Riverbanks fringed with swaying reeds, an abundance of wildlife from moorhens to otters, and a landscape cloaked in a rich palette of green, makes walking along the River Barrow the ultimate in escapism…
Whether you fancy ambling around the historic treasures of Carlow town, or you want to immerse yourself in wild beauty along the towpaths of the River Barrow, this part of the island is an ideal place to enjoy on foot. Walking here never feels like too much of an effort, thanks to the gentle flat riverbanks and quiet trails but if you feel like something more strenuous, there are plenty of hikes, too. Our advice? Leave the car behind, pack a picnic and embark on a section of the Barrow Way, which weaves past pretty lockkeeper's cottages, gently flowing waters and gushing weirs. It's the perfect antidote to the fast-paced whirr of modern life.
The Barrow Way
Starting at Robertstown in County Kildare and ending in St Mullins in County Carlow, the Barrow Way was once one of Ireland's best-kept secrets. And while it may not be quite the undiscovered gem it once was, this wonderful walking route still maintains a degree of off-the-beaten-track charm. The flat terrain delights and surprises with pastoral farmland, lovely lock houses, bridges, old mills and plenty of wildlife. Stretching 114km in its entirety, one of the most scenic stretches is from Graiguenamanagh to St Mullins (around 6km). For a longer hike, try the delightful Carlow to Bagenalstown section (16km), which winds past historic buildings, tumbledown castles and beautiful woodland.
Clashganny Forest Looped Walk
It starts with one of the most beautiful views in County Carlow – a picturesque painting of green fields, winding river, glassy canal and a lovely lock house. This is the Clashganny Forest Looped Walk (6km), which weaves through old forest and along the towpath and takes about two hours to complete. A good alternative if you're tight on time is the equally scenic Clashganny Lock Loop (3.5km).
Borris Viaduct Walk
Overlooked by the brooding Blackstairs Mountains, the Borris Viaduct is a glorious reminder of the once-great railway line that tracked through this part of the island. The 16-arch viaduct reaches across the valley and the Mountain River, and has been marked for regeneration and restoration. The best way to enjoy it is on the Borris Viaduct Walk (3.5km), which offers some great picnic spots and views along the way.
South Leinster Way: Borris to Graiguenamanagh
A longer walk to get the blood pumping, this trail heads out of Borris and follows part of the South Leinster Way along the towpath downstream with the River Barrow. It's a hugely enjoyable walk, passing Clashganny, the castle ruins of Clohastia and scenic locks, taking you through wooded valleys and finishing up at Graiguenamanagh. It's about 13km in one direction, so if you don't feel like walking back again, arrange in advance for a local taxi service to bring you back to Borris.
Leighlinbridge Self-Guided Historic Town Walk
The pretty village of Leighlinbridge has charm aplenty, particularly around the 14th century stone bridge that arches over the Barrow. This self-guided walk is ideal for exploring its winding streets, old malt houses and ruined castle. Filled with interesting little facts – did you know Walt Disney visited here in 1932 while searching for his ancestors or that the bridge here is one of the oldest functioning bridges in Europe? – the walk is short but rewarding. Finish up with a coffee and cake in the lovely Lord Bagenal Inn, with its impressive art collection and attractive riverside location.
Oak Park Forest Park
Perfect for families, the Oak Park Forest Park just outside Carlow town is a delightful forest that keeps things interesting with mixed-species woodland, ferns, walkways and lakes filled with swans and ducks. There are four short walks from the Butlers Wood Loop (700m) to the Sally Island Trail (1700m) and all trails within the park are wheelchair accessible.
Carlow Garden Trail
If you fancy mixing a bit of walking with a bit of driving, then the Carlow Garden Trail is ideal. Featuring 22 gardens in total (with some in Kildare and Wicklow) the trail is a delightful medley of small gardens, award-winning garden centres and forest parks, and is well worth dipping in and out of. From the stunning Altamont with its wonderful riverside walks and enchanting atmosphere to the woodlands around Borris House and the pleasure grounds of Duckett's Grove, there's plenty here to keep you busy.