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How to Build a Sedum Green Roof Structure

February 22, 2018

How to build a living green roof

As a social enterprise Greenside Up seeks funding from all avenues in an effort to provide support and education to people volunteering in social community gardens. During the last round of Local Agenda 21 funding, Carlow County Council funded a project in Gleann na Bearu community garden in Bagenalstown. During the spring of 2017 Greenside Up created a small living green roof structure and provided a morning workshop to the local community about creating living green roofs in gardens and how they can attract beneficial pollinators. The following details the steps we took to build the green roof structure and why we should all consider installing one.

Before you begin to make plans, be aware that this isn’t a project for tight budget. The material costs can quickly add up with an *inclusive sedum pack costing in excess of €45 per square metre alone. However with some basic maintenance, a green roof will happily grow for many years, outlasting patio furniture or barbecues. We bought our green roof ‘package’ from Green Roofs Direct in Belfast who supply projects of all sizes, from 10m² to 10,000m². We also found Landtech Soils in Tipperary extremely helpful.

How to create a living green roof

Benefits of a Green Roof

There are several benefits to having a living green roof on your property, whether it’s on a small structure like the one we installed, or on home roofs, workplaces or sheds. They include:

  • How to grow a green roof

    Sedum is easy to propagate by division

    Mitigating water runoff and subsequent overflow into the sewage system.

  • Soil and vegetation acts as a sponge, absorbing and filtering water that is normally taken into gutters.
  • The plants remove air particulates, produce oxygen and provide shade.
  • Green roofs help to cool the air as water evaporates from the leaves of the plants – a benefit in urban areas in a warming climate.
  • Green roofs have a biophilia effect, softening hard structures and making us feel better.
  • Green roofs can provide safe, secluded spaces for wildlife and pollinators.
  • They provide great views for you and your neighbours!

How to create a living green roof

Step by Step How to Build a Green Roof

Build the structure.

The Gleann na Bearu community gardeners asked for a structure that would hide the wheelie bins in the corner of the garden by the oil tank. They wanted it to be high enough so they could lift the lids of the bins without pulling them out. Although we might have been able to source cheaper upcycled materials, we wanted to provide a professionally built structure that would last. We therefore sourced treated wood from our local timber yard Griffiths Timber who offer a great service.

How to create a green roof structureAlthough we could have chosen various grass mixes for the green roof, we chose sedum for its low maintenance and pollinator friendly attributes. Woodworking skills are necessary for this project but once the structure is in place, the green roof itself is very easy to install and maintain.

The following gives a general guide to creating a living green roof using various varieties of sedum. The varieties included Sedum acre auream, Sedum album Coral Carpet, Sedum album Mini, Sedum album Athoum, Sedum hispanicum, Sedum Summer Glory, Sedum reflexum, Sedum Weihenstehaner Gold and Sedum voodooedum.

How to Create a Living Green Roof

Materials needed for the small 1.5m x 1m green roof structure pictured included:

Tape measure, spirit level, saw and drill
Plans or drawing
Enough timber and bolts to create the skeleton
Marine plywood for the top
Heavy duty plastic to cover the marine plywood
Waterproof sealant
Environmentally paint or wood treatment
*Green Roof Kit including drainage layer, substrate and sedum blanket

  • How to create a living green roofDraw your plan, cut and bolt the pieces of timber together to fit and paint the structure with an additional protective layer to ensure it will last. We chose a treatment that isn’t harmful to the environment and is relatively long lasting.
  • Once the skeleton of the structure was in place. We added a slightly angled piece of marine plywood on to the top, added more timber around the top edge of the roof to ‘hold’ the sedum and drainage materials in place. At the lower edge of the sloped timber we cut a few notches to allow excess water to drain.  Finally a sheet of heavy duty plastic was placed over the marine plywood and all the edges were then sealed with a waterproof sealant, leaving the structure ready for the drainage layers, substrate and sedum.
  • Drainage: The root system is the work force of the plant. It’s where vital food and water is absorbed. It’s therefore crucial to make sure the root system is as healthy and strong as possible. The drainage layer is designed to give the plant roots extra room to breathe, expand and absorb more water. This will maintain healthy foliage and avoid the dark red shading of stressed Sedum. We ordered How to create a living green roofour sedum blanket from Green Roofs Direct who supplied the drainage layer, substrate and sedum in kit form.

