Overview: The Leafy Loop around Durrow is a good 5.5 to 6.5 hours of a 13.2 mile or 22 km walk. it climbs to 100m at The Ballagh and will require good health and good boots. The good news is that it is worth it – it’s a glorious walk through forests, by rivers, up hills to oversee the valley and down into the charming village of Durrow itself.
The Leafy Loop is a longer version of the Dunmore Loop walk which follow the same route until a divergence just before Clonageera House on the other side of the village. You get to see many of the fine sights along the way then climb to see the magnificent valley. It’s an extra 4+ miles, but if you’re fit, it is well worth it.
This walk is well signposted with a variety of posts along the way. Purple arrows indicate the signs for the Leafy Loop and have been placed with thought and care by people who are keen to keep you on the right path at all times.
Tips: A sturdy pair of boots and raingear are recommended for this walk which is on grass and soft ground a lot of the time. Please observe the country code of closing all gates and taking your litter home. Bring some water to keep you healthy and binoculars to enjoy the abundance of fauna along the way. We also recommend that walkers make themselves aware on how to prevent the spread of Lyme Disease by visiting TickTalkIreland.
Unfortunately, dogs are forbidden on the Leafy Loop walk. Our access to farmlands has been negotiated with land owners strictly on this basis. Even dogs on a leash can cause problems (for the walkers more than the animals) where livestock aren’t used to them, and while much of the walk is in woodland some stretches pass through farmland where horses ,cattle and sheep are grazed and need to be kept free of dogs.
Maps: The numbered points below correspond to the points on the EveryTrail Map. Alternatively, intending walkers can pick up a map for free from CastleDurrow reception.
Apps for your Phone: Smartphone users can download accompanied App Guides direct to their phones from the EveryTrail Durrow Leafy Loops Walk Guide page.
1: Start of Leafy Loop: On the greens in Durrow’s Square, take the enterance to CastleDurrow. Half way up the lane to Castle Durrow, you’ll see the signpost for the start of both the Leafy Loop and the Dunmore Loop walks. Go through the wooden gate and stroll down the lane to start either walk in earnest.
2: Right along the river: The walk will take you down the gentle slope and left by the Erkina river. For now, you’re embarking on something a lot more challenging, but rewarding – the 13.2 mile/21 kilometre Leafy Loop walk. It tallies with the path of the 10 mile/16 kilometre Dunmore Loop, but takes in the climb up the Ballagh to Tubberboe then down to Castledurrow demesne by the Bishop’s Tree and back along the Erkina. At a pace, it can be done in 5.5 hours, but it should be enjoyed and plenty of stops to enjoy the flora, the fauna and the history of the place should be factored in.
Carry on along the river path – it is along here that some fine fishing can be done. Ask in Lawlor’s shop in Durrow for details on angling licences. The local fishing club was founded in 1968 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. The rivers Erkina and Nore flow though the parish along with rivlets Goul and Gully. Over 90% of waters within the parish are controlled by the club. Visit http://www.durrowcullohillanglers.com/ for details on permits.
There’s also a canoeing club that uses this river – ask Bob in Bob’s Bar or Woodenbridge Paddlers Club for more details.
3: Over the metal bridge: You’ll have a chance to stretch your legs before you need to cross over at the metal bridge. The Erkina is a river that is worth taking some time to enjoy or indeed to fish from here. The Erkina River is the largest of the Nore river tributaries in South Laois and has it’s source at a point close to where Counties Laois, Tipperary and Kilkenny meet. It’s journey takes it past Templequain bridge and Clarney Hall bridge. At 1km west of Rathdowney the Quinn river joins the Erkina. This waterway serviced the old malt mill at Donaghmore near the current Donaghmore Agriculture and Famine Museum (formerly Donaghmore Workhouse). From Coneyburrow bridge at Rathdowney the Erkina makes it’s way past Rathdowney 18 Hole Golf Course and passes under Coolkerry bridge, Carrig bridge and Boston bridge.
