Christmas markets and fairs will be taking place in villages and towns throughout the country over the next few weeks and here in Carlow we’re no exception. In a few days time we will be given the chance to experience a whole programme of events for Christmas in Carlow and on Sunday we’ll be offered a little ‘Taste of Carlow’, when local crafts people and food producers will come together under one roof to show us their wares.
Over thirty local producers will be selling products that range from gingerbread cookies and fresh water pearl jewellery to locally produced honey, wood turned bowls and chocolate this Sunday, 30th November 2014 from noon until 6.00pm.
We are also promised entertainment throughout the afternoon from Santa who will be there with Rudolph and his friends, carol singing from local choirs as well as demos during this free event.
I’m really enjoying getting to meet and recognise many of the small, local business’ that work hard all year and who appreciate the help we can give them when we shop locally, particularly at Christmas time when most of us are spending a little bit more on gifts or for Christmas feasts. If you can’t make this event, on Sunday, 7th December Duckett’s Grove will be opening its grand gates for a magical sounding Christmas fair, but more of that coming up soon.
Are you planning to spend a bit more time looking for and buying more artisan food and local craft this Christmas and support the Slow Food movement and local communities?
Green and Vibrant are helping to spread the word about the Taste of Carlow event. Keep an eye out for the #TasteCarlowChristmas hashtag for more information and updates.
We’re blessed in Carlow to have a strong and active network of groups and the commitment to work with and not against one another is palpable. Take some of the small business’ and destinations we came across on our bloggers tour for example:
Bianka from Carlow Tours, our chauffeur and guide for the bloggers day, is flying one of many flags for Carlow. She’s not only created a small business for herself, but in doing so, Carlow Tours are attracting visitors to the county which helps other business’ to thrive.
Bianca’s enthusiasm and passion for Carlow is infectious as she shares myths and tales of our local history and heritage, ensuring that ancestors communities aren’t forgotten either.
Thanks to Carlow Council, like other old houses and estates Duckett’s Grove have opened the gardens, buildings, stables and outbuildings to crafters, tea rooms and a visitor centre. Owners of country houses are realising that we enjoy poking around different shops and buildings along with taking tours and tea in their gardens and houses, giving them the wherewithal to keep the premises open and also providing small business’ with a home and an opportunity to delight us with their wares. It’s a collaboration that seems to be working well for everyone.
Carlow Farmers Market
Carlow Farmers Market, like many others around the country, support and promote each other. Our local market traders meet every Saturday in the Potato Mart in the centre of Carlow town, selling locally grown, produced and packaged food. The growers and retailers encourage and fly another Carlow flag for good, tasty, often organic, wholesome food. They also provided a tasty picnic for the bloggers on our tour, giving the group the opportunity to sample of some of the tasty treats on offer in Carlow, from bread, cheese, fruit and meat to pickles, crackers, juices and beer.
Taste of Carlow Food & Craft Fair
The Taste of Carlow Food and Craft Festival is a two-day event, the first taking place in August, the second in December. Here, traders around the county and beyond are encouraged to take a space and show us what they can offer. From the Carlow Farmers Market regulars to toy sellers, food stands, eco trails, artists, bungee trampoliners, facepainters, crafters and more, they encourage the community to visit, meet, play, shop and spend.
Malone’s Fruit Farm
Given my love of fresh food I’m almost ashamed to reveal that I’ve never called into Malone Fruit Farm shop having driven past it countless times, but that’s set to change. From when you first walk through the doorway, the little shop is a delightful emporium of food, crafts, locally grown, locally made, artisan, free range, frozen, fresh… I could go on and on, it really is a treasure and if you’ve ever dreamed about owning a farm shop, Malone’s is one you’ll definitely want to visit to get a feel for the best they have to offer.
