Barrow Way Sign

Our wet walk from Graiguenamanagh to St Mullins didn’t deter the youngest member of our family from continuing our exploration of the Barrow towpath, and two weeks after our first expedition of the summer, he was ready for another stage of the journey.  It all goes to prove really that chocolate really can fix everything and hot chocolate and chocolate brownies are especially good for erasing memories of wet feet. On Friday the 22nd May, we set out after school to walk the 8.5 km home from Athy towards Levitstown Lock.  This time around, the entire walk was in County Kildare.


The Anglo-Norman town of Athy in County Kildare is the point where the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal meets the River Barrow.   The Crom a Boo Bridge over the River Barrow is named after the war cry of the FitzGerald family. who were the Earls of Kildare and once owned the 15th Century White’s Castle which stands beside the bridge.  From Athy to St Mullins, the Barrow Way follows the River Barrow itself rather than the canal.  We’ll be concentrating on covering this section of the Barrow Way first and hopefully moving on to walking the Barrow Line later in the summer.

White's Castle

Another Perspective

One of the best things about walking an area like this so close to home is seeing everything from another perspective.  We were no more than a short distance from the road at any point (a road that we drive on most days)  but we may as well have been in a different part of the country for most of our walk.  Even the familiar landmarks looked completely different when viewed from the river side instead of the road. It also helped to break up the journey when we could see up to the road and point out familiar landmarks and breaking a journey into smaller more manageable portions is generally a good idea when walking with kids.  Feeding them often is also a good idea.  We stopped for our first picnic just outside of Athy because Michael considers the picnic to be the most important part of any walk.  After that we stopped for occasional water breaks and chocolate breaks but we covered the distance easily.

Bridge on the Levitstown Cut

There are two long sections of lateral canal or cuts on this stretch of the River Barrow leading up to the Ardreigh Lock and the Levitstown Lock. Along the Levitstown cut, a number of small stone foot bridges span the canal leading across to the farmland beyond.  Even the larger Tankardstown Bridge which is barely noticeable from above as you drive over it, is beautiful when seen from below.

Tankardstown Bridge on the Barrow

It being summer, the towpath edges were full of plant life, with willow, hawthorn, blackthorn, ivy and bramble dominating the hedgerows and the yellow Buttercups, the pinks and purples of Vetch and Herb Robert and the tiny blue flowers of the Ivy Leaved Toadflax growing on the stone walls. For me it is the white flowers that really herald the summer. I love to see the white of the Hawthorn coming out in all the hedgerows during May and the tall white flowers of the Cow Parsley on all the roadside verges. We passed one small Oak tree that was covered in the round galls often known as Oak apples, each one of which plays host to a number of tiny developing gall wasp larvae.

Oak galls

Nettles and Docks

Michael is learning to recognise some of the plants that we encounter on our walks, but some of the most important ones are nettles and docks, one the cause of an annoying sting and the other the cure.  Having been on the receiving end of one on a few occasions, he’s very keen to know how to recognise the other. Of course nettles are very beneficial for wildlife especially butterflies and moths which is why we allow plenty of them to grow around the edges of our garden.  Our pet caterpillar Stewie mentioned in an earlier post was found on the nettles in our garden.

Dock Leaves

Zombies on the Towpath

Among the essential items in Michael’s backpack were his magnifying glass, one small plastic walkie talkie and a gun.  He’s going through a spy phase at the moment.  This time however, we were hunting zombies along the towpath for much of the journey home even storming the bridges to attack their stronghold. The game also involved magic crystals, the King of the Zombies and a special weapon called a wither stick which could kill all the zombies at once.

Fun and Games on the Barrow

The Killing Stone

The sound of a song thrush tapping snails against a rock is a sound I always remember from my childhood but I never realised that they used to return to the same stones.  We found one of these anvil stones embedded in the middle of the towpath along our walk surrounded by fragments of broken snail shells.

Song Thrush Anvil

The Verdict

This was a lovely walk and a good length for our family.  It took us almost 5 hours to complete but that was taking it at a nice leisurely pace with plenty of breaks and with the sunny weather, we weren’t in any hurry.  We parked in the car park on Stanhope Street in Athy opposite St Michael’s church as there is no time limit on parking and it only costs €1 for a full day’s parking.  There is no car park at Levitstown, just a small lay-by beside Tankardstown Bridge.  There is however, a small car park beside Maganey Bridge a further 3.5 km along the river which would make a total length of 12 km from Athy to Maganey and would make a nice length of a walk possibly with older kids.  I’ll be covering the short stretch from Levitstown Lock to Maganey Bridge in the next post.

Halpin Family


With the school holidays starting at the end of this week, we’ll be planning more trips over the summer.  In late July, there’ll also be an opportunity for families to join me on a short stroll along the Barrow with a few fun activities as part of the Carlow Garden Festival and I’ll post further details closer to the time. I’m also available to lead groups on walks or wildlife based activities at any time.  Just get in touch to make an enquiry. I’ve been updating aspects of the blog too and I’ve finally added an e-mail subscription box so if you want to keep up to date with all my posts, please do subscribe.