The river then becomes slow moving as it approaches the wooden bridge. This bridge, as it’s name suggests, is made of wood and is one of a small number in Ireland carrying regular road traffic. The river then traverses an area known as the “Curragh”. This area is a bird-watchers paradise as many species of migrating birds flock here each winter. This was illustrated in Don Conroy and Jim Wilson’s book “Bird Life in Ireland”. The river then makes it’s way through the alluvial woodlands of Bishopswood and Knockanoran before entering the grounds of beautiful Castle Durrow.
4: Flora & fauna noticeboard: Not only is this looped walk well signposted, it also has noticeboards along the way to tell you what to look out for in terms of flora and fauna. The ancient alluvial woodland site of Durrow area has a preponderance of native tree species. While the ash tree is certainly in abundance, also look out for alder – grey and Italian, sycamore, horse-chestnut, lime, yew, winch elm, willow, birch and pendunculate oak as well as hazel and holly.
5: Castle and obelisk: In what seems like no time, you’ll see for yourself how far you’ve walked form the castle which can be seen in the distance looking every part the opulent country retreat. In front of it, you should be able to see the obelisk which stands some eighteen feet high on a hill.
6: Swan Road turn off: You’ll come to the R434 Swan Road here. Cross the road, turn left and take the next right some 100 metres on.
7: Into the forest: Climb through the hole in this wall to get yourself back onto softer ground – straight away you’ll be transformed to a different place. Of the shrubs you can expect to see along the loop, look out for guelder rose, elder, and whitethorn, blackthorn and spindle with the hawthorn being the most common. Herbaceous woodland plants on the loop include honeysuckle, ivy, enchanters nightshade and make fern. Pride of place goes to the rare purging buckthorn. In the summertime, you’ll see lots of fragrant meadowsweet along the riverbank. In the river itself you’ll find salmon, trout and pike. Most interestingly of all, you’ll also find the endangered pearl mussel, Margaritifera Durrowvensis.
8: Dunmore demesne car park: Take note of the car park here if wishing to do this section of the walk again.
9: Beech trees: Take note of the abundance of long thin beech trees that grow straight up along this stretch.
10: Sweet chestnut tree: This is the location for one of the more incongruous trees in the forest – a sweet sycamore tree.
11: Leafy path: There is a host of funghi and flora along this beautiful peaceful stretch which is the old corridor to Dunmore House.
12: Green moss location: Take note of some verdant growth to the left here – this soft green moss was in its time used for a number of household tasks, as well as diapers!
13: The Big House: Dunmore House was a three storey gable ended house founded early in the 18th century by a gentleman named Drysdale. It was subsequently occupied by Dr. Maurice, Protestant Bishop of Ossory, who died here in 1756, and lies buried in Durrow. Dr. Maurice was succeeded by his relative Captain (afterwards Sir) Robert Staples, ancestor of the last proprietors. Nearly opposite Dunmore House, on the left bank of the Nore, is the ancient churchyard of Rathkilkeedy.
It’s a sorry sight from its former glory with only a boarded up entrance to one of the cellars and some eery trees. To this day, stories are told of how the deceased members of the Staples family were all buried at midnight, the reason for which your guess is as good as ours.
14: Nore river: You’re now at the famous Nore river – the strange apparatus keeps vital data on the river for the local authority. Resist the temptation to try and swing across! The Nore river is one of the finest rivers in the Irish Midlands. It has it’s source in the Devil’s Bit Mountain, in northern Tipperary county. The river crosses the Laois County line, 3km west of Borris-in-Ossory and continues it’s journey by the basin at Coolrain and Crannagh Bridge. At Castletown bridge it crosses the weir which serviced the old corn mill still standing at this site.
It continues through Mountrath Golf Course, Jeston’s Bridge, Newbridge all before entering “The Mash”. This location is a haven for wild birds and is close to the village of Shanahoe. From there it flows by Poorman’s bridge and Waterloo bridge before traversing the famous De Vesci Estate. It’s journey then takes it past Watercastle bridge, Dunmore bridge and the beautiful countryside around Durrow.