Add the Drainage Layer and Sedum Blanket

Once the green roof structure has been built, adding the drainage and plants is easy. Simply cut the three layered drainage provided and fit it to size, add a 30mm layer of substrate over the top and rake it until smooth. Finally unroll the sedum blanket and cut the pieces to size, taking care not to overstretch it. Once covered, water the sedum until the water runs out.


Green Roofs Direct recommend a straightforward maintenance plan. For the first twelve weeks simply water and weed. Watering in the first week is crucially important. If the sedum blanket is rolled out in very dry conditions it must be watered every other day during the first week. A quick establishment is very important for the plants to cope with the harsh conditions on a roof.

How to create a living green roof

Slow release granular fertilizer can be applied in April at a rate of 10 grams per square metre. A handheld broadcaster is ideal for larger roofs and can be purchased in any hardware or DIY store or hired. Flowers can be cut and removed in August then slow release granular fertilizer applied again in October at 10 grams per square metre.

Have you considered installing a green roof into your garden? This one never fails to bring a smile to our faces.

*includes three piece drainage layers, 50mm depth of substrate and one year matured Irish Sedum Blanket.


Mindfulness and Herbs – A Perfect Combination

October 31, 2016

Mindfulness and Herbs - A Perfect Combination

Practicing Mindfulness

A personal question, though one you don’t have to reply to… how is your mental well-being right now? Are you struggling a bit as the days get shorter and the nights longer and darker? Are you able to practice mindfulness? For those of us in the western hemisphere winter is approaching and with it I’ve noticed moods beginning to wobble as we wave goodbye to warm sunshine. Now, more than ever, it’s important to get outside for a while and be touched by the cool light, whether that means getting on with a few late autumn jobs in the garden or simply walking in the woods in quiet contemplation.

The Wellwood Centre

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Mindfulness Retreat at the Wellwood Centre, the beautifully designed and shiny new holistic centre a few miles from us in Royal Oak, Co Carlow. I was fortunately asked to design the planting plan for the herb garden there a couple of years ago and enjoyed returning to see how the plants had settled in.

Mindfulness and Herbs - A Perfect Combination

I recommended over 250 different varieties of herbs for the four 7 m x 2 m purple raised beds, each planted in their designated aromatherapy, herbal tea, culinary and medicinal areas. With a year of growth behind them, it’s good to see the herbs settling down. They complement the striking Geodome and fit in with the rest of the eight acres of woodland, sculpture, grass, mounded, lake and ornamental gardens beautifully.

Guided Meditation

Marjo Oosterhoff from the Passaddhi Meditation Centre led the mindfulness retreat and after a day of silent, guided meditation with 15 or so other adults, I now feel more able to spend time meditating, a practice surprisingly recommended to me by my GP months ago. I hadn’t allowed myself the time, nor really understood the practice until the retreat. I particularly enjoyed learning about metta, or loving-kindness which is a way of reconnecting with our inner being that is kind and compassionate. This is something I try to practice every day now, even for just a few minutes.

Marjo read the following to us, a poem that touched me and I’ve found myself repeating since:

 By William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

As we begin to let winter enfold us, a time that can be tough for our mental health, I hope you’ll take a few moments to stop and stare at the beauty of the natural world around you and let nature work her magical healing powers.

If you’re already meditating, I’d love to hear any tips that can help me or readers of this blog keep up with the practice?


Love in the snowdrops

January 25, 2016

Love in the snowdrops as the Carlow snowdrop festival begins

Snowdrops and Romance

A few years ago I published a post following a February visit to Altamont gardens in Carlow when the snowdrops and hellebore were in bloom. If you’ve never seen carpets of snowdrops in February I’d recommend looking for a garden this year as the experience can be breathtaking. That late winter walk was my first of 2013 and it managed to pull me out of the winter doldrums and back into our own garden.

Research suggests that getting outside is fantastic for our mental health and it’s true, there’s nothing better for the mind than to be out in the fresh air. That said, I’m a real bear in the winter (hopefully a cuddly one and not a grisly). I like to hibernate in the warmth of my home, by the stove and usually with a bag of knitting. I have to really be in the zone to enjoy being out in the cold, wind, mist or rain. This year has been no exception.

Love in the snowdropsStorm Desmond

For the past couple of months our entire garden has been a quagmire, so much so that even the dogs won’t venture beyond the stone drive.  

During the high winds of storm Desmond our polytunnel ripped along the length of a middle hoop. As a result it’s looking like we’ll need to replace the polythene as it’s almost impossible to patch well there.

