Walking the Freshford Loop

Over the Easter holidays, I took a trip with my family to the village of Freshford to explore a new family walk that was new to all of us.  The Freshford Loop is an 8km long looped walk which forms part of the Trail Kilkenny series of way-marked trails.  I had arranged to meet up with some of the younger classes from St Lachtain’s school in Freshford for a Heritage in Schools visit after the Easter break.  The plan was to meet pupils from junior infants to second class out in Brown’s Wood to look for some signs of springtime and see who and what was living in the woods and stream. Our family trip was a chance to look at the area in advance with our own junior infant in tow and also an opportunity to try out a new walking route.

Hiding in the woods

Where is it?

The Freshford Loop starts and finishes in the village of Freshford in Co. Kilkenny.  A map and directions are available on the Trail Kilkenny website.  The path passes through a variety both deciduous and coniferous woodland, along stream and river beds and through farmland.

Bridge on Freshford Loop

What is special about it?

At the start of the walk, after walking out of the village and entering through a gap in the wall, you come out onto a path the meanders along beside a small stream.  When we walked the path in early April, the ground was carpeted with violets, celandines and primroses with here and there, a few patches of the small white flowers of the barren strawberry.  Tiny new leaves were just emerging on the hawthorn, hazel and sycamore, while the leaves on the beech and oak trees had yet to appear.  The sound of the stream added a lovely background to the chorus of birdsong and although we were right beside the road, there was very little traffic noise.

Common Dog Violet

After leaving the stream, the path turns to the right and rises gradually through an area of mixed broad leaf woodland.  Here, the white flowers of wood sorrel and wood anemone made their appearance.  I gave my son a wood sorrel leaf to try.  Most people would say it has a lemony taste, but Michael’s not fond of lemon.  Hi said it tasted like apples and vinegar.  Passing over a stile later on, we entered a newer forestry plantation.  New needles were coming out on the larch, which unlike other coniferous trees, actually loses all of its leaves in the winter.

Wood Sorrel

It was here that I caught my first ever glimpse of a Great Spotted Woodpecker.  These birds which have only started breeding again in Ireland in recent years, are becoming more common in woodlands around the country. My husband first heard the drumming as we crossed over the stile and looking in the direction of the sound through a tangle of brambles, we could just about see a small patch of black and white plumage in among the branches.  After attempting to get a closer look and failing, I finally caught a flash of red with the black and white as the woodpecker flew away.

Blackthorn flowers

Later on, as we left the forestry, we came along a hoard of chewed hazelnuts in a small gap in a stone wall obviously collected and eaten by an enterprising little mouse.

Hazelnut hoard

What are the paths like?

The route starts and ends on the public road with another short stretch along the road after leaving the woodland and before entering farmland.  We found the roads to be very quiet with very little traffic.  After leaving the road at the beginning of the walk, the trail starts follows a stream bed skirting the demesne of Upper Court Manor and then turns through Brown’s wood.  The paths are easy to walk but quite small and muddy in places so good boots are recommended.  This walk is not suitable for buggies.  At one point in our walk, a tree had fallen across the path at pone of the muddiest points so we had to duck down to get underneath it.

Fallen Tree

What can you do here?

The stream itself was perfect for investigating as it is shallow enough in most parts to stay below the tops of even the shortest of wellies.  It is home to an assortment of mayflies, water beetles and caddis flies and we also found a large beetle larva and a few leeches.  Michael spent some time exploring it as did the children from Freshford National School when I returned to the same spot with them a few days later.  The varied terrain and assortment of different habitat types makes it an ideal family walk, as there is plenty of variety to keep children interested.  We found the usual assortment of places to hide and jump out, sticks to play with and feathers, leaves and nuts to collect. The walk is 8 km long which makes it a good long walk for little legs.  Michael was a few weeks short of his 5th birthday at the time and handled the walk easily but we did take our time with plenty of breaks and it took us almost 5 hours to complete it.  We had good weather all the way too, which definitely helped.

Investigating the stream

Of course I didn’t do the full walk with the school children from Freshford.  On that occassion, I worked with 4 separate classes, taking a short walk through the woods to look for signs of spring and and then getting into the stream with wellies and nets to look for life in the water.

Water invertebrates

If you are a teacher interested in a Heritage in Schools visit, they can be booked now for June or for any time up to December 2015.  For further details see our schools page.

I’ll be covering other family walks on the blog over the summer months, in particular our quest to walk the whole of the Barrow Way.  If you have any favourite family walks I’d love to hear your comments.