The delights awaiting the walker in County Laois and around Abbeyview rental home are extraordinary diverse. County Laois boasts a total of approximately 480 kilometres of “off road ” walking routes, encompassing the areas of Sli Dala, Erkina, Cullahill, Abbeyleix, Stradbally, Durrow, Timahoe, Mounthrath, Clonaslee, Spink and Slieve Margy.
One of the most popular attractions for visitors to the county are the magnificent Slieve Bloom Mountains, which boast an almost unlimited amount of different walking routes and many hidden gems including waterfalls, ancient geological sites and picturesque sweeping views.
One long-distance walking route, The Slieve Margy Way (approx. 71 kilometres), has recently been completed in the southeast of the county. The route is a circular network of walking tracks passing through many of its villages including Graigecullen, Maganey, Arles, Rushes, Wolfhill and the Swan covering some 71 kilometres in total. All the trails have been designed so that walkers may join them at any stage and walk in either direction. Passing along the banks of the Barrow river, Ireland ’s second largest, the Slieve Margy Way then takes to the hills, rising over 1,000 feet to the top of the Castlecomer Plateau. Along the way can be seen features such as The Glosha Waterfall, Uiseann Park and the Grace Mausoleum in Arles.
Parts or all of the Barrow Way are also a popular destination for walkers. Covering a total of 68 miles from Lowtown, Co Kildare, the way passes through Monasterevin and Athy, south to the Barrow Valley and to St. Mullins in County Carlow where the river becomes tidal. The canal cuts with their locks which by-pass the shallow rapids and weirs on the Barrow Navigation provide a beautiful contrast to the open river.
A quick escape can also be made to the open countryside around Cullahill, located on the main N8 road between Durrow and Urlingford. From the town, a walker can choose either to venture past Cullahill Castle up onto Cullahill Mountain or, for a more leisurely route, follow the banks of the River Goul to visit the 12th century ruin of Aghmacart Priory.
A walk through the forest at Oughaval Wood, Stradbally provides another contrast to the visiting walker. From a short three quarters of an hour walk to the Mass Rock deep in the forest (where local people gathered to attend Mass during penal times 1691 -1727), to a more robust 6 km Cobbler ’s Walk, which features a fine example of a folly known as Cobbler ’s Castle, Stradbally is a fine place to begin a day ’s adventures.
Several routes begin in Clonaslee and disappear Mountains. A picturesque village in itself,18th century Clonaslee is on the famous Sli Dala or Munster Way and deserves thorough inspection from a visitor. The walks from here include features such as the Coolnamoney castle ruin, Ricketts Rocks and Brittas House. The tracks follow and cross the Glenlahan, Gorragh and Clodiagh rivers. deep into the Slieve Bloom
The name Slí Dála means ‘the way to the assembly ’. According to Irish legend, during the reign of the Irish High Kings, five great highways or ‘Slighe ’radiated from Tara, the location of the assembly. The Slí Dála way traditionally crossed the county and parts of the Fisherstown area also make reference to this famous trail. Five waymarked walks in the area begin from either Fisherstown, Vicarstown or the Derries Woods and take in sights such as the Rathdaire Lake, the Vicarstown canals, Courtwood Bridge and the remains of an ancient mud house. Fallow deer, the most common species in Ireland, are particularly numerous here and are often seen. Any number of quaint and friendly pubs in the area will furnish a thirsty walker with the required refreshments following an afternoon hike.
Located between Rathdowney and Ballacolla, the Granstown area provides some stunning scenery to enjoy. Once part of the Castletown estate, ancestral home of the Fitzpatricks of Upper Ossory, the Granstown Lake and surrounding countryside is steeped in history and folklore. Walks around Granstown focus mainly on the lake itself, but excursions through the Lough Wood bring a walker on to Granstown Castle and the Village Well, the site of the legend of the ‘Red Fairy of Granstown
Not far away, the Durrow area has some fine walking, in particular the Leafy Loops, a 21km walk through several woodlands. Sites of interest include the spectacular Castle Durrow, St. Fintan ’s Well, and the old and new bridges spanning the River Erkina.
Four waymarked ways begin from the village community of Timahoe, situated in a broad and fertile valley, underneath Fossy Mountain on one side and Cullenagh Mountain on the other. The river Bauteogue meanders between the Goose Green and 7th century monastic site founded by Saint Mochua and the well preserved 12th century Round Tower commands an impressive presence in the town. The four waymarked walks from Timahoe include features such as the Church ruin at the Fossy gravesite, the Blue Bridge and the murder site of a monastic community of Timahoe in 1650 by Cromwellian forces.
The Whitehorse area, encompassing Mountrath and the southern slopes of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, include three waymarked ways beginning from Mountrath and three more from Monicknew in the Slieve Blooms. Tracks go into the mountains and the surrounding area of Mountrath, encompassing bogs, forests, rivers and historical sites. The walks vary from three to twelve and a half kilometres.
For more information regarding walking contact either the Portlaoise Tourist Office, Tel:057 86 21178 or Laois Leader at 057 86 61900
Other signposted walking areas include the Canal Walk in Portarlington, the Nature Trail in Castletown and Slí na Sláinte in Ballyroan.
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