Our walk across Ireland follows a thread of paths, each independent yet connected end-to-end. We have just finished the Wicklow Way, taking us from Dublin to Clonegal. Today we head off on an unmarked 4-kilometer jaunt leading to the small town of Kidlavin, the start of our next thread of trails, the South Leinster Way.
It takes us four days to walk the 102-kilometer length of the South Leinster. The scenery still has its ups and downs, but it is less demanding than the Wicklow. And we encounter more villages, more farmscapes, more signs of human occupation along the way.
Day one on the trail takes us on a rigorous 27-kilometer route with a 400-meter climb to the top of Mount Leinster. It is another overcast day with white mist obscuring anything more than a few meters ahead. Along the narrow road to the top only the occasional car would pass by, headlights slowly emerging through the fog. And then we plunge straight down into the busy town of Borris and a luxurious night at the posh Step House hotel.
The next day leaves any inclines behind…for a while. The trail from Borris follows the quiet towpath of the River Barrow. From 1760 to 1780, the river was made navigable for commercial traffic with the installation of weirs and canals, complete with locks. Where we walk today, along the idillic riverside, teams of horses once pulled large flat-bottom barges full of goods weighing up to 40 tons.
Our river walk ends, midday at the busy town of Gráig na Manach. Chance for a quick beer before we, once again, ascend the slopes and then descend into the charming town of Inistioge. If you have ever seen the film Circle of Friends, this is the setting for that film. This is the terminus of today’s walk but we will be staying several kilometers distant at an historic country estate turned inn, the Ballyduff House, also a setting for Circle of Friends. It’s a good dose of luxury for two tired, sweaty hikers.
The next two days take us up and down through farmland, a chance to make friends with curious cows as we plod along tractor paths between fields. First to the tiny town of Mullinavat and the Rising Star Guesthouse and finally to Carrick-on-Suir, easily the largest community we have yet come across.
The South Leinster Way has been a pleasurable walk, taking us on a varied journey through natural and rural settings. Always changing. Well marked. And a little gooey at times as we sink deep into water-filled tractor paths of mud and…well, this is cow country.