Carlow, in Ireland’s Ancient East, is a destination for those who love horticulture, history and haunted houses, as well as those who just like to be surrounded by stunning scenery.
Now that we can explore more of our beautiful country it is time to make a break for it and although Carlow is the second smallest county in Ireland, it has some big attractions, and as you’ll see, it is blooming marvellous.
Huntington Castle & Gardens
Stroll through the tranquil yew walk, planted over 500 years ago, and listen to the accompanying soundtrack of songbird and streams. The gardens of Huntington Castle in Clonegal are a tonic and walking around them, therapy. You’ll instantly feel more relaxed and calm as you enjoy the formal gardens, French lime Avenue (planted in 1680) and the water features. The little ones also have a playground to run around and burn off some energy.
The castle itself dates back to 1625 when it was a garrison, and a guided tour lasts about 40 minutes. The tour takes you into the basement which once housed the dungeons but is now The Temple of the Goddess - a shrine to the divine feminine - all homes should come with one of these. The Temple is a heady mix of incense, statues, urns, altars, shrines and zodiac paintings. It is wacky and weird and well worth a visit.
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Pack a picnic and head to the Altamont Gardens in Tullow for a few hours of peace and serenity surrounded by nature. The Altamont Gardens are a delightfully charming mix of formal and informal gardens with a riverside walk and lake. Breathe in that fresh air perfumed with the aroma of exotic plants and marvel at the bright blooms that fill the floral beds.
If you forget your picnic, don’t worry, the Sugar and Spice Cafe in the gardens is open for takeaway drinks, cakes and scones, and there are plenty of benches and picnic tables for you to enjoy an alfresco lunch admiring the beauty in nature.
Top tip: the rhododendron collection is currently in full bloom, and it is magnificent. A great reason to go and visit as soon a possible.
Romantic ruins or haunted house, whatever your take, one thing is for sure, Duckett’s Grove is one of Ireland’s most breathtakingly beautiful buildings. Located in Kneestown, just 10km from Carlow town, the 19th-century gothic mansion was once owned by the Duckett family, a very well-to-do family in Carlow. Uncover the family’s fascinating story and the history of the Grove with a tour and keep an eye out for the Duckett’s Banshee who apparently haunts the grounds.
Around the ruins are walled gardens and pleasure grounds which have been lovingly restored. The beautiful Upper Walled Garden bursts with blooms including historical varieties of roses, peonies, rhododendrons and flowering shrubs. The Lower Walled Garden used to be the orchard and now is laden with a variety of fruit trees including fig and Irish apples. The walkways have been cleared so you can comfortably meander around the gardens and through the woodlands walk and fully appreciate the impressive estate.
What if we were to tell you that the largest dolmen in Europe resides in a field, just a mere 3km from Carlow Town?
The Brownshill Dolmen is a megalithic portal tomb that really is mega. The capstone is estimated to weigh over 100 tonnes and is the reason Carlow is known as The Dolmen County. This prehistoric monument is mysterious and majestic and surrounded by quiet meadows and it is a real privilege to be able to get up close and personal to experience a piece of prehistoric Ireland in all its glory.
The Barrow Way Walk
The River Barrow is the second-longest river in Ireland and The Barrow Way is a splendid walking route that passes through some very scenic countryside. Stroll along the old towpath - the place where horses used to pull barges - and admire the abundance of flora that lines the river bank and keep your eye out for plenty of wildlife too.
The full length of the Barrow Way is 113km and runs from Robertstown in County Kildare to St. Mullins in County Carlow. The Carlow part of the Barrow Way starts in Milford, just 7km south of Carlow town and it really is an idyllic stretch that passes along stone bridges, old mill buildings, historical buildings, castles and ecclesiastical ruins. There’s plenty of places to stop along the way for food and drink and there are some picturesque picnic spots too.
Go with the Flow
Make a splash this summer with a water adventure on the River Barrow. Don’t have your own equipment? No problem! Go with the Flow in Borris will kit you out and set you up for some serious fun.
There are river adventures to suit all ages and abilities whether you are a solo traveller, with your mates or have the family tow. You can hire canoes and set off on a self-guided paddle or enjoy some spills and thrills with an instructor. For a pleasant paddle opt for a serene river safari but if you are feeling more adventurous, ride the rapids and shoot the weirs with a guide. You can be as mild or wild as you like with a Go with the Flow river adventure.
(Image via Go With The Flow River Adventures on Facebook)
Delta Sensory Gardens
Stimulate the senses with a wide variety of experiences designed to heal and restore your body and mind at the delightful Delta Sensory Gardens on the outskirts of Carlow Town.
A series of interlinked gardens beckon you with their bright and beautiful blooms with breathtaking colours. Stroll around and admire the art in the sculpture park, bask in the tranquillity of the water features and the marvel at the one-tonne of pink marble floating on a cushion of water.
Refuel with some tasty treats from the cafe, pick up some plants to take home from the garden centre and treat yourself to something pretty from the gift shop. This oasis of peace and tranquillity is a wonderful day out for all the family and is fully wheelchair accessible.
Top tip: The gardens are magnificent whatever time of year you visit, but are especially vibrant and vigorous in the summer months when all the flowers are blooming and the air is rich with their scent.
Chocolate Garden of Ireland
For a delicious day out the Chocolate Garden of Ireland on the Carlow-Wicklow border is a scrumptious destination. The magic happens at the visitor experience where you discover the joy of chocolate making as you watch the talented artists create confectionary by hand - it is drool-inducing! When you can’t resist any longer, head to the cafe and ice cream parlour and satisfy those sweet cravings with a huge variety of chocolates and scoops. Did we mention that ice cream, sorbets and frozen yoghurt are also made here? This really is the place where saccharine dreams come true.
Rathwood in Tullow is an enjoyable escape for all the family. There is a huge amount of attractions for people of all ages from the young to the young at heart.
Ride the Rathwood Express Train through the woods and around the Animal Park which is home to ducks, swans, goats and lambs. Make sure you stop off and feed the ducks and swans. For more animal magic, make your way over to the Deer Park, which is home to Fallow and Sika deer and then burn-off some energy at the well-equipped playground. Up next, test your knowledge of Ireland at the Maze - can you name all the rivers? Clever clogs!
Reward your geographic knowledge with some flavourful food made with locally sourced ingredients at The Merry Tree restaurant or the Woodshed Cafe and then, when suitably refuelled, head back out and ramble through the forest along one of the trails. The forest walks are suitable for walkers of all ages and abilities.
Also on site is a shop and garden centre as well as the brilliant Chocolate Garden of Ireland. As you can see, Rathwood really is a one-stop destination that is fun for all the family.
(Image via Rathwood.com)
Located near Tullow, the splendid Hardymount Gardens is a haven for anthophiles and plant lovers. Greeting you on arrival is one of the largest Spanish chestnut trees in the country and as you walk around you’ll be in the company of some magnificent beech and oak trees.
The wonderful walled garden is filled with vibrant plants and flowers and the vegetable garden is laden with a bounty of produce. Sit down and soak up the charming atmosphere of the gardens from the lovely summer house and then follow the grass paths past the pond adorned with lilies and around the pretty pergola covered with cascading purple wisteria. It is wonderful.
2020 is the year of discovering the magic close to home.
So what are you waiting for? With romantic ruins, glorious gardens and megalithic monuments waiting to be uncovered, it’s time to make a break for it to this picturesque part of Ireland’s Ancient East.