Cycle series: Get ready to hurl through Kilkenny
After a lung-bursting start, the route winds its way through beautiful countryside and some charming villages
There are four marked cycle routes in Co Kilkenny and this is by far the longest. It is well marked and easy to navigate as a result. The route winds its way through some beautiful countryside and charming villages with a sprinkling of hills in the first half of the loop. This is a really pleasant cycle route, with good surfaces, for the most part, on quiet roads.
The village of Castlecomer was once the centre of a great coal-mining industry across the Castlecomer plateau. It’s still a busy market town and great work has gone into promotion of tourism in the area, with Castlecomer Discovery Park now a major attraction and worth a visit.
From the square, cycle uphill and be prepared for an early shock to the system: the first 3km are quite strenuous as you climb along a straight road with magnificent views back to Castlecomer and northwards over your right shoulder.
It’s a quiet back road and runs straight virtually all the way to Ballyragget. After that initial lung-bursting start, there is a welcome descent into the village. Ballyragget is situated on a wide, open plain surrounded by pretty hillsides and it is an attractive setting.
The global food giant Glanbia is a mainstay of the economy of the region. Born out of amalgamations of small cooperatives, Avonmore Creamery and Waterford Co-Op Society, in the 1960s, Avonmore constructed what was then the largest multi-purpose dairy plant in Europe in Ballyragget. The company now employs 6,000 people across the globe.
The route heads out of town in the direction of the Glanbia Plant, which dominates the skyline. Do not follow the road signs for Freshford, which is a dangerous road for cycling, but continue to follow the North Kilkenny Cycle (NKC) route signs. These will bring you there along a nice, quiet back road through Lisdowney with a gentle rise before falling towards Foyle Bridge. The Durrow Cycle route intersects with this route along this section.
Foyle Bridge crosses a pretty little stream where you take the left-hand turn. It’s easy cycling into Freshford, a charming village with an expansive tree-lined green. The Irish conker championships take place here each year! The green is a nice place to take a short break. Leave the green by turning right at the corner you entered from. The road is narrow and bumpy in places as far as Delaney’s pub 6km away.
Turn left at Delaney’s on the minor road and continue straight ahead and in another 3km cycle through a crossroads and pass the Valley Inn/Comerfords and then turn left. It is all signposted to here but take care at the next T-junction as there is a signpost missing for the North Kilkenny Cycle Route. Take the left-hand turn and continue on this road to the next T-junction, which again is not signposted. There is a church and graveyard on the left of the Killahy Crossroads. Turn left here.
Signposting resumes after this and there are no more difficulties in route-finding. Follow the signs into the village of Tullaroan. The Slieveardagh Hills are away to the right; there are wonderful views on all sides. Brod Tullaroan, which incorporates the Lory Meagher Heritage Centre, is located in a restored 17th-century thatched mansion. It opens during the tourist season and contains a large amount of GAA memorabilia.
With directional signs in place, the route is simple to navigate: follow the signs towards Kilmanagh and Ballycallan. About 3km outside Kilmanagh is Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre, an outdoor arts venue in an old quarry. Shortly after the amphitheatre, the R697 turns sharp left – continue on it until the left turn for Three Castles and Jenkinstown. The route begins to climb again but is not too difficult. It doubles back in a northerly direction. The road surfaces are really good for most of this route and this particular stretch of the route is great cycling. It is impossible to go astray as the excellent signage guides you to Three Castles and the junction with the R693.
Turn left here, then right soon afterwards, crossing over the River Nore and onto the N77. Turn right and then left, passing the attractive Conahy Shamrocks GAA grounds and then by Jenkinstown Park. This is a lovely resting point with picnic areas and lovely walking trails and a deer park.
Continue straight past. The quiet road winds its way for the final 10km or so into Castlecomer.
North Kilkenny Cycle Route
Castlecomer - Ballyragget - Freshford - Tullaroan - Ballycallan - Three Castles - Jenkinstown - Castlecomer
Location: Co Kilkenny
Duration: 4-4½ hours
Height gain: 855 metres
Verdict: Well-marked trail on quiet, well-surfaced roads
Castlecomer in north Kilkenny is the start and finish point for this marked Kilkenny trail. It is 31km from Junction 8, Kilkenny North, on the M9. Take the outer ring road around the city and follow the N77 and then the N78.
Parking is available along the square.
An 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 fromcollinspress.ie.