Cycle series: A scenic trip suitable for all abilities
Co Carlow route has ancient castles, heritage gardens and houses, and beautiful rustic scenes
Altamont Gardens has a stunning array of trees, shrubs and flowering plants plus the wonderful walk through the Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen down to the River Slaney
This route explores the centre of Co Carlow and is mainly flat but with two significant hills to add a bit of spice. Between ancient castles, heritage gardens and houses and beautiful rustic scenes, it’s a lovely route suitable for all abilities.
Bagenalstown is named after its founder, Walter Bagenal, who founded the town in the 18th century. His plans were ambitious, to say the least, as he intended it to be a mini Versailles! He began by building the impressive courthouse modelled on the Parthenon of ancient Athens, but sadly that is all that remains of his breathtaking plan.
With the railway station behind you and the McGrath Hall on your left, begin your route by continuing down to the mini-roundabout and taking a left-hand turn onto Kilree Street, heading for Borris. On the way out, you will cross over the railway bridge and see a fine example of traditional Carlow granite fencing on both sides of the approach to the bridge. Turn left onto the L3001 signposted for Corries Cross.
Continue for about 4km and, as the road begins a gentle climb, make a right-hand turn. This will bring you over to the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lorum. The current church stands on an ancient Christian site. Tradition has it that St Laserian paused at Lorum on his way from Rome, via Wexford, as he headed towards Old Leighlin where he founded his religious community.
The road rises and falls on the approach to the sleepy village of Ballinkillen. Turn left at the bottom of the village onto the L3004 heading for Corries Cross just over 2km away and continue straight ahead to the next crossroads.
If you wish to visit Ballyloughan Castle, turn left, otherwise go right. Ballyloughan Castle has one of the finest examples of a twin-towered gatehouse in the country; this, along with the ruins of two other corner towers, is all that remains. Entrance to the site is via two locked gates and it is best to ask for permission at the adjoining farmhouse for access.
Retrace your route back to Corries Cross and continue down the hill to another crossroads. Continue straight ahead in the direction of the signposted Templemoling Cemetery. Along the way you will see a fine example of a tower house, on the right-hand side of the road. A former RIC barracks, it was beautifully renovated some years ago.
Templemoling Cemetery is a very spiritual place with stunning views of the Blackstairs from this ancient site. It is associated with St Moling but only scant remains of a hermitage are visible. There is a large boulder on the site said to contain the footprint of St Finian.
Continue past the cemetery on this narrow boreen and turn left to head towards the highest village in Carlow: Drumphea. Alternatively, you could make a small detour to the ancient Kiloughternane Church ruins, which are close by.
It’s a steep climb to the hamlet of Drumphea. There are great views in all directions from the village. The church in Drumphea was presented with a chalice in 1397 by the mother of Roger Mortimer, heir apparent to the throne of England. Roger was killed in the Battle of Kellistown that same year and the chalice was given in return for his body.
Leaving Drumphea, continue downhill and take a sharp right back uphill on a small side road. The views are great along this section. Turn left at the next T-junction. The road now runs parallel to the River Burren, which rises close by on Mount Leinster. Take a very sharp left at the next T-junction and continue across to the next crossroads where you turn right, heading towards Myshall. In less than a kilometre take another left onto a side road that runs straight for about 2km. Turn right at the T-junction, followed by a left onto the R724. At the next T-junction a few hundred metres ahead take the side road to the right. The road meanders for some time; then turn left at the T-junction. The terrain is very flat in this part of Carlow and progress is speedy. At the next T-junction go right and after 2km turn right at the signposted Cappagh Crossroads. Just after another kilometre follow the road around to the right and continue on to the next T-junction. Turn left here and up ahead at the Kilbride Crossroads is the Forge Restaurant, which is a great spot to take a break and a have little treat.
Suitably revived, cross the N80 and continue on to Altamont Gardens. Widely regarded as one of the premier heritage gardens in the country, it is well worth a visit. It has a stunning array of trees, shrubs and flowering plants plus the wonderful walk through the Bog Garden and Ice Age Glen down to the River Slaney.
On leaving Altamont turn right and continue for 3km to a T-junction. A right-hand turn here will take you down to the Aghade Bridge and fantastic views of the wild River Slaney. However, we turn left on our route and cross over the N81 at the eccentrically named Bang Up Cross.
Shortly after, take a right-hand turn signposted for Sandbrook House and continue on this road for 4km. Take a sharp left followed by a sharp right and then take the next right onto a narrow road.
Continue to a T-junction and take a slight left onto the L3046. Follow the road around the bend and continue on, passing The Fighting Cocks GAA grounds to the staggered junction with the N80. Cross over and take a break at the Fighting Cocks pub. (It might be wise to take some refreshments before the steep climb ahead.)
Continue up past the Fighting Cocks and the road begins to rise gently. After about 2km take the side road straight ahead and soon you will be battling one of the severest gradients around to Bradleys Crossroads at the top of the Nurney Plateau.
Continue straight ahead and downhill – with caution as it is very steep – to the next cross and go right. Still heading downhill turn left at the next crossroads, Augha Cross. Augha Church ruins are located just ahead but turn left and continue on this road down to Dunleckney Cross.
Turn left here followed by another left to visit Ballymoon Castle (or continue straight ahead for a slightly shorter route). Turn left onto the R724. Fourteenth-century Ballymoon Castle is up ahead on your left. It is a striking and unusual design comprising a large courtyard surrounded by thick granite walls. Square towers project from three sides with a gatehouse on the fourth.
Turn around to return to Bagenalstown, which is just under 4km away, entering over another railway bridge featuring the unique Carlow granite fencing. Turn left after the bridge to return to the starting point.
Route 22 Bagenalstown/ Drumphea Route
Bagenalstown – Ballinkillen – Drumphea – Altamont Gardens – The Fighting Cocks – Bagenalstown
Location: County Carlow
Duration: 3-3½ hours
Height Gain: 652 metres
Verdict: Unspoilt rural route on country roads with great views across County Carlow
Bagenalstown, also known as Muine Bheag, is located on the River Barrow just off the M9 south of Carlow. Exit at Junction 6 if coming from Dublin or Junction 7 if coming from Kilkenny. Better still, arrive by train! The starting point is on Station Road adjacent to the beautiful neoclassical railway station, one of Ireland’s prettiest. Parking spaces are available on Station Road.
An edited extract from Cycling South Leinster – Great Road Routes by Turlough O’Brien, published by The Collins Press, price €14.99. It is available in all good bookshops and online from collinspress.ie.