#LoveLaois: A selection of some of our favourite spots around the county

    Over the past year, the LaoisToday team has driven the #LoveLaois concept, a way of celebrating the best and most beautiful spots our county has to offer.

    In recent months we’ve visited various locations around Laois and documented what they have to offer, how to get there and what you need to know to enjoy them.

    It’s not an exhaustive list and there’s as many places that we haven’t got to as we have. We’ve also steered away from some of the higher-profile ones like Emo Court, Glenbarrow and the Rock of Dunamaise.

    It hasn’t been all scenic/tourism areas that we’ve visited. The lovely playground in the charming village of Coolrain, the new Eco Garden Centre in Portarlington and Glamping under the Stars near Ballyroan have also featured.

    On each occasion these features and their accompanying photographs have proven to be hugely popular on our site and social media platforms. And we hope they have been some way useful. If they’ve introduced even just one person to a new delight on their doorstep then that makes it worthwhile.

    Since our establishment in 2017, LaoisToday have endeavoured to celebrate the best that Laois has to offer on all fronts.

    One of the occupational hazards of the media business is that you’ll invariably step on toes – but we’ll always be unashamedly proud of our county and will champion it at every turn possible.

    This week we look back at some of the pieces from our #LoveLaois series. In each instance you can click through to look at the full piece.

    And if you’ve anywhere you think we should visit, please let us know!

    Ridge of Capard

    The Ridge of Capard – boardwalk, the stony man and views for miles all round

    Shamefully, I’d never been to the Ridge before, though I had visited the likes of Glenbarrow and Monicknew.

    The Ridge isn’t that hard to find though it would be easy to get lost all the same on that network of roads that link Rosenallis, Clonaslee, Mountmellick, Ballyfin and Mountrath.

    In lay man’s speak it’s closest to Rosenallis but due to the wonders of technology you can stick the GPS co-ordinates into Google Maps and that won’t lead you too far wrong.

    With two young children, we weren’t sure they’d be able for it but we needn’t have worried.

    While the views are spectacular in all directions, you tackle most of the hill in the car and there’s parking space and picnic tables at the starting point.

    There’s something magic about the boardwalk that stretches out before the eye and while our three-year-old was a bit over-awed by it, the five-year-old absolutely adored it.

    There are a number of walking routes but for us the blue 4km one was enough and thoroughly do-able for children. The longer 7km route takes you through The Cones – a now-deserted village that the last family left in the 1960s.

    A bonus of the Ridge is that the finest viewing point is only a very short 300-metre walk on the boardwalk from the car park, making it possible for an older person to experience the views without having to go too far.


    Oaghaval Woods Stradbally

    Oaghaval Woods near Stradbally – spectacular forestry, great trails, picnic area and on site coffee van

    While we may not have the mountainous landscape of Kerry or Galway or quick access to the sea, there is no shortage of beautiful walking routes in Laois.

    And one of the best has to be Oaghaval Woods near Stradbally, which is accessed at the Windy Gap, one of the most scenic spots in the county.

    While the Slieve Blooms are known for their views, there’s no shortage of hills in this Coillte-maintained woods and some fine scenery too at various points on the different routes and trails.

    The wood has three looped walks which can cater for both the casual stroller or the nature walker, all these trails are waymarked.

    What is arguably best for visitors is the fine car park and multiple picnic tables, which are in better condition than most similar facilities elsewhere. Though there are no toilets, the real bonus is the presence of a coffee van run by the local restaurant Stradbally Fayre.


    Glamping Under the Stars Main New

    ‘Glamping under the Stars’ – an experience to be recommended

    Set up in 2016 by Kyra and Barry Fingleton, this glamping facility in Cullenagh near Ballyroan is a real example of ‘Build it and they will come’. They’re currently booked up for the summer – though watch out for late cancellations. Many families are now repeat customers.

    As well as families, it has become popular for hen parties, but they must book the entire facility for the weekend.

    We enjoyed a two-night stay there in 2020. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of holidaying in Ireland. While the weather is unpredictable, the convenience more than makes up for it.

    This was more local than ever. With a check out time of 10am, we had time for a meandering drive and were home by 11.

    There’s a lot to be said for it. Highly recommended.

    Though there’s a slight variance between lodges and tents, a two-night break will cost about €200. Five-night stays are also available. Since our stay last summer they have since added a number of new ‘hobbit houses’, all with their own unique theme.


    Vicarstown

    Lovely Vicarstown – walking routes, bike hire and a Blueway route that is going to explode in popularity

    On the face of it, the small village of Vicarstown is like so many other Irish rural areas that has lost services over the years.

    There’s no school, no shop and for the past number of years only one of the two pubs has been open.

    But it remains one of the most scenic spots in the county and its popularity is set to explode in the coming years as it finds itself at the centre of the new Barrow Blueway route, a 46km upgraded towpath that will connect Athy to Monasterevin along the banks of the Grand Canal.

