Binnianea Loop, Co Laois
Getting there: From Abbeyleix take the N8 south to Cullahill. Go left here and the trailhead carpark is on the left, after about 3km.
Many an Irish rugby player, it is said, has obtained two international caps in the one day – his first and also his last. Similarly, large numbers of aspirant ramblers, having been coaxed out for a day on the hills, have found the experience a tad too vertiginous, and likewise, chalked up two walks in one day. Now, you have a something of a similar problem. A group of friends, normally more aligned to cafe society, are curious about the attractions and distractions offered by the Irish countryside and have decided to come rambling with you. You know, however, there is but one chance to impress.
Fear not, for on the Laois/Kilkenny border, the Binnianea Loop Walk offers an instinctively egalitarian outing and a premiership introduction to the outdoors without the inconvenient need for premiership fitness. Likely to enchant even the most committed of couch potatoes, this easy circuit offers great variety and mercifully dry underfoot conditions as it traverses working farmland with sweeping vistas over Ireland’s great central plain.
So coax your friends along to Cullahill, Co Laois, and from the trailhead lead them downhill for 200 metres. Then, take a woodland path leading right and uphill on Cullahill mountain. Continue through fields to reach a minor road and then lead right onto Shirley’s Lane, which this time of year is filled with the sounds and evocative aromas of the Irish countryside. Leave the lane at a stile and traverse a large field before crossing a stream and entering Binnianea forest where you can showcase your precise geographic knowledge by explaining you have just entered “the land of the cats”.
While the group tries to figure out the significance of this enigmatic statement, you lead on smugly to join a pleasant forestry road and continue following the arrows through serene woodland. Eventually this takes you back across the boundary stream where you can put your friends out of their misery by explaining that their brief sojourn into Co Kilkenny is now over and they are safely back in Co Laois. Next, it is on through fields to reach a firm pathway that ascends past an incongruous, half completed dwelling.
Left over a stile, and then along a woodland edge, which brings you to a forest roadway. Soon after, a path zigzags steeply downhill with great views north over rolling countryside to the wispy line of the distant Slieve Bloom mountains. Immediately below, all eyes will inevitably be drawn to the now forlornly broken shape of once proud Cullahill Castle. This provides a final opportunity to impress by explaining that this castle has been derelict since it was bombarded and sacked by Cromwellian forces in the 17th century.
At the end of the descent, you pick up a lane leading to a public road where a final 1km ramble leads back to the trailhead. At this stage, if your friends still remain somewhat south of invigorated and enraptured, you must sadly conclude that here is a group for whom true fulfilment will remain a tantalising but elusive mirage.