We’ve also unwittingly added a stream to our *features* that runs down the pathway from the chicken run, filling the front lawn that’s scruffy and overgrown thanks to the mild winter temperatures. I know things could be a lot worse, but when you live on the top of a hill you don’t expect your garden to flood! To add to the garden woes, I’m not sure if our bees have survived the winter with little food sources to call upon, so all in all, I’m not feeling the love for our garden right now.

Valentine’s Day

As a result and weather permitting, I’m going to suggest to Mr G that we wrap up warm and have a Valentine’s Day out to one of several local gardens that are opening for snowdrop week. Perhaps I’ll be able to bend his arm and find lunch out somewhere nearby like the Forge restaurant who also have a local art exhibition or Duckett’s Grove tea rooms who are advertising a delightful sounding afternoon tea offer on Facebook at the moment.

The Tea Rooms is open for Afternoon Tea every Sunday in February. The rate is €17.50 per Adult and €9 per child. Book…

Posted by The Tea Rooms at Duckett’s Grove on Monday, 25 January 2016

Snowdrop Week

There will be several gardens opening and celebrating snowdrop week from the 6th to the 14th February in and around county Carlow and it seems an ideal opportunity to take the camera’s and spend some time being nerdy together among the snowdrops. Hopefully when we return, we’ll feel motivated to tackle our garden before the first of our grow your own workshops that, numbers permitting, will take place on the 10th March.

If you need a pick up or are interested in being among thousands of snowdrops, here’s the details about the Carlow festival.

Love in the snowdrops ~ Carlow Snowdrop FestivalBallykealey Manor Hotel Snowdrop Gala – 6th February

The snowdrop gala at Ballykealey Manor that kicks off the festival sounds amazing but perhaps geared more towards the true Galanthus enthusiast.

A full day is planned with speakers, lunch, specialist nurseries and a guided tour of nearby Altamont’s snowdrop collection. Colin Crosbie, a passionate plantsman, author, gardener and curator of the RHS Garden in Wisley will be talking, along with garden historian Jennifer Harmer who wrote a book entitled “meet the Galalthophiles”.

Snowdrops are a serious business for some plant enthusiasts. Last year an Elisabeth Harrison snowdrop bulb sold for £725 and a Golden Fleece bulb sold on Ebay for £1,390!

If you’d like to join the day at Ballykealey Manor, bookings can be made via Hester Ford on 086 865 4972 or Robert Miller on 087 982 2135. There’s a fee of €70 which includes the lectures, lunch, refreshments, bulb sale and guided tour.

Love in the snowdrops

Huntington Castle – Snowdrop Week 8th to the 14th February

I was thrilled to read that Huntington Castle are continually improving their gardens having planted over 10,000 snowdrops that should be blooming for the 2016 season. Current owners Alexander and Claire Durdin Robertson are working hard to make Huntington a family destination in county Carlow and it’s paying off as every time I’ve visited there’s been something new to see.

I’ve written about Huntington before but in short, the Castle features a woodland nature walk, a fantastic children’s adventure trail which is worth the dash across the cattle field for, as well as the famous ghost walk, castle tours and tea rooms.

Admission to the gardens is adults €5, concessions €4 and children €2.50. Have a chat with the owners about group discounts. We were really please to find our dog was welcome last summer once she was kept on a lead and we promised to clear up after her.

Telephone 053 937 7160 for more information or visit

Love in the snowdropsAltamont Gardens – 8th to 14th February

The second largest collection of snowdrops in Ireland are growing in the grounds of Altamont and there are over 100 named varieties of these hardy but pretty little bulbs. The collection started over 30 years ago when the late Corona North began collecting and along with the hellebore, it’s a wonderful sight.

As well as the flowers and formal gardens, there’s a woodland and river walk (weather permitting), a garden centre and a café on site which serves hot drinks and homemade cakes.

Entry into Altamont is free but sadly they have a strict no dog policy even on leads. The gardens are open daily from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm during the winter months. Guided tours daily are available at 2.00 pm for €3 per head and group tour bookings are available by prior arrangement.

Shankill Castle and Burton House and Gardens

In the surrounding counties both Shankill Castle in Paulstown and Burton House and Gardens are opening their gates and showing off their snowdrops too. Take a look at the Carlow Tourism poster for more information.