After passing the Tallyho bridge, the New York rapids and the remains of the Assmills, the river enters Kilkenny county moving by the old mill and broken weir at Ballyragget. It then continues by Threecastles before meandering through the Marble city of Kilkenny. The river Nore meets the river Barrow northwest of the town of New Ross, Wexford county. At Cheekpoint they join forces with the river Suir to form the Three Sisters and continue their journey to the sea at Hook Head.
15: Divergence of Gully and Nore rivers: Having found it’s source from the many springs of Cuddagh Bog, the Gully river flows through more fertile land as it passes Gortnaclea Castle west of the village of Shanahoe. It then continues by Derrylahan bridge, Moyne Demesne and links up with the Nore river at Dunmore Demesne and Woodlands. A well known place to fish.
16: New Bridge: You’ll be coming to the New Bridge by the N77. The Durrow Development Forum intend the path to go under the river at some stage, but for now, go to your right, follow the path and cross the road to continue the walk – all well signposted we’re pleased to say.
17: Two rivers meet: The Erkina river finally joins the Nore at this point. If paddling with the Woodenbridge Paddlers canoe club, this is a particularly enjoyable part of the journey.
18: Knockatrina House: To your left is a tree stands out and has a touch of the other world about it, growing as it does so precariously close to the river. Those that have seen the film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ may even think it is related to the tree that contained the giant frog!
19: Off limits – turn right: Please note that you’ll be turning to your right here to continue the walk as the section over the fence is now off limits.
20: Woodlands wonderland: The woodland has developed fen peat and the soil is base-rich and moist. Animals you might spot along the way are Irish hares, badgers, red squirrels, pine martens, otters, stoats, hedgehog, smooth newt, frogs and bats. The loop has many birds to see and hear: treecreepers, goldcrests, blue tits, coal tits, blackbirds, sparrowhawks, widgeon, swans and kingfisher.
21: Brick memorial: The Durrow Brick Company was established in 1890, and flourished for a time until its eventual demise and the dismantling of the works at Attanagh in 1922. This small memorial with genuine Durrow brick is a small testament to their once great status. Perhaps more fittingly, there are scores of buildings around Ireland and Dublin in particular that still stand having been built with Durrow brick.
22: The swing: Take time out from the walk to enjoy swinging from this homemade swing. It’s great fun, if your weight can take it! If you had been in two minds whether to do the Leafy Loop walk, now is a good time to ask yourself are you ready fro another 6 kms with a big hill up the Ballagh in the next 300 metres?
After this swing you’ll be making your way through the narrow path with big hedges on either side. When you get to the road, you’ll be turning right to continue the Dunmore loop that takes you downhill and into Durrow village. The more energetic will be turning left for the final stretch of the Leafy Loop walk.
23: Leafy Loop turn: Don’t be tempted by the easy stroll down the hill that the Dunmore Loop folk will take – the best view of the whole area is yours to enjoy if you can make it up the Ballagh! Carry on past Clonageera House on your right – this fine house once belonged to another Ashbrook scion, but is now in private hands so please look from afar!
24: The Ballagh: The relentless Ballagh stretch is sore on the legs, but when you see the view of the valley, you’ll be grateful you stuck with it.
25: Gate Lodge: Having made your way back down through Capponellan wood, you’ll be crossing the road and going past the gatehouse lodge. Ensure when closing the gates you notice the meticulous craftsmanship involved.
26: Towards the Bishop’s tree: This point marks where you can turn left to see the Bishop’s tree. Local legend has it that a bishop was hung here in Penal times for saying a mass when it was outlawed. The site is marked, but if it is getting dark, you may want to keep moving!
27: Back on the Erkina: In what might seem like a mini marathon, you are now on the home stretch with your return to the Erkina river.
28: Erkina flora: If walking at the right time of year, take note of the abundance of flora, especially fragrant meadowsweet along the riverbank. The area is enriched by calcareous springs and the vegetation has a fen character. Carry on past the metal bridge – by now you’ll see that you’re doubling back on where you started all those hours ago. Keep going until you see CastleDurrow to your right. We hope you have enjoyed the walk and if so, tell your friends and come back with them some time soon.