Picnic in the Woods

It’s always lovely to get outdoors with the kids and a walk through the woods, on a way-marked trail or along a riverbank can provide a lovely opportunity to get out in the fresh air, exercise the legs and give the kids (and adults) that important sense of freedom without the fear of losing your way or having to trek for miles to get back to the car.  My husband and I have always loved the outdoors ourselves but we’ve found that since having a child, the way we experience it has changed. Walks are necessarily shorter and at a slower pace but this doesn’t mean the enjoyment has to be any less. For the first of a series of posts describing suitable family walks in Ireland and especially focusing on counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois and Kildare, I’ve described a recent visit to one of our favourite local spots.

After a Christmas filled with family visits, new toys, good food and far too much TV and chocolate, it was time to get outdoors again.  With a breeze blowing outside and dark clouds threatening rain, our plans for a longer walk on New Year’s Eve were put on hold in favour of a short trip to one of our favourite Irish forests, Mullaghreelan Wood.  We wrapped up warmly with boots and full rain gear to prepare for the elements but the rain held off and we spent a very enjoyable three hours outdoors.

Cottage Mullaghreelan

Where is it?

Mullaghreelan is a Coillte forest, located just outside the village of Kilkea in County Kildare close to the borders with Carlow and Laois.  It is a mixed woodland which was once part of the estate of the nearby Kilkea Castle.  There are two overlapping signposted walking routes, each about 2km in length with information signs throughout.  There are also many smaller connecting paths throughout the wood which means that you can extend your walk and keep exploring as long as the kids are happy but you can always get back to the car park pretty quickly if they’ve had enough.  Information on the site along with directions and maps can be found on the Coillte Outdoors website.

Ground Ivy Mullaghreelan

What is special about it?

At the very top of the woodland in Mullaghreelan at a height of 170m above sea level is a rath or ring fort which was mentioned in ancient Irish manuscripts in association with the Kings of Leinster.  In 1861, a bronze age burial urn was discovered nearby.  The trees are a mixture of native oak, ash, holly and elder and introduced beech, fir, pine, spruce and larch along with a stand of coastal redwoods.  A beautiful beech lined avenue marks one of the original entrances to the Kilkea Castle Demesne. In the springtime, bluebells are abundant and there are also buttercups, ground ivy, lords and ladies and many ferns among the ground flora.

Ferns unrolling in Mullaghreelan

Badger sets and latrines are in evidence throughout the wood and squirrels are common although unfortunately they are the introduced grey squirrels rather than the native reds.  Even in winter there are treasures to be found like beech nuts littering the ground, puffball mushrooms growing on the open areas and the bright yellow flowers of the gorse on the higher ground.

Puffballs Mullaghreelan

What are the paths like?

Some of the wider paths have a gravelled surface but not all and some of the terrain can be a little steep especially the approach to the top of the rath, so I’d recommend a good pair of walking shoes or runners in dry weather and possibly boots for wet or muddy conditions especially over the wintertime.  We first came to the wood when I was pregnant with our son and we’ve been bringing him since he was small so we have walked here occasionally with a buggy and I’ve seen others do it too but you would need to have good tyres and to pick and choose your paths carefully if attempting it.  We found when our son was small that carrying him was an easier option.  Since he’s got older, his experience of the woods has changed and now that he’s four, he’s able to navigate every path with ease and actively seeks out the steeper paths and rougher ground as a challenge.

Mullaghreelan Path

What can you do here?

Mullaghreelan is a popular spot for dog walkers and families. There are generally quite a few cars in the car park when we visit and we will usually meet quite a few people on our walks but the woods are also quite open so it’s relatively easy to leave the path and explore deeper into the woods without any fear of getting lost.  Because we come here on a regular basis we have our own favourite spots where we can play at being explorers.  With a little imagination, a fallen log becomes a canoe or a speeder bike and a pile of branches a shelter.  A stick can become a gun, a bow, a fishing rod, part of a dinosaur skeleton or the mast of a pirate ship.

Speeder bike log

This year Santa brought a surprise in the form of a small wooden bow with blunted arrows which our little archer carried with him.  We also love picnics and quite often bring a flask and food with us even though we only live a few miles away. In fact, its proximity to us makes it an ideal spot for an impromptu last minute picnic. One day this summer, we decided at the last minute to go for an evening walk.  I was cooking dinner at the time and rather than delay, I wrapped the lot up in foil containers and packed it in the car and we ate it at a picnic table in the car park.

We have lots of other favourite walks which I’ll share with you over the coming months but I’d love to hear your stories too. I’d like to hear about your own favourite family walks in Ireland or any suggestions for places we might like to visit.