Love in in the snowdrops

Photo: Carlow Tourism

If you’re aware of any more snowdrop festivals taking place or other gardens to see them, please leave details in the comments below, I‘d love to hear about them.



Blogging, Friends and the Future of Greenside Up

October 25, 2015

Blogging and Friends

I began blogging almost six years ago and the experience has brought me on an amazing journey. I’ve made some special friends, met a tremendous amount of talented people and learnt even more from them all.

Blog Awards

Bronze Winner of Blog AwardsOn Thursday I received a message letting me know that the Greenside Up blog had achieved a Bronze Award for Health and Wellbeing at the Blog Awards Ireland, an honour and one I’m thankful for given that there were over 4,000 nominations, 1,800 entries and over 80,000 public votes for all the blogs.

Greenside Up Blog

The blogging scene has changed completely since I began writing and so has my blog. After its last big win, I spend a lot of time working on its layout to help you find articles and as a result, the blog has grown to encompass several categories in areas that reached out and enticed me once we begin to grow our own food.

From becoming more environmentally aware, learning about different food crops – both vegetable and animal – my involvement with community gardening, as well as sharing the ongoing love of the mountains, gardens and rivers that surround us here in Ireland; I try to give you a glimpse of an alternative life that isn’t dominated by a work to TV and sofa lifestyle. It’s difficult to measure how rich our lives have become since we embraced a more wholesome lifestyle, but as I scroll back over the posts I can’t help but notice how they’ve become a log of our ongoing quest to become more self-sufficient. From the beekeeping and pig rearing, hens and vegetables to the passion that’s grown to want to help others become more aware of nature and food from its source through community gardening.

I’ve always loved to write and blogging has enabled me to do that and I hope that even in the smallest way, it might have helped to inspire you to make, grow or visit something or somewhere yourself.

Apart from becoming an online and very public diary, blogging has enabled me to share other people’s stories.

Local Radio

Blogging and FriendsOn Friday morning I was invited to a bloggers breakfast for the start of the Savour Kilkenny food festival at Anne Neary’s beautiful 17th century cookery school at Ryeland House in Cuffesgrange. The table was heaving with produce Anne and her friends had made for the local KCLR breakfast.

It was a lovely surprise to meet up with fellow blogging friends I’ve met during the years who also care passionately about the importance of good quality, locally produced food. They too understand that strong communities will help us all to become more resilient and better able to cope with the challenges that climate change is likely to throw at us.

Blogging and Friends

Susan (Vibrant Ireland) and Frances (The Honest Project) helping to highlight Savour Kilkenny


Community GardeningDuring the morning I was able to talk on local radio about An Gairdin Beo, the new Carlow community garden I’m volunteering with and later that evening I was talking to Martha Bolger on Kilkenny Community Radio.

There I was able to share my story with listeners about how I begin tutoring, how the first community garden I worked with in Goresbridge developed to become a beautiful food garden and how the new garden project I’m working with in Glenn na Bearú in Bagenalstown is growing.

It’s unlikely I would have had the opportunity to tell these stories without the Greenside Up blog.

So many of us share a desire to make the world a better place and our time spent in writing, tweeting, broadcasting and photographing is usually given up for free, often at a cost to ourselves, in the hope that we can help to spread the word, share the news that real food produced by passionate people is worth the extra cent.

As I become even more involved with community garden projects, I’m not certain which direction the blog will take over the next few months. If there’s an area that I write about that you’d particularly like to read or learn more from, please let me know.

In the meantime, a huge thank you for your ongoing and continued support which is tremendously appreciated and a happy and peaceful Halloween week to you all.


10 Things You Might Not Know About Carlow Brewing Co.

July 2, 2015

10 Things You May Not Know About Carlow Brewing Company

I’ve mentioned before how important trees have been in my relationship with Mr G but the very first spark of attraction didn’t take place in a forest, it happened at a craft beer festival in a picturesque Suffolk village. Not only did we share a love of motorbikes, we also enjoyed supping the odd pint of real ale and England has a large selection to choose from. Little did we know when we sailed across the Irish sea to start a new life in County Carlow, that we’d lose our favourite tipple.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Carlow Brewing CompanyWe undertook quite a bit of research before we moved to Ireland but the one thing we overlooked was that there was little, if any, real ale culture. As a result we’ve followed the growing popularity of craft beer in Ireland with great interest and in particular, Carlow’s own O’Hara stouts and ales. This week we took the ten minute trip to Bagenalstown to look around the brewery and find out more about it. Here we found ten things about Carlow Brewing Company that we didn’t know before.

