Oughaval woods in Stradbally.
Covid-19 has forced thousands of people and families to stay away from indoor group activities, but we are lucky in Laois to have an endless list of free walks to enjoy.
The beautiful Emo Court and Slieve Bloom spots like the Ridge of Capard, The Cut, Monicknew and Glenbarrow are more popular than ever right now, so much so that the OPW and Coillte have issued reminders to people to keep their 2 metre social distancing. Read more here.
However there are many more mapped walks to choose from in the Slieve Blooms which offer a hugely therapeutic pastime now and always. See Slieve Bloom website and maps here.
There is always the option of pulling on warm clothes and a high vis and walking from your front door, but here are 15 other great places in Laois to enjoy.
Remember to park your car responsibly and not block emergency exits, lock it and do not leave valuables in sight, keep dogs on a lead, bring a well charged phone to check location, rain jackets and bring home your rubbish.
If it is busy when you get there, turn back and return at a quieter time.
1. In Portlaoise visit Togher Woods (below) for a choice of looped walks - follow signs for Portlaoise Rugby Club near the M7 then take the first turn right past the club. Buggy friendly.
2. Alternatively take the heritage trail through the town too, starting at the James Fintan Lalor statue in front of the council offices and visiting 26 sites around the 16th century town. Buggy friendly. See the PDF map here.
3. Portarlington is lucky to have two woodland walks close by. Derryounce Lakes has acres of woodland, restored bog and lakes, turn left in Market Square onto Spa street, after 2km turn left after the old railway crossing and drive to the entrance. Buggy friendly.
4. Carrick Woods is a beautiful broadleaf woodland of 32 hectares with a picnic area and forest walk, 1.5 km from Portarlington town past the railway station and turn right. Watch out for the enchanting 18th century Spire in the woods.
5. Many might be surprised to know that part of the Grand Canal goes through Laois. Walk along it or part of it from picturesque Vicarstown village to Fisherstown, a 6km stretch. Buggy friendly.
6. Halfway between Portarlington and Mountmellick is Garryhinch Woods, with parking, picnic tables and short walks through broadleaf woods and conifer managed forest, with a lovely ruined coachhouse and a pretty bridge over the River Barrow ideal for playing Pooh sticks. Buggy friendly.
7. From Clonaslee there is a lovely family walk around Brittas Lake, at the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains. There is a car park near the lake for a shorter walk for children. Buggy friendly.
8. Stradbally has Oughaval Wood on its outskirts, on the Carlow road. It has a choice of waymarked trails of varying length, some quite steep. There is a mass rock on the shortest loop.
9. Nearby is Ballintubbert Gardens who have temporarily opened free to visitors, the Eircode is R14 E954.
The owners encourage friendly waves to other visitors but ask that if you are feeling unwell, consider others and avoid visiting until you are feeling better. The gardens will be open Monday through to Thursday each week between 10am and 3pm for visitors. No dogs allowed. Children must be closely supervised because there are water features.
10. There is a pretty 2.2km walk around Grantstown Lake in south Laois, take the R433 road off the M8 motorway at Junction 3.
South Laois offers lots of choices.
11. In Durrow, visit the beautiful broadleaf Dunmore Woods, which has two rivers, the Gully and the Nore.
12. For a bigger challenge in Durrow there is the 23km Leafy Loop, taking in country lanes, river bank, forestry paths, woodland tracks and hill paths through mixed broadleaf and conifer woods, across farmland and along rivers, passing the ruins of Dunmore House with lovely views of the countryside.
13. Abbeyleix Bog Walk is a mix of forest and restored bog packed with rare wildlife. Park in the Abbeyleix Manor Hotel and follow the trails. There is a 3.5km boardwalk giving access to view deep living bog without damaging it.
14. Heywood Gardens near Ballinakill has 50 acres of woodland, lakes and gardens, lncluding a sunken walled garden with a pond designed by famed garden designer Edward Lutyens.
15. Cullahill mountain is a gentle 250m slope with stunning views and woodlands, with choices of walk lengths. See map in the village.
Enjoy and take care!