The owners of Huntington Castle have opened their home and gardens to encourage visitors to look around, drink tea and eat cake. For years the house was a the central point of the community, employing locals, acting as a garrison then in later years, opening up to a global community as the foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis. Nowadays they offer their home and gardens up for people to visit and tour, as accommodation, as a venue, either for private events or more public ones such as vintage fairs, where stallholders can sell their goods to interested shoppers.
For all my positivity, I’m a realist too. It has to be acknowledged that as well as supporting one another, groups can get caught up in nitpicky and destructive habits, but where does that lead us? Disjointed, disfunctional, hurt, frightened and fragmented. Yet as these few examples have shown, by simply working together and encouraging one another, we can breed optimism and success. I know which road I prefer to travel along. How about you?
We’ve always considered ourselves fairly fit yet like many our age, as lovers of good, wholesome food Mr G and I have an ongoing battle with the bulges (me more so than himself!). As the years have advanced, it seems to have become increasingly more difficult to lose the wobbly bits so I’ve tried different activities to keep the weight in check. From the local fitness classes and swimming pool to running and boot camps, I’ve tried several forms of exercise.
More recently I’ve doned the lycra and have been cycling around the hills with Mr G and my neighbouring friend Michele, whizzing down the hills, through the forestry then slowly panting our way back up again to our homes, red-faced and hot, and not in a ‘hot’ way that lycra sometimes suggests 😉 However, throughout it all, walking has remained the constant. It’s free, it can be done any time and in any place, and walking for pleasure is a wonderfully grounding way of keeping the mind sane in this slightly mad and busy world.
I’ve seen similar leaflets in previous years to the one above for the local Autumn Walking Festival but have never picked one up before now. If I had, I’d have seen that walking festivals include something for anyone like me with an interest in outdoor activities, and this year’s Carlow Autumn Walking Festival is no exception.
From beginners to the super fit, 23 walking activities have been planned over the weekend 3rd to 5th October 2014 as well as other complimentary activities. For anyone not living close by, accommodation deals have been negotiated by Carlow Tourism that include packed lunches for walkers. There will also be a traditional Irish music session in O’Sheas pub and hardware store in Borris.
The walks have been categorised to help us choose the best ones for our abilities. They include:
Five category A Yellow walks (including an A++ one that’s for eight hours, 33km and a 734m climb) which are for very experienced walkers. There’s a limit of 15 people allowed on this walk.
Twelve category B Blue walks (including a B+ walk that’s for 5 hours, 15.5km with a 735m climb) for experienced hillwalkers and a maximum limit of 20 people.
Six walks for leisure/regular walkers where there are no limits on numbers.
The walks range from between €10 to €20 which covers the cost of experienced guides (up to four on each walk), maps of each route and sandwiches/refreshments at the end of each route as well as transport to start points in some cases.
I won’t list all the trails, some of which sound quite spectacular and something to strive towards and others that sound just plain exhausting lovely. There’s a link to the online brochure here and you can book online here once you’ve decided if or which walk appeals to you. There are however, a few themed walks that caught my eye that you might be interested in as well as other complementary outdoor activities:
Introduction to Hillwalking
First of all, Walk 16 has been included in the programme to introduce people to hill walking. This is a great opportunity to gain an insight into the skills required for hill walking and coping with difficult situations, something Scouting Ireland cover very well but for anyone not involved in scouting, a skill you may have missed out on and would like to learn more about.
The walk covers topics such as first aid, navigation, emergencies, gear requirements, the environment and Mountain Rescue and when to call it. It’s not a formal course and basic walking gear will be required. The cost is €16.00 and includes transport to the start of the walk.
A Walk Through Time
If you’re interested in the historical aspects of Ireland and Carlow in particular, Walk 20, graded B for the more experienced walkers, is a four to five-hour mountain walk that will explore the history and archaeology of the Blackstairs Mountain area.
Artifcats that can be seen include standing stones, ancient rock art, dolmens, old settlements and aircraft crash site! Cost €15 and places limited.