Number 1 – Carlow Brewing Company is the name behind O’Hara’s Irish stouts and ales and apart from being available in many stores and off licenses under their own name, they can also be found in Aldi stores under the brand name O’Sheas, though with slightly different recipes.

10 Things You May Not Know About Carlow Brewing CompanyNumber 2 – Nowadays Carlow Brewing Company has to import hops, mostly from the UK but during the 18th century life was different. Hops were cultivated in the Midlands to service over 200 Irish breweries and Carlow was famous for its arable land that was said to be the best in the country for malt barley cultivation. As a result of larger brewers seeking cheaper raw ingredients overseas, hops are no longer grown commercially on the island. (There’s an opening for farmers if anyone wants to take it up!)

10 Things You May Not Know About Carlow Brewing CompanyNumber 3 – Carlow Brewing Company started in 1996 after the O’Hara brothers visited the UK and tasted some of the many ales on offer there. The brothers realised there was a gap in the Irish market and initially started up their small business close to Carlow Railway Station. In the early days they employed just 8 staff and exported 75% of their brew as the Irish market was at its fledgling stage.

As a result of the rising popularity of Irish craft beers, six years ago the brewers moved to a larger industrial unit in Bagenalstown and are currently employing over 40 local people. Their sales are expanding at 20% per year with Irish sales now accounting for 50% of their production as demand for O’Hara’s grows.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Carlow Brewing CompanyNumber 4 – Carlow Brewing Company have made up to twenty different flavours of craft beers during the last 19 years. They have a core half a dozen labels that are available in pubs, off-licences and supermarkets, as well as a variety of festival and seasonal limited editions. These include Winter Star which was one of my favourite tipples last Christmas and an Irish/American collaboration brew launched for the 4th July celebrations called Foreign Affair.

Number 5 – When the brewing company mention limited edition, it means exactly that. Only one tank out of their many is set aside for that particular brew. When it’s gone, it really has gone.

10 Things You May Not Know About Carlow Brewing Company

Limited Edition Foreign Ale

Number 6 – Carlow Brewing Company are striving to run their business as environmentally aware as they can. The waste malt is collected by farmers to add to feed and water usage is closely monitored. The company would need to expand another five times to make a water treatment plant on site viable, but it’s not something they’ve ruled out for the future.

Number 7 – The brewing company do everything needed to produce their ales and stouts on site except malting and growing hops. From labelling, bottling, creating and selling, it all takes place in Muine Bheag Business Park.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Carlow Brewing Company

Master Brewer Conor Donoghue & Dee

Number 8 – Did you know you can get a qualification in brewing? The Master Brewer at Carlow Brewing Company, Conor Donoghue did just that by getting himself a Masters in Brewing and Distilling. He clearly loves experimenting with the different ingredients that are added to the ales to create unique blends that help him to create the perfect flavour.

Number 9 – The most popular blends of O’Haras are the Stout, IPA and the Red. If you’re new to trying craft beers, the Curim might be for you. It’s a wheat beer that’s known in the trade as a ‘bridge’ beer that people often find is a good entry point into the world of craft beers. Carlow Brewing Company also brew an Irish Lager, an Extra Stout, a Double IPA and more recently, have added a cider to their range using apples sourced in Armagh.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Carlow Brewing CompanyNumber 10 – There’s talk locally that the brewery will move to the recently renovated Malt House alongside the River Barrow in Bagenalstown. Although owned by the O’Haras and a beautiful setting for a growing business, it’s a listed building which would make conversion from a historic malt house to a modern-day brewery tricky.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Carlow Brewing Company

Mr G (Ian) enjoying the tour

If you’d like to visit the brewery, tours are held every Friday by appointment that last just under an hour and include a beer tasting. Groups of 10 or more with a maximum of 15 people can be catered for at a cost of €7.50 each. Individuals can join a tour one Friday a month for €10.50 each. Contact Carlow Brewing Company for more information. All the beers can be brought wholesale from the brewery or look out for them in stores near you.

If you’re curious about craft beers and would like to know more, keep your eye out for Sláinte, The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer and Cider written by Caroline Hennessey and Kristen Jensen. The book covers everything from how beer and cider is made, their history, how to taste them and how to cook and match them with food.

Have you discovered craft beer yet? Are you a fan? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.



A Taste of Carlow Christmas

November 25, 2014

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.

