The view from the top of Cullahill mountain. Pic: Niamh McClearn
Way back in March when all of Ireland was starting Covid-19 restrictions, we gathered a list of Laois walks to enjoy.
Now with a partial lockdown in Laois again, it's a good time to explore the great outdoors and we will have it all to ourselves... a small consolation.
Here are our top 20 suggestions for local outdoor excursions, while you keep your 2 metre distance from others.
1: In Portlaoise visit Togher Woods 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. Portlaoise Heritage Trail, start 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 Heritage Trail map here.
3: Portlaoise also has three lovely parks, the People's Park on the Timahoe road with a pretty duckpond, the linear park from Mill road along the Triogue river, and Fitzmaurice Place which is filled with pretty flowers, ideal for a town centre picnic!
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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. There is a quiet woods across the road if Garryhinch is busy.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Nearby to Stradbally are the beautiful Ballintubbert Gardens, the Eircode is R14 E954. Open to view every Tuesday and Wednesday — 10am to 5pm, admission €5, children free. No dogs.
11. There is a pretty 2.2km walk around Grantstown Lake in south Laois, take the R433 road off the M8 motorway at Junction 3.
12. In Durrow, visit the beautiful broadleaf Dunmore Woods, which has two rivers, the Gully and the Nore.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. Cullahill mountain is a gentle 250m slope with stunning views and woodlands, with choices of walk lengths. See map in the village.
17. Gash Gardens near Castletown are a little Laois secret, stunning private gardens beside the river Nore to relax for an afternoon, open 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday. There is an admission fee of €7.
18. Emo Court: The parklands are open free from 8.30am to last entrance at 8.30pm. Tea/Coffee & light snacks are available from a takeaway unit located outside the tearooms with outdoor seating.
19. Slieve Bloom Mountains: Ridge of Capard, The Cut, Monicknew and Glenbarrow are among the most popular beauty spots. See Slieve Bloom website and maps here.
20. Many Laois people might not have gotten around to visiting the Rock of Dunamaise, once the seat of the ruling O'Moore clan. Now is the time and don't forget the camera to snap the beautiful views. Pictured below by Terry Conroy.
Remember at all locations to park your car responsibly, do not block emergency exits, lock it and do not leave valuables in sight, keep dogs on a lead, bring a well charged phone and bring home all your rubbish. If it is busy when you get there, turn back and return at a quieter time.
Enjoy and take care!