Barrow Way Graiguenamanagh

We’ve set ourselves a challenge for the summer.  This year the Halpin family are on a quest to discover the River Barrow.  The aim is to walk the entire 114 km length of the Barrow Way towpath in short stages and hopefully have a few adventures along the way.

The Idea

Over the past few years, I have walked several sections of the Barrow Way and always planned to try to walk the rest. This year with my son turning five, we’ve been walking longer distances as a family. Lately, he’s been talking about walking home from school. He was fascinated to hear that the same river that flows through Athy is the one that flows near to our house and so a plan was born. There are many descriptions of the route, but in most cases, it is broken into quite long sections of up to 19 km, suitable for adults or much older children.  Obviously, with a five year old, we’ll have to break it into smaller sections. Hopefully we’ll manage to do that and maybe provide some useful information on stopping and starting points and parking places along the way for other families planning on walking a section of the path.

Explaining the Lock

The River Barrow

The River Barrow rises in Glenbarrow in the Slieve Bloom mountains in County Laois and flows through counties Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford before entering the sea at Waterford harbour.  It is Ireland’s second longest river with a total length of 192km.  It is also the river that flows close to our house and so we would like to follow it both upstream and down and learn more about it.

The Barrow Way doesn’t follow the entire length of the River Barrow but rather follows the towpath along the Barrow navigation. Starting at Lowtown in Co. Kildare, the towpath follows the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal as far as Athy and then continues on to St Mullins following the direction of the River Barrow.  To allow for the river to be used for navigation purposes, a law was passed in 1537 that no weir could be built along the course of the river for milling or fishing purposes without adding a lateral canal with a lock to allow boats to pass, so the towpath occasionally leaves the river to follow these lateral canal sections and then rejoins them.

Upper Tinnahinch Lock

The First Step

We didn’t have the best of weather for our first outing.  Michael had a week off school after the May Bank Holiday and as we were both off on the Friday we planned to walk a section of the Barrow Way that day.  We decided on the last section of the towpath for our first outing, the 8 km (5 mile) stretch from Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny to St Mullins in County Carlow. Driving to St Mullins it looked like the occasional showers forecast for the day were turning into a full blown rainy day.  The plan was to leave one car in St Mullins, drive the other one back to Graiguenamanagh and start the walk from there, finishing in the Mullicháin Café.  With no let up in the rain all the way to St Mullins, we actually decided to go for tea first and decide then whether we were going to go ahead with the walk.  As we sat and looked out the window, the rain seemed to have eased slightly.  Michael was keen to go ahead so we decided to go for it.  In hindsight maybe that wasn’t the best decision we ever made, but we certainly learned a few new things about taking a small child for a walk in the rain.

Walking in the Rain with Kid

  • Tip No 1: Waterproof them well. We did well on this one as Michael has a good quality rainjacket and over trousers that kept him dry for the entire walk.
  • Tip No 2: Keep their feet dry. I thought Michael’s lace up hiking boots would be more comfortable for a longer walk than his wellies but it turned out that they weren’t quite waterproof enough.  It doesn’t matter how dry the rest of your body is, you’ll always feel miserable when your feet are wet.
  • Tip No 3: Don’t forget the spare socks. After we discovered that I hadn’t in fact put spare socks for Michael into my rucksack, his generous Daddy sacrificed his own socks and combined them with plastic bags in the boots to ensure dry feet for the rest of the walk.
  • Tip No 4: Stories make the journey shorter. When the weather is completely wet, you don’t want to stop too many times for wildlife spotting. When I was younger and hiking with the guides in all weathers, we always sang our way through but Michael wasn’t keen on singing.  Luckily Trevor was able to come up with a story that got us through the final 2 miles of the journey.
  • Tip No. 5: Chocolate makes the world go round. A cup of hot chocolate and a chocolate brownie in the Mullichain Café at the end helped to make it all better.  We weren’t quite forgiven for the walk in the rain but at least he wasn’t refusing to go walking again.

Chocolate Brownie Reward

Our Walk

Parking was no problem for this part of the walk.  Having left one car on the Quay in St Mullins, we parked the other on the quay in Graiguenamanagh and crossed over the bridge to Tinnanhinch to begin our walk.  The River Barrow at this point forms the county boundary between Carlow and Kilkenny and we were walking on the Carlow side. Not long past the upper Tinnahinch Lock, we came upon the statue of a cistercian monk guarding the bank of a river, one of a number of similar statues that were commissioned to commemorate the town’s monastic origins.

Cistercian Monk Graiguenamanagh

Despite the rain there was a steady chorus of birdsong accompanying us all along our route. The various shades of green from the grass on the path to the trees and plants of the hedgerow were punctuated here and there by spots of colour: the purple tinged white petals of the Cuckoo Flower, the white of the Greater Stitchwort and the cream coloured ‘candles’ of the horse chestnut; the purple of Violets and occasional clumps of Bluebells which seemed out of place on the riverbank and the yellow of Buttercups, Marsh Marigolds and patches of Gorse on the far side of the river.

Cuckoo Flower

Along the stretches of canal, dredging had been taking place and we encountered an eel slithering along the path, obviously having been dragged up from the canal bed along with some of the vegetation.  With some difficulty, we returned it to the river.

Eel on the towpath

The walk was a bit wet and we started off a bit later than planned so on this occasion we didn’t spend any time exploring the Norman Motte or the graveyard or visit the St Mullins Heritage Centre so we’ll have to pay another visit in better weather to have more of a look around.

The Verdict

This is a very easily manageable stretch of the towpath to walk.  For adults or families with older children, it would be easy to walk one way and then return to the start but for us a one way journey was best.  On my own, or with another adult I would have found it quite pleasant to walk the path in the rain, but it wasn’t ideal weather for walking with a five year old.  Because it takes longer for him to walk on his little legs, he needs to be able to stop and investigate things and play little games along the way, especially on a linear walk where the terrain and habitat types aren’t as varied as they might be on a looped walk.  I think, for the remainder of our Barrow journey, we’ll be prepared to cancel if we’re not at least starting out in dry weather.

St Mullins Lock

I hope you’ll drop by the blog to read about further instalments of our Barrow Way journey and as always I’d love to hear your comments.  Next week I’ll have an account of our trip from Athy to Levitstown Lock in Co. Kildare.  I also have to sit down look at the route so I can split the journey into manageable sections so any feedback on access and parking spots would be welcome.