Taste of Carlow Christmas

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.

Taste of Carlow Christmas Details for 30th November 2014

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.


The Secret to Getting the Most Out of Hill Walking

October 28, 2014
The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your Hillwalk

Guided Walks Essential for Beginners

Who’d have thought you’d need to stuff so many items into a rucksack for a stroll in the hills, but sometimes the rolling mountains aren’t all they seem…

It’s been many years since I was on a decent hill walk, but with the slow realisation that the Blackstairs Mountains aren’t just for gazing at and that for the past 12 years we’ve stared over at a ramblers paradise, this year I made a decision to lace up the boots and head out across the purple heather. This was followed by an opportunity to work with Carlow Tourism to help to promote the Carlow Walking Festival so even better, a guided walk to help me out of my hill walking hibernation.

As the day of the six-hour walk approached I was glad that I’d walked in various mountain ranges in the UK, but still, that was over twenty years ago. I was therefore feeling some trepidation about what I might pack and wear and how I might fare on the walk. During my younger years, I’d been lost in fog, wrecked my knees, had a panic attack, experienced blisters on heels that were the size of lemons but plodded on regardless for the sheer joy of being outside in the mountains. Or perhaps I’m looking through rose-tinted glasses and it was more likely that it was too far to turn back… With those memories tucked away, I was keen that this walk be as comfortable as I could make it as I desperately wanted to enjoy it and not let anyone else down in the small group I’d be walking with.

The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your Hillwalk

Ancient Dolman in the Blackstairs Mountains

History and Archaeology Hill Walk

There were 23 walking tours *planned for the weekend festival, each split into three levels of competency. I chose a ‘B’ walk for experienced walkers that was going to explore the history and archaeology of the Blackstairs mountains and wasn’t disappointed. It was led by Seamus Murphy, a PhD student of uplands archaeology and a hill walker since childhood thanks to his involvement with a local Scout group. Seamus enthralled us with his knowledge of times gone past as well as pointed out the various stone art, Dolman and hill forts. The group was also accompanied by at least three experienced guides who ensured nobody was left behind. Apart from ensuring we were safe, the friendly & entertaining guides shared some of their own local tales, as well as stories of how unprepared some hill walkers have arrived for their walks – no rain gear or warm clothing, no drinks or snacks and in ‘their best city shoes’ for instance.

The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your Hillwalk

Spare socks essential!

The Secret to a Good Hill Walk is therefore…

…not so much about your experience, it’s about your guides and clothing. If you’re new to hill walking and don’t have any map reading experience, guides are essential. Their quiet confidence and knowledge are an invaluable way of getting you started safely.

Mountains can be boggy and rocky, with sheer drops and pools of water. Living 1,000ft up in the hills, I know how quickly temperatures can drop and clouds roll in with fog that can suddenly give close to zero visibility. Mountains should be taken seriously. While it can be sunny in the valley at the start point, 3,000 ft up there can be snow. Good hill walking guides carry safety equipment and know what to do in emergencies. Most mountain ranges have hill walking clubs and if you contact them, may be able to suggest guides who can help you find your way around.

With that in mind, here’s a list of essentials that you should pack for a hill walk, baring in mind that you will have to carry it all. First of all though, some suggestions on clothing. After good guides, the second secret to a good ramble in the hills is getting your gear right.

The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your Hillwalk

In a Ring Fort in the Blackstairs Mountains

What to Wear on a Hill Walk

Layering is essential. The key to enjoyable rambling is comfort. Being wet and cold can make for a really miserable walk and potentially be very dangerous. If you’re new to hill walking and don’t want to splash out on all the various clothing options that are now available for ramblers, think layers and what you can get in and out of your rucksack easily. Avoid cotton as once it’s wet it stays wet and jeans are definitely a no go as are cold and heavy when wet, which could increase the risk of hypothermia during cooler walks.

The weather was dry on our walk but very wet underfoot in places. We got hot walking up steep inclines (fleeces off), then cool when we stopped to look at stone art (fleeces on). It was windy in exposed places (hats and coats on) and very sheltered coming down the mountain (hats and coats off).

The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your Hillwalk

Layering is the secret to being comfortable in the hills

I therefore wore a vest tee-shirt, a long-sleeved tee-shirt, a thin fleece, lightweight track suit bottoms, two pairs of socks (thick and thin), gaiters, well-worn, recently waterproofed walking boots and a warm, waterproof jacket (which spent a lot of its time tied around my waist, but I was very thankful of it). On this walk I’d got it right but as I mentioned, there have been others when I haven’t. Experience helps.

