic period to the Normans and beyond, the town is the perfect destination for exploring the very best the Barrow Navigation has to offer.