Blackstairs Eco Trails
A Walk on the Wildside with Mary White, environmentalist and walking enthusiast, will include foraging for delicious edible greens and fungi, learning about the native trees and mammals around the area, identifying wild herbs and checking out the flora and fauna of Kilbrannish Woods. This is a two-hour C graded leisurely walk, costing €10.00 which includes a bus to the woods and back with a walking distance of 7.5km.
Walking with Wildway Adventures
Green Walk 11, a two-hour leisurely walk with Una Halpin from Wildway Adventures. The 6km stroll will begin at Clashgranny Lock and take in the trees, plants and insect life along the Barrow Way and through the Borris House Estate, ancestral home of the ancient Kings of Leinster, the MacMurrough Kavanaghs. A bus will take walkers to the start point and the cost is €10.00.
Safari Trail on the River Barrow
Three special canoeing events with local business Go With The Flow River Adventures are being planned for all three days of the festival. Trails have been designed with complete beginners in mind and will be led by qualified instructors who have years of adventure experience. Cost is €35 for adults, under 16’s €25, family of four €99. For more information contact Charlie Horan 0872529700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bike Rental and Bike Tours
Bike and Hire at Waterside Guest House in Graiguenamanagh offer bike rental and tours in the River Barrow Valley and cater for all ages and abilities including electric bikes, mountain bikes for men and women, tow along and children’s bikes. They can also provide helmets, hi viz jackets and other equipment too. Prices range from €10.00 to €25.00 per day.
If you’re interested in joining any of the walks or activities, it’s advised to book in advance. As mentioned, places are limited on the A and B categorised walks and the deals on the hotels will be snapped up too.
Not quite fit enough….
As much as I’d like to try one or two of the Blue walks, common sense is telling me to choose the Green, C listed walks this year aimed at the more leisurely walkers among us, but make an effort to get fitter and try a harder walk or two next year.
Walking festivals are a great way of meeting people and perhaps for Michele and me, who’ve been talking about taking up hill walking as we gaze over at the mountains every day, the Carlow Walking Festival an introduction to the local walking groups that regularly meet in the Blackstairs and surrounding hills.
Are you a hill walking fan? Are you tempted by any of the activities mentioned?
Please note that this post has been written for a Green and Vibrant project that connects bloggers with destinations. See disclosure policy above though would gladly have written it without being involved!
Carlow – An Ecotourism Destination Waiting to Happen?
It’s funny how the world works..
I recently spent a couple of hours chatting with Manchán Magan travel writer, playwright and generally all round nice guy. I didn’t put two and two together at the time, that he was the Manchám who entertains and informs us on Tuesday afternoons on the George Hook show, with tales of off the beaten track travel, history and adventure. I’m not sure how I managed that social faux par but the following day I spotted a link to an interview from Manchám that turned out to be one of the most enthralling and descriptive I’ve heard about our county yet. I’d have to disagree with him about The George Beranard Shaw as have seen some side splittingly funny shows there and some beautiful art in the Visual Centre too, but as for the rest…
He describes the beauty and history of our little county as he found it; brought to life the many villages and towns throughout it. He talks about the richness and wealth of Carlow in older days, the architecture, ancient kings and the fast flowing rivers that meander through the pretty Estate villages.
Perhaps his words struck a deeper chord because I’m working with Green and Vibrant to help Carlow tourism promote some events and in doing so have had eyes opened to Carlow’s potential as an ecotourism destination. I’ve also been walking a lot over recent months and taken up cycling, both of which helps to put a new perspective on our surrounding area as maps are taken out and routes searched for.
Bianka McDonagh realised the potential here when she bought an eight seater mini bus and set up Carlow Tours. You might spot her driving groups around the countryside, pointing out the popular and unusual places as well as offering made to measure trips for groups, an essential service if villages are to attract tourists without their own transport.
Tea and Scones in Leighlinbridge
It was with great delight that we discovered a local country house had opened tea and craft rooms offering workshop space to craftspeople in the award-winning village of Leighlinbridge. A few sign posts pointing the way to Rathvinden House from the tow path would I’m sure, attract several more river visitors to it too.
