The Slieve Bloom mountains were a discovery. Linking the counties of Laois and Offaly, the Slieve Blooms are unspoilt, uncrowded, and seriously scenic!
Seemingly, the Slieve Blooms – and the Massif Central in France – are the oldest mountains in Europe. According to SlieveBloom.ie, they were once the highest in Europe at 3700m. The effects of weather over the centuries has reduced them to 527m.
Glinsk Castle Loop
On a short stay in Kinnitty, Co Offaly, we walked the Glinsk Castle Loop on the Kinnitty Forest trail. With mature, mixed native broadleaf trees and Coillte forestry, forest tracks, a river, birdsong, this 8km loop takes two to three hours. You’ll be stopping to take photographs (of Kinnitty Castle and the nearby 9th Century Kinnitty High Cross, as well as the natural attractions!)
The terrain is a mix of narrow trails through the trees (my happy place) and forest tracks. A word to the wise: Glinsk Castle is but a shadow (a teensy shadow!) of its former self! It’s just stone pillars and walls – so don’t expect a second Kinnitty Castle!
With forest bathing trending, we decided to give it a go. Sitting beneath the trees, it was amazing to listen to the birds singing, untroubled by human cares. As the wind rustled through the trees, you could hear the rise of the breeze and how the leaves and branches swished in response. On the Monday morning of our visit, not a soul stirred on this part of the walk, so the natural stillness was a balm for the soul. A highlight of the walk – and testament to the peacefulness of this woodland.
There are 17 looped walks in the Slieve Blooms. You’ll find the trailheads in Glenbarrow, Clonaslee, Cadamstown, Kinnitty Forest, and Monicknew Forest. A map is a must, though the trail we did was well signposted.
Eco Walks through the Slieve Blooms
As well as looped walks, there are Eco Walks throughout the Slieve Blooms, focusing on the area’s flora, fauna, and geology. The terrain is more challenging on eco walks, so a decent level of mobility is a must. Youl’ll find Eco Walks at Knockbarron, Glenafelly, Gurteenamile, Silver River at Cadamstown, and Glenbarrow.
Glenbarrow Eco Walk
The Glenbarrow Eco Walk, in Co. Laois, is amazing – we walked just as far as the Glenbarrow Waterfall. The trailhead descends into a canopy of trees on the way down to the tall spruce woodland. You walk past the sandstone quarry floor in the river, which is an amazing natural sight as you stand where stone was removed in the 19th Century.
You do have to clamber over rocks and boulders in places to get to the waterfall, so you’ll need to have good mobility and walking footwear. Ancient tree roots make the terrain underfoot uneven, so take your time.
The three-tiered waterfall is magnificent. Formed by the erosion of mudrock that lies lower than the sandstone, the waterfall is another reminder of how nature can stop us in our tracks. And, yes, this is the same River Barrow that runs on through Kildare and down to Carlow.
The whole Eco Walk is 8.5km with 10 stops mapped out, so download a guide to fill in the details. That way, you’ll be able to appreciate the walk better with info on both the heritage and flora and fauna around.
FYI: We came at Glenbarrow Eco Walk from the Clonaslee-Rosenallis road in Laois. Pop Glenbarrow Car Park, Rosenallis, Co. Laois into Google Maps to get you to the trailhead. There are no facilities at the trailhead, so bring whatever you need with you.
Scenic drives through the Slieve Blooms
A great way to see more of the Slieve Blooms is to go on a scenic drive. Again, there are a few of them: the Village and Heritage Driving Route (95km), the Scenic Glendine Driving Route (40km), and the Glenbarrow/Capard Driving Route (60km).
We took the scenic 40km Glendine Driving Route, which crosses the Laois-Offaly border, and opens up stunning vistas at the summit. As you travel through Glendine West on to Glendine Gap, there’s a car park here from where you can view Arderin Hill 527 metres high. As you follow the route around, you can see Lacca Millennium Wood to your right. These yew, oak, and ash trees were allocated to residents of Laois, Meath and Kildare to commemorate the new millennium. Further along, there are car parks with views across to Wolftrap Mountain, and stunning vistas across the countryside at the top of the route. And then it was back to Kinnitty.
Good to know:
We stayed in Kinnitty, Co Offaly, in the Ardmore Country House B&B. Local knowledge and tips are vital when taking on an area as big as the Slieve Blooms. Our host, Chris, was super – with insider knowledge, freshly baked soda bread, the fire on for a chat on a cool July night, and great breakfasts!
Kinnitty was a great discovery – it’s picturesque, with decent lunch offerings at Peavoys in the centre of the village. Pizzas for dinner were superb at Giltraps and we had a great chat with locals in the Slieve Bloom Bar (where they brew their own ale!) There’s also the Antisocial Cafe in Kinnitty Castle, open Thursday-Sunday offering takeaway options to bring for picnicing.
It’s also got its own pyramid! Located to the rear of the Church of Ireland, it was built between 1830 and 1834 and is an exact replica of the Egyptian pyramid of Cheop. It’s also the final resting place of six members of the Bernard family, once the owners of Kinnitty Castle. It’s not everyday you see a 19th Century pyramid and burial chamber.
While you’re there: Birr Castle
Birr Castle Demesne, Co Offaly, has a great walk around the gardens. The Castle is the home of the Parsons family (Earls of Rosse) since 1620 and it’s full of wonderful heritage and nature things to marvel at.
My favourite was the Victorian Fernery and waterfall, created in the 1880s. We also took in the formal gardens, designed in 1935 by Anne, 6th Countess of Rosse, in 1935. The Castle grounds are also host to the oldest wrought iron Suspension Bridge in Ireland, built c.1820s.
The Parsons family were no slouches. The third Earl of Ross designed the Great Telescope, built in 1845, the biggest in the world for 70 years. His son, the fourth Earl of Ross, conducted research on radiant heat from the moon. And the fourth Earl’s brother, Charles, invented the steam powered turbine which was used eventually to power the engines of ships.
Good to know: Entry €10 per adult, €5 per child, family of two adults and two children €26. Outdoor dining, and pay parking available outside the castle.
For further info
You can’t go wrong with the info on the Slieve Blooms website!