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Travel

Carlow Autumn Walking Festival

September 2, 2014

I’ve written a few posts about my home county recently and hope it’s peaked your curiosity to come and visit the hills and villages that surround us? We spent a lovely couple of weeks looking around gardens at the Garden Festival which was quickly followed by a staycation where Mr G and I explored the Carlow hills and rivers, opening our minds to its potential as an eco-destination. Then I helped to put a group of bloggers together for the recent Taste of Carlow festival where we met several local food producers and visited a commercial fruit farm. For now I’m continuing on with the outdoor lifestyle theme and sharing the news about the Carlow Autumn Walking Festival that will be taking place here soon.

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalWe’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.

Carlow Autumn Walking Festival 3rd - 5th October 2014I’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.

Carlow Autumn Walking Festival

CARLOW WALKS

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:

Carlow. There's Gold In Those Hills & MountainsIntroduction 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.

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalA 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.

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalWalking 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.

ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES

Carlow Autumn Walking FestivalSafari 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 info@gowiththeflow.ie.

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!

Travel

Carlow “There’s gold in them there hills…”

August 24, 2014

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…

Carlow. An ecotourist destination waiting to happenHe 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.

Carlow is full of interesting places to visit, of history, folklore, craft, art and mysticism. From Art, the Leinster King now buried in the monastery graveyard in St Mullins to the seat of the Kavanagh’s in Borris and onto the home of the Fellowship of Isis at Huntington Castle in Clonegal. The Blackstairs mountains are always within sight, varying from dark and brooding, to close up, green and inviting depending upon the weather that minute, with views from the top of Mount Leinster of five counties and Wales, breathtaking on a clear day.

Carlow as an Ecotourism Destination

Carlow is hugely underdeveloped as a tourist destination and has potential for anyone with an idea to develop.Carlow. There's Gold In Them There Hills... Mary White is leading the way in the foothills of the mountain with Blackstairs Eco Trails and Una Halpin from Wildways Adventures promises outdoor fun for all the family. Go With The Flow river adventures provide canoeing safaris whilst walking opportunities abound with several good walking routes and clubs, as well as the south Leinster way beginning in the small village of Kildavin.

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.

My bikeBut 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.

O'Sheas in Borris

The popular O’Sheas in Borris, perfect stop of for refreshments

If you’d like to read more about Fáilte Ireland’s presentation on Adventure on the Agenda in Carlow, the link can be found here.

Business support

From Carlow Brewing Company

From Carlow Brewing Company

If you have an idea about how you might entertain, educate or simply look after visitors as they tour around the second smallest county in Ireland, there’s a lot of support available to help you develop your idea. Fáilte Ireland are a good starting point as they have a step by step guide on their website to help you develop your tourism idea as well as a useful Ecotourism Handbook. Your Local Enterprise Board and Leader Partnership might be worth talking to as well.

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.