The Carlow Walking Festival – a family review (Part 1)

We went to the Carlow Walking festival! That was two weeks ago but it is still a hot topic of conversation. The youngest got very upset last weekend when he realised it was not a weekly event. None of us had ever been to Carlow but now we are complete converts. So what was it that we loved about it? Read on…


Admittedly it was a long journey from Galway, about three and a half hours but thanks to google maps and my flukish wonderful navigation skills, we made it door to door with no errors. The first half of the journey was motorway which is nice for covering ground and the second half was cross country, which is good for the eyes and the soul! Despite the torrential rain as we arrived in Carlow, it already showed lots of potential. Even under such conditions it impressed us with the beautiful scenery, lush green landscape, beautiful deciduous trees splendid in their Autumn robes and the evidence of a previous era of gentry farming in the many high granite walls lining the fields.

Another thing that struck me was the number of small public parks dotted throughout the towns and villages. Many with nice signs outlining what wildlife could be seen in the area. This is something that I feel very passionate about; it would be lovely to see a lot more of this around the country.


Exactly three and a half hours after we set out, we arrived at our destination…. Mount Wolsley Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort in Tullow. Before we had even checked in the children were asking about WHEN they were going to the swimming pool! Our ‘home’ for the weekend was a three bedroomed, self catering holiday lodge on the grounds of the resort. We are big fans of self catering for family trips but I have to admit we have had our fair share of disappointing properties so I was quite nervous when I turned the key and opened the door. I need not have worried…. I was met with a warm, spacious and beautiful interior. Hands down this is the best self catering accommodation we have ever experienced in Ireland.

Self catering lodge at Mount Wolsley Golf hotel and Spa
Self catering lodge at Mount Wolsley Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort

Once we had settled in we met with Dee Sewell of Green & Vibrant who provided us with all the details of our action packed weekend ahead. Dee had worked carefully with Carlow Tourism, the organisers of the Walk Carlow Festival and provided us with all maps, routes and information … we could tell we were in good hands and that all angles had been covered. All that was left for us was to turn up and enjoy what the Walk Carlow weekend had to offer.

All good adventurers need to ensure they are well fuelled so we headed up to the main hotel for dinner. As a parent I was conscious of dining out with children in tow but straight away I was put at ease by the friendly and welcoming staff. We chose to eat early and there were other families doing likewise in the large dinning room.

I was impressed with the children’s menu, always a good marker of the quality of the establishment, in my opinion. As well as the usual “nuggets and chips” option there was a wide and varied menu. My children were delighted to see “calamari” as an option on their menu and two of them chose it and liked it. The soup was delicious and home made, there were yoghurt and fruit options and the children’s burger was again of the “home made” variety. Plenty of choice for all the family and after two courses we were almost too full for dessert… but there is always room for ice cream, right?


After a good night’s sleep we headed back up to the hotel for breakfast. I just love self catering accommodation when you don’t have to self cater! The breakfast spread was AMAZING! There was everything you could think of…. cereals, fruit, pancakes, pastries, full Irish breakfast and more. I was impressed to see a “free from” section in the breakfast buffet too.

With full tummies and a packed lunch from the hotel we headed off for Borris and for the first stage of our adventure… a canoeing safari along the river Barrow.


There were 12 of us in total on the safari with Go with the Flow river adventures. We were a mixed bunch with regard to experience and age from the fairly young (three years old) to the slightly older (there was a very capable and adventurous Granny among us). Kevin, our guide was a very pleasant, chatty man who put us all at easy from the start. There were two to three people per canoe, they were the larger, open Canadian canoes that are very safe and stable… perfect for the complete beginner to the more advanced.

The sun shone bright and warm as we all kitted out in the wetsuits, helmets and buoyancy aids provided, and before we knew it we were travelling up the river. It is one of those adventures where you can just take off and learn on the go, even with children involved (although we may have found ourselves going round in circles a few times).

Life on the Barrow
Life on the Barrow

The weather and conditions were ideal for us and the scenery was truly beautiful. There was a comfortable camaraderie established as we all made our way down the river, taking in our surroundings.

Three boys in a canoe
Three boys in a canoe

One of the first “obstacles” of the trip was to pass through a lock. It appeared to me that the adults were even more excited about this than the children, many of us exclaiming “I always wanted to do this” and marvelling among ourselves at the efficiency of such an old system.

The Lock
The Lock
Before someone "pulled the plug"
Before someone “pulled the plug”

I was a little surprised when Kevin told us we would be going down some weirs and rapids, to add a little adrenaline injection to the whole experience. We got a quick talk on what to do and the reassurance from Kevin that if we capsized he would be straight over to help us… as soon as he had taken a photo of our demise. It certainly added to the excitement for us all and luckily we didn’t give him any opportunities to have a little laugh at our expense.

Adding a little extra excitement
Photo credit: Go with the Flow
Girls just wanna have fun! (Photo credit: Go with the Flow)
Photo credit: Go with the Flow

Travelling along the Barrow was a great way to learn more about the county. We got to see and hear about some local flora and fauna but we also got a sense of the local history. Kevin told us a very engaging story of a local legend that earned his name of The incredible Arthur Mc Murrough Kavanagh who, despite having no arms and legs, travelled most of the known world.

The whole experience was amazing for every one of us. It is lovely when you hit on something that keeps the whole family entertained and even better when it is outdoors and among nature. Our last canoeing trip as a family was along the Dordogne in France, but much to our amazement the Barrow topped it and had lots more to offer. We would definitely recommend this as a “must do” adventure. You can check out the various activities offered by Go with the Flow, from family canoeing safaris to youth activities, team building excursions and lots more. They post lots of adventure photos on their Face Book page too.

Go With the Flow
Go With the Flow

I always think that it is the people that can make or break an activity and that is why I really feel that the staff of Go with the Flow require a special mention. Kevin and Mike were excellent. Mike was the quiet, calm type that kept to the back and helped us out when we got a little left behind. Kevin was the main guide on the day and really had that special quality among people. From the young to the not so young, he kept us all relaxed and smiling.


Disclaimer:  I was invited on the blog tour of the Carlow Walking Festival by Green and Vibrant. I was provided with accommodation and activities for the purposes of review but received no other compensation for this post. All views expressed are my own, or that of my family.



Science blogger and writer; Owner of Dr. How's Science Wows; Mother of three junior scientists who have taught me that to be a great scientist you need to look at life through the eyes of a child!

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