But there’s scope for so much more.
As far as I can tell there’s one campsite on the Carlow/Wicklow border and only a couple of hostels here. The fast flowing rivers could be much busier too. It’s a rare thing to see a boat chugging along The Barrow and once on the river, the riverside cafés and pubs are a welcome respite to tired walkers, paddlers and cyclists, but there’s not many of them.
On a recent 10km cycle along the River Barrow tow path between Carlow and Leighlinbridge on a beautifully sunny August afternoon, we came across two walkers, one fisherman and no boats on the river. That was it. Lovely if you’re looking for a quite afternoon, but it seemed such a wasted opportunity for anyone who wants to attract visitors to our county, offer employment opportunities and generally help the local economy.
‘Soft’ Adventure Opportunities in Ireland
According to Fáilte Ireland, adventure tourism is big business with 26% of all global travel adventure based and adventure travellers spending 45% more than other travellers. If you’re thinking that adventure holidays are for adrenaline junkies think again. 90% of adventure is described as “soft” and Ireland is considered a “soft” adventure destination with walking in Ireland a key attraction. With such a beautiful, quiet and unspoilt landscape, Ireland’s “soft” adventure experience is about the combination of nature, culture and outdoor activities. Adventure customers are not “young men” either, 51% are women and 42% of adventure customers are aged between 41 and 60.
The popular O’Sheas in Borris, perfect stop of for refreshments
If you like the idea of developing something but you’re not sure what you could do, have a look online and see what others are doing. Original ideas are great but if something is working well elsewhere, it means people are enjoying it. I have to admit that I’ve been eyeing up empty mills on the riverbanks and seeing the potential in them.
In October the ATTA are coming to Ireland for the World Adventure Tourism Summit, providing a ‘high profile marketing opportunity to influence significant tourism decision makers from around the world’. Lets hope they like what they see.
As Manchám says at the end of his interview “this county has so much potential, we really need to support it”.
Postscript: I’d like to point out that this post was never intended to be a list of everything to do in Carlow, more to highlight its potential as an ecotourism destination. It’s down to the hard work of people like Carlow Tourism, the County Museum and others that I’ve discovered there’s so much in Carlow to enjoy.
Ireland is known for its festivals and Carlow isn’t shy about holding them in its town and surrounding villages. The County is still glowing from the successful 11 day Carlow Garden Festival and with it fresh in mind, are about to have an afternoon of ‘Food, Craft & family festival fun’ with the upcoming Taste of Carlow Festival on Sunday, 31st August. This will be closely followed by several events during Heritage Week, The County Carlow Golf Classic and then the excellent sounding Carlow Autumn Walking Festival, though I might be biased about that one as a walker and not a golfer 😉
The Taste of Carlow is a food and craft fair that will be taking place from noon until 6.00pm on the River Barrow Promenade, Barrow Track and Carlow Town Park. In its 4th year, #TasteCarlow will feature local craft and food producers as well as food demonstrations by Carlow chefs, tasting menus, bungee trampoline, kite flying, face painting, water activities and musical/family entertainment.
For just six hours we’re promised lots of festival fun by the picturesque River Barrow.
We’ll be able to see, smell and taste artisan food displays with cheeses, juices, jams, chutneys, crepes, beverages, home baking, fresh meat, organic fruit and vegetables, organic home-made burgers and chips, ice cream and mouth-watering chocolates. Cheese making demonstrations will be delivered by Tom Burgess of Coolattin Cheddar and the Carlow Bee Keepers Association will give an insight into the fascinating world of honey (I’m looking forward to that one!).
Alan Foley, winner of the Bridgestone 2013 Chef of the Year and Head Chef at the Step House Hotel, Fiona Dillon author of Food from an Irish garden and Dympna Maher of Healing Herbs will provide insights into the delights of good cooking and healthy foods.
