The first time I visited the Clashganny Looped Forest Walk was early on a Sunday morning, and it was pouring rain. At the car park, my friends and I unrolled waterproof jackets and made sure we had the necessities (chocolate and flasks of tea) in our backpacks. The rain decided to upgrade its status to ‘lashing’ as we made our way towards the start point, next to the River Barrow. ‘Well, this is a huge mistake,’ I thought out loud to the group, and they all nodded from underneath their hoods. But then we spotted groups of laughing kayakers gathering at the quaint lock keeper’s house, and the bright colours of their mini barges burst through the dull morning. It was gorgeous to look at and listen to, no mistake.
The Barrow itself was quiet – except for birdsong and the music of the rain falling through the forest trees. Higher up, the spectacle of the River coiling around the fields and bridge at the lock made me gasp in awe. We rambled and chatted through the woods, forgetting the weather, and found the mass rock. Naturally, we clambered up and made speeches (mine demanded an immediate tea break!) and thought about our ancestors who had come here to practice their religion. The rain was still there, as is normal in Ireland, but thankfully it downgraded itself back to pouring, and we enjoyed a couple of hours of easy walking in the woods.
Afterwards, we drove on to the Rathwood Garden Centre for huge portions of food, admiring the viaduct in Borris on the way and deciding to go back another time for a wander below. I haven’t yet, so getting back to Borris is now a part of the promise I’ve made to myself, of good days to come.
Life in lockdown has been bewildering. Playing the game of guesswork, trying to ascertain when ‘all this’ will end. After beginning to hike stages of The Barrow Way this year, I find my plans have been interrupted (well, stopped!) by the new travel restrictions. But I know I’ll start again. Covid-19 will not be around forever, but our surroundings and landscape will. Lately, I find myself taking comfort in the memories of time spent with loved ones in Carlow, because by thinking back, I look forward.
I shared a room with a friend, her siblings and their children, and her parents, in a Mount Wolseley holiday home. I got the offer to bunk in last minute and I snapped it up. We filled the house with singing and food, and took a stroll around Tullow village, finding the little cemetery. Calories were burned with some swimming in the hotel pool, and gained back by feasting at Aboretum! Three generations of one family (and a gatecrasher) swopped cakes and stories, damp haired and laughing.
With the same group that introduced me to Clashganny, last year I hiked the Wicklow Way. Many people start the Way in Clonegal, but we were very lucky to finish here instead. The approach towards the Weaver’s Cottages and into this deserved Tidy Town winner was a feast for sore eyes and feet. Our last few agonising steps, before collapsing in front of the map in the park, were used to knock into Osborne’s pub where we very proudly obtained our stamped Certificates of Completion! I believe the bar in Osborne’s is made of coffin lids which I’m glad I didn’t realise at the time. In my exhausted state, I was possibly a prime candidate for usage!
These thoughts give me a cosy feeling during this time of isolation and distancing. Yes, I’m gloomy I can’t get to Oak Park Forest, nor start hiking the Barrow Way as soon as I’d like. But I cannot wait to get a chance to eat at Sha-Roe, or experience afternoon tea at Huntington Castle in Clonegal! And there’s the small matter of a walk around Borris waiting for me…
But most of all, I miss the luxury of sharing these experiences with my family and friends. And so, the journeys in my mind become my plans for the future. I can’t wait to escape again in Carlow. See you there!