The Carlow Walking Festival – a family review (Part 2)

The Carlow Walking Festival – a family review (Part 2)

The second half of our Carlow Walking Festival experience involved a family cycle along the tow paths of the river Barrow. Despite the activities of the previous day we were up and out of bed early in anticipation of the day ahead.

We collected the bikes from the Waterside Bike & Hike in Graiguenamanagh. A family run business, we found Brian and his wife extremely friendly and helpful, making sure that the bikes were correctly adjusted for each of us before we headed off. They have a good range of good quality bikes for all ages including tow along bikes for adult and child and child seats. They also provide all helmets, hi viz vest and any other equipment required, ideal for the tourist or traveller who doesn’t want to be bringing all those things with them.

Bike and Tree

From the moment we set off I could tell it was going to be a good day, the scenery was stunning for the entire journey. The children were delighted with the freedom to cycle under their own steam and the adults were pleased with the safety element…. no traffic to worry about, so we could let the kids off.

Green Road 1

Every corner we turned seemed to fill our eyes with yet another glorious scene. There is always something special about being surrounded by water, trees and nature… this path had them all in abundance.

Green Road 2

The adult-child tandem bike was perfect for our youngest, he got to cycle when he wanted, or just sit back and enjoy the ride. My husband tells me you could really feel the benefit when he did pedal, but it didn’t happen all that often!

Green Road Start

Just a few minutes into our journey we came across our first lock and we all jumped off our bikes to explore. To the children’s delight a barge came along just as we did, so they got to help work the gates. As well as being a great novelty for the kids it was a wonderful way for them to really understand how the system works.

Helping with the lock

It was a pity to see part of the trail lined with Himalayan balsam. This non native species is a vigorously invasive plant that has spread from cultivated gardens into our natural landscapes. The plant, in its native environment is used to arid and difficult conditions and has adapted to such a harsh habitat by producing thousands of seeds, in the hope that a small few will prosper. Unfortunately, in the Irish climate all the seeds have a high success rate and the plant spreads rapidly.

We showed the children how the plant disperses its seeds, the seed pods become dry and taught until they pop under the slightest pressure, flinging the seeds into the air. We thought it was so cool we even took a video, although I think Sir David Attenborough may have made  a slightly better version.

We were delighted to spot a red squirrel along the path, it was on the other side of the river but we watched it travel through the trees for quite some time before it disappeared from view. The red squirrel is a native species but its population and distribution are on the decline since the grey squirrel was introduced. The grey squirrel is larger and has taken over much of the red squirrels habitat so seeing one on our cycle was a real delight. The red squirrel is more active than its grey cousin, needing to consume about 5% of its body weight in food every day to maintain its high metabolism. The presence of the red squirrel showed the local woodland was obviously healthy and well maintained as it supported the red squirrel’s diet and there was obviously no invasion from the grey squirrel in the area.

Brian had told us that once we reached the fourth lock we were nearly at the Mullichin cafe where a welcome respite was on offer. I have to admit we all speeded up once we reached the lock, the thoughts of some well deserved cakes were a great incentive.

St Mullin's lock

The Mullichin cafe is located about four miles down the green road and is a real oasis in an already fertile spot. Situated beside the river Barrow it has plenty of space outdoors to enjoy both the beautiful food and scenery.

St. Mullins Outside

Even in October there were people enjoying the outdoor seating, I imagine this is a thriving spot in the Summer months.

St. Mullins

Once again there was a sign to detail the flora and fauna to be found in the area. The children pointed out everything they had seen.

St Mullin's Sign

We were told the food was good in the Mullichin and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The kids tucked into hot chocolates and a variety of cakes. There was even a gluten free option which I decided to have along with my cappuccino and it was delicious. The staff of the cafe were exceptionally friendly and easy going and the interior was bright and inviting. There was even a play area of small children. We had a great chat with the owners, who were on site and hands on. They took a few minutes to answer our questions and filled us in on some local lore and information.

St Mullin's Refuel

With our tummies full of the lovely baked delights we started our return journey.

Return Cycle

But there is always time for another bit of lock exploring!

St Mullins Lock 2

We loved this “tree top house” we came across along the route. The children said it looked like the best tree house ever.

Tree Top House

Even the odd shower didn’t dampen our spirits and there was plenty of trees around to provide a natural shelter. I was dry and smug while I took this photo of the rest of the family running for shelter.


I was really taken by the beautiful bridge in Graiguenamanagh and loved this view as we rounded the corner at our journey’s end.

The Bridge

Would we go back again? Most definitely! Next time we might consider an Ecology Bike Tour with Waterside Bike & Hike. Talking to Brian before we set off we could tell he was an expert on the local flora and fauna, it would be great to tap into all that knowledge on one of the guided tours as he knows just where to stop to spot such elusive locals as otters or a kingfisher. Travelling to any new area is always enriched when you get to know more about the local history too.

The tow path of the Barrow river also stretches upriver as far as the grand canal in Co. Kildare so there is so much more to explore. The safety element was a big plus for me, with so many traffic free miles of path on offer. You really couldn’t pick a more picturesque area for a cycle and once again we were struck by the friendly and helpful nature of Brian and his wife at the Waterside and all the staff at the Mullichain cafe. You may go for the scenery, the food and the outdoor activities but you will stay for the banter, the craic and the genuine friendliness of the people you meet there.

There were plenty of other activities over the festival weekend, not least of all… plenty of walking, as the name suggests. If you want to check out what else was on and what other people though you can read Dee Sewell’s review of the walks she attended over on her Greenside Up blog. Una Halpin of Wildways Adventures lead a walk and also took her son on another, she wrote about both here.

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.

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

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.