Paul Stock from the newly opened SMOQUE Restaurant and Tapas will offer mouth-watering Tapas Carlow Style and Imelda Byrne from the ICA Bootcamp will also be in attendance.
Carlow enjoys an abundance of original, hand-made crafts that includes woodturning, pottery, ceramics, knitwear, art, embroidery, enamels and jewellery and a Taste of Carlow is a great opportunity to meet local artists and craftspeople. Whether you’re there to browse in a riverside atmosphere or buy a gift, the craft fair promises to be something to enjoy.
Children will be entertainment throughout the day with face painting and musical entertainment as well as bouncy castle, bungee trampoline and a craft area. While here make sure and visit Carlow Town Park, immediately adjacent, a wonderful amenity for all the family which features a safe and secure children’s playground that I spent many hours in with our own children when they were smallies.
There will also be river demonstrations by Carlow Sub Aqua and Carlow Rowing Club and Civil Defence and a foraging talk by Mary White.
So if you’re not at the Electric Picnic and are looking for an afternoon out in the south-east, Taste of Carlow promises to be a fun afternoon and with no admission fees and free parking, a good opportunity to take a picnic to the park or simply browse the many stalls there for some treats or gifts.
Maybe we’ll see you there!
Please note that this post has been written for a Green and Vibrant project that connects bloggers with destinations. See disclosure policy above.
A riot of colour greets visitors at Altamont Gardens
I hadn’t planned on posting a blog about Carlow Garden Festival in the midst of it, but with the bank holiday weekend upon us, I wanted to share my experiences while they’re fresh and in the moment in case you’re looking for something to do over the next few days.
I’ve attended five of the twelve daily events that have taken place so far (there were three yesterday that I missed) and each one of them has been quite unique. With a huge amount of willpower I’ve managed to avoid eating the delicious cakes on offer in all the cafés, though did treat myself to a pretty mug from the charming tea rooms and shop at Huntington Castle, as a treat for being so ‘good’. Friendly faces are becoming familiar as we join the tours each day and learn a bit more about the history of the places we visit, or pick up tips and ideas from the various expert garden talks around our county.
On Sunday we walked around the ghostly grounds of Huntingdon Castle where we were introduced to the eerie yew trees, the huge sequoia, the renaissance garden, concrete greenhouse and the wonderful perfumes that wafted around the new rose garden. Then on Tuesday I headed off to Altamont Gardens.
The talk and tour at Altamont was different altogether as Seamus O’Brien, Director of the Irish Botanical Gardens walked us around the many features and lake, offering tips that he usually shares with first year horticultural students which helps them to remember the Latin names of trees.
Inula Helenium (Elecampane)
Seamus talked about his travels around the world looking for plants and gave us an insight into his vast knowledge of the flora and fauna at Altamont. This was one of several free events that are included in the festival programme and I think each and every one of us there felt quite privileged to be in Seamus’ company.
Altamont Gardens is such a well-kept secret many local people haven’t heard of its hidden charms, but word is beginning to filter out as the OPW takes it under its wing.
Is it a good or bad thing that such a beautiful garden remains so undiscovered?
Echinacea (Coneflower) in bloom in Altamont Gardens
There’s something for everyone at Altamont throughout the year from the snowdrops and hellebore in springtime to the ice age boulders, the Slaney river walk, rose promenade, peacocks and 100 steps. There’s also a well stocked garden centre and somewhere to sit and drink tea and munch on home-baked cakes, thanks to a newly opened café run by the nearby Forge Restaurant.
And then on to Kilgraney House and Herb Gardens on Wednesday.
This year’s talk was perhaps my favourite there to date as it was so relevant to the gardens.
Ross Hennessy of Bareroot Botanicals talked to the large crowd about sowing seeds and taking cuttings of herbs (now is the time to take cuttings of rosemary) while his partner Maria Kesso of Iona Herbal showed us how to make Calendula cream and an herbal cough mixture. I, for one, am dying to give the recipes a go and took copious notes and judging by the interest and questions from the audience, suspect I won’t be alone.