Walking Poles

For the first time ever, I used a telescopic walking stick for this hill walk and immediately took to it. Useful in the boggy areas to test the depth before the boots waded in, helpful to break a fall or ease the way walking down the hillside and acting as an ‘extra arm’ as I hauled myself up the steep bits on occasion, my walking pole was a godsend.

What to Pack in a Rucksack for a long Hill Walk

These suggestions are for hill walkers planning to head out four hours or more with experienced guides, based on my experience at the Carlow Walking Festival. If you’re not on a guided walk, you’ll need to add other items such as compass, maps, waterproof map cover, whistle and a torch but I wouldn’t recommend hill walking alone unless you can self navigate.

The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your HillwalkA small rucksack (lined with a plastic bag or liner to keep everything inside dry)
Warm Hat
Waterproof gloves
Waterproof trousers
Spare socks
*Two x shower cap
Plasters/blister pack/small first aid kit
Survival Bag
Hot drink
Chocolate bar (emergency)
Fruit or nuts

* A great tip I picked up recently. If your boots get wet through, take them off, change your socks into dry ones, then put your feet into the shower caps before putting them back into your boots again. This should keep them dry for the rest of your walk. There’s nothing worse than wet feet when you’ve still hours of walking ahead of you.

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More Information About Rambling & Hill Walking in Ireland

For more detailed information about hill walking in Ireland Mountaineering Ireland have a useful website. For guided tours in the more popular mountain ranges check out Hillwalk Tours Ireland and if you’d like to walk the Blackstairs Mountains, have a look at the Blackstairs Ramblers as a starting point who meet weekly throughout the year.

The Secret of Getting the Most Out of Your Hillwalk

Walking or rambling in groups is a great way of meeting people and making new friends as you’ll always find someone to chat with. You’ll generally finish your day with that great sense of achievement and satisfaction that sits alongside outdoor exercise and spending a day in the great outdoors. Carlow Walking Festival gave us the opportunity to experience that and finish up in front of a warm fire, tea and sandwiches in O’Shea’s pub in Borris. I met some lovely people on Walk 20 and am hoping to continue to walk on the Blackstairs as a result of this festival.

Carlow Hill Walking Festival 2014 River BarrowIf you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to read about Naomi Lavelle’s family experience of staying in Carlow and playing on and by the riverside during the hill walking festival, you can read her blog post here. Una Halpin of Wildways Adventures lead a ‘C’ rated walk along the River Barrow that I had the pleasure and enjoyment of joining the day before my ‘big walk’. Una also took her young son along the Blackstairs Eco Trail walk the following day. You can read Una’s account of the weekend here.

Are you a hill walker? Can you offer anymore tips or secrets to a successful hill walk?


Building Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

September 7, 2014

Carlow coverIf you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that building resilient and supportive communities is a running theme on this blog.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

This not only applies to the community garden projects I’m involved with, but extends to our community at large. When Susan and I worked with Carlow Tourism on a Green and Vibrant project recently, arranging a #TasteCarlow bloggers tour with the aim of sharing some of the positive aspects of my home county, it was with that in mind. (Here’s Irish Farmerette’s experience of the tour.)

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:

#TasteCarlow Tour

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of CarlowBianka 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.

Duckett’s Grove

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.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of CarlowCarlow 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.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

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.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Huntington Castle

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.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

The Step House Hotel

The Step House Hotel, our last venue on the tour where we literally experienced another Taste of Carlow thanks to the tasting menu put together by Chef Alan Foley. Alan takes pride in sourcing as much of their food for his kitchen from local growers and producers as he can. The Step House also share their tips and suggestions on where to head to when visiting Carlow on their website and blog.

Resilient Communities: A Little Taste of Carlow

Resilient Community Building

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?

If you’re interested in building committed and sustainable communities and would like to find out more,, We Create Workspace and the P2P Foundation are hosting a series of events this week that bring together cooperative advocates, community activists and commons animators to share perspectives and ideas on the question,

“How can a commons-based collaborative economy strengthen the resilience of our communities?”  

Contact them directly for more information or to book a place.

And if you ever spot Carlow on a signpost or map, on the way to or inbetween somewhere, don’t drive straight past, swing by and look us up, you might find we’re quite a friendly bunch really 🙂