Get stuck into the very best that the Barrow has to offer, from delightful towns and villages to adventures on the water.
Carlow town is your kick-off point for exploring the beauty of the County Carlow and Kilkenny countryside, and there’s no better place to start. First off, take some time to get to know this lively waterside town with a visit to the Carlow County Museum, where you’ll find a host of intriguing artefacts that illuminate the county’s vast history. Grab a coffee in the lovely hotspot of Lennons @ VISUAL before walking along Athy Road to the Delta Sensory Gardens. Here, 16 interconnecting gardens will thrill with bursts of colour and creativity, as well as soothing features such as the Kugal – a one tonne piece of pink marble that floats on water. Drop into the café here for a tasty lunch of locally-sourced produce before heading out of town towards one of Carlow’s most famous prehistoric sites, the Brownshill Portal Tomb. This truly awesome granite capstone is thought to be the heaviest in Europe and is estimated to be up to 5,500 years old. Surrounded by the soft green meadows of the Carlow countryside, it truly is a sight to behold.
Next, drive through the idyllic country lanes edged with beautiful hedgerows and filled with dappled sunlight, and you’ll soon arrive at Duckett’s Grove. Rising out of the tawny-coloured landscape, this once great 19th century house is now a ruin, but is no less impressive for it. Romantic and mysterious, the surviving ruins of the turrets are truly captivating and the walled gardens, which have been restored by Carlow County Council, are a lovely place to wander. Afterwards, head back to Carlow and make your way to one of the town’s most popular places to eat, Tapas de Mimosa, where you can feast on creative takes on Spanish tapas in the garden in summer, or in the cosy restaurant in winter.
The Barrow is calling, so it’s time to get out on the water. One of the best ways to do it is a river adventure with Go with the Flow Adventures, which lets you explore the beauty of the river with a guided trip on kayaks and Canadian canoes. The departure spots are just outside the town of Borris, so if time allows book in for a tour of Borris House before you start. Built in 1731 by Morgan Kavanagh, the house boasts a fascinating history and enjoys breathtaking views of Mount Leinster, the Blackstairs and the Barrow Valley.
After working up an appetite on the water, drop into the Step House Hotel for a casual lunch in the bar, or head to the gorgeous old-school grocery pub of O’Shea’s for some well-earned toasties. It’s about a 25-minute drive from Borris to Altamont Gardens, one of Carlow’s real jewels, but getting here is pure joy along rural country roads that seem almost impossibly picturesque. Once at the gardens, give yourself enough time to enjoy the walking trails that weave through an Ice Age Glen and alongside streams, as well as the slightly longer riverside walk. The wild Robinsonian style of informal planting here really does give the gardens a very special feel, while in more formal areas roses and herbaceous plants scent the air. Head back to Carlow for a refined dinner at Le Fermier Restaurant.
The beautiful town of Leighlinbridge is only a short hop from Carlow town and is widely considered a key beauty spot along the Barrow. The gracefully arched bridge – one of the oldest in Europe – leads to what is known as the Black Castle, one of the oldest Norman castles in Ireland. Take the self-guided Historic Town Walk to explore the town’s history to the full, or amble north or south along sections of the Barrow Way, which runs through the town.
Heading further south, you’ll reach the town of Graignamanagh in County Kilkenny. Set at a scenic point along the river, the town is home to Duiske Abbey, originally a Cistercian monastery and now a Catholic church. Just a three-minute walk from here, you’ll find the Cushendale Woollen Mills, one of the island’s few remaining authentic woollen mills. The Pomegranate Café makes a good spot for lunch of soup, salad and sandwiches, and will set you up nicely for the afternoon’s leisurely bike ride from Graignamanagh to St Mullin’s (bikes are available for rent at the Waterside Guesthouse). The flat route tracks along the Barrow towpath to St Mullins – an exceptionally scenic spot surrounded by nature and set at a super-pretty bend in the river. Here, relax with a coffee and cake and Mullichain Café, wander around the ecclesiastical ruins of churches and round tower, or just sit by the river and take in the breathtaking views.
Finish up the day with dinner in the elegant surrounds of Barrow’s Keep located right by the start of the towpath. With a farm-to-table ethos, the restaurant is the perfect place to sample the very best of the area’s excellent produce. And a perfect place to finish up your trip.