Ross & Maria at Kilgraney House
Ross and Maria were so free with their knowledge I shared several tweets under the hashtag #CarlowGardenFest that you might like to look up if you’re on twitter. If going the more natural route for treatments and medications appeals to you then blueherbal.ie is the place to look for a full list of practitioners in Ireland. This is an area I’m definitely interested in finding out more about, since the Kilgraney talks.
Unfortunately a broken down car means that I may not get to any more garden festival events over the bank holiday weekend, but if you’d like to attend any of the remaining talks taking place at Newtownberry House and Gardens, Huntingdon Castle, Leighlinbridge Village, Duckett’s Grove or Rathvilly Garden Centre, take a hop over to the Vibrant Ireland blog where Susan has full details. If you’re living further afield and can’t make it, I hope you have a lovely weekend 🙂
If you’d like to visit the gardens in the centre of Clonegal village, they’re open from May to September from 10.00am to 6.00pm, cost €5.00 for adults and €2.50 for children, which includes admission to the adventure playground though I’m not sure if that’s for the adults or children 😉
Suzanna aka @Zwartblesie taking a break from the farm
They also have a delightful tea room that I’ll share more images of when I write the Huntington blog post. In the meantime here’s Suzanna taking a deserved break from her farm.
As it’s #CarlowGardenFest I’ll share just one more snap, this time a map of the grounds at Huntington Castle gardens that will give you an idea of what’s in store for you if you visit. Have you visited Huntington Gardens yet or will you add it to your places to visit when you’re in the south-east of Ireland?
Carlow Garden Festival has begun and what a fantastic way to open it with none other than the queen of plants-women, Carol Klein. If I gush a bit during this post I hope you’ll forgive me as having spent two days at local garden related events with another nine in store, it’s difficult not to!
The ballroom in the Woodford Dolman hotel in Carlow was packed with young and old who’d come to see and hear Carol talk about her cottage garden at Glebe House in Devon and we weren’t disappointed.
Carol is inspirational and so very down to earth and the way she talked us through her slides with her friendly Lancashire lilt clearly showed us all that her enthusiasm of plants and nature isn’t just for the telly.
Carol lives and breathes this lifestyle and her warmth and humour shone through. If anyone there hasn’t been watching Gardeners World up until now, I’m sure they all will be in future. Despite the exhausting schedule she found herself under since arriving in our county, Carol took the time to chat, sign books and autographs, as well as answer any questions thrown at her and have her photo taken with whoever requested one during the evening.
Eileen O’Rourke, the extremely hardworking CEO of Carlow Tourism introduced Carol and admitted that even she has now begun incubating plants as a result of being amid so many beautiful gardens in Carlow. It’s hard not to take an interest when surrounded by so much inspiration.
Never mind the stretch limo when there’s a bench
Inspiration Garden at Arboretum
Which leads me to the first of the day time talks of the garden festival that took place at Arboretum Lifestyle and Garden Heaven, where Ireland’s very own Dermot O’Neill gave his tips on successful container gardening before giving a guided walk through the Inspiration Gardens. There’s a reason this garden centre has earned it’s Five Star rating and I’m not only proud to say I spent many weeks there under the guidance of plant experts Eamon Wall and Ger Heary undertaking my horticulture work experience, with over 70 people on their books, Arboretum is one of our largest local employers.
Dermot O’Neill talk at Arboretum during the 2014 Carlow Garden Festival
The garden centre itself is bursting with flowers, plants and trees of such good quality it’s difficult not to spend any money there and hours can be lost winding your way through all the pathways, gazing at the displays, trying to decide what and how to plant up your garden.
Not wanting to overload you with too much information now, I’ll be attending a few more talks and demos over the coming days, starting with Helen Dillon at Huntington Castle which I’m really looking forward to attending (click the link and you’ll see why).
I’ll keep you posted about what you can expect over the next few days if you decide to visit Carlow and its surrounding villages for this or future festivals.