    Already Vicarstown is a very busy walking spot but the significantly refurbished trails will drive that even further.


    Togher Woods

    Togher Woods – flat, scenic and just on the edge of Portlaoise

    For the 20,000+ people living in Portlaoise, there was very few of them didn’t make their way out to Togher Woods at some stage during the various lockdowns over the past year.

    Located just outside the town, it is managed by Coillte and provides a great local amenity with its walking route.

    The best way of getting to Togher is from Junction 17 at the motorway on the Abbeyleix Road.

    The routes in Togher are relatively straight forward even though there’s no signage.

    The outer loop is just over 3km while there is an inner loop of two parallel trails that can be incorporated to bring it all up to more than 5km.

    If it’s a strenuous walk you’re after you won’t get it here – but for many the fact that it is so flat make it popular with young families. It’s buggy and bike friendly (for young children).


    Dysart Woods – hilly, scenic and adjacent to Laois’s most famous landmark

    Directly opposite to the Rock of Dunamase, this wooded area has something for everyone.

    Halfway between Stradbally and Portlaoise on the N80, Dysart Woods is something of a hidden gem.

    Like many places, parking is an issue here. The entrance is cut in off the main road but the gravel car park would struggle to hold any more than a dozen cars. Albeit, it has been seriously done up in the last year from what it used to be.

    On a busy day, vehicles will often be parked along the N80 on the hard shoulder – which probably isn’t ideal from a health and safety point of view.

    Once inside, Dysart Woods is the true forest experience. While there are many flat routes, for the more advanced walkers you can really test yourself.

    There are also some stunning views which include angles of the Rock of Dunamase that you have never seen before – plus a view of the town of Portlaoise which makes you appreciate the sheer number of houses that cater for the 20,000+ people who live there.


    Brittas Lake

    Brittas Lake Loop – stunning foliage and friendly ducks

    The loop starts just 2km from Clonaslee village, and is signposted by blue arrows.

    There isn’t much parking at the trail head, but you can park up at the lake if you just want to take in the scenery.

    As you walk through the forest, the River Clodiagh will be by your side, along with stunning trees and foliage.

    Once you come to the clearing of the woods, you will be out on an open trail. This path is between farmyards, so it feels like a true countryside experience with plenty of cattle around to admire!

    The lake is really peaceful, with numerous viewing spots and two benches. It’s the perfect place to stop and stare out at the still water. There are loads of ducks by the lake, who don’t fly off when you pass by!

    The trail can be mucky in places, so if it’s been a rainy week stick on your wellies.

    It is moderately difficult, and weather conditions will definitely affect its difficulty.


    Grantstown Lake

    Grantstown Lake – a lovely, gentle loop between Ballacolla and Rathdowney

    All over Laois there are numerous walking routes that have experienced more footfall over the past year than in any previous 12-month period.

    One such place is Grantstown Lake, one of the few natural lakes in Laois. It is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and is accessed off the busy Ballacolla to Rathdowney road just after the M8 interchange at Manor Stone.

    To get to the car park you drive down a long lane and it’s worth noting that that gate is locked in the evening time and there is a charge if you get locked in.

    The opening hours are generous though – from 8am to 11am in the summer months (April to September) and 9am to 6pm in the winter (October to March).

    The walk itself through the woods is a gentle one – and at just 2km is a relatively short one too.

    But it’s a very pleasant walk that boasts spectacular views across the lake.

    The short distance makes it a nice walk with young children though there are a couple of things worth keeping in mind: you’re quite close to the water at certain points of the lake and the path gets narrow at other points and at the moment there are an amount of nettles on both sides.


    Coolrain Playground

    Coolrain playground – a gem of a facility in a charming village

    County Councils generally come in for some easy criticism but they certainly deserve credit in Laois for the number and quality of the local playgrounds.

    There are top-class facilities dotted across the county in both urban and rural areas – and the one in Coolrain, at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains, is one such example.

    The quaint village is in the parish of Camross and accessed simply enough from the old N7 main road on the Roscrea side of Mountrath.

    The playground fits in perfectly with the tone of the village. Set on mostly on wood chippings and surrounded by a lovely stone wall, the jewel in the crown is a large timber slide tower complete with a climbing wall on one side and climbing and high ropes on the other.

    There is a picnic table, a couple of benches and the perimeter wall on the side you enter the playground is also an ideal spot for parents to keep an eye on what’s going on.


    Derryounce Lake

    Derryounce Lakes – a budding tourist destination that is proving the perfect spot for school tours

    “Derryounce Bog was originally purchased by Bord na Móna and developed as part of their greater Clonsast group of bogs in the mid-20th Century,” explains the Portarlington Community Development Association website.

    “After peat production ceased, this area flooded permanently, after pumps were turned off to empty the basin. The flooded area is now known as Lough Lurgan.

    “There is an area of dry grassland and wood on a small hill to the west of Derryounce Lake. This area is known as Nugent’s Hill and maps from the turn of the 20th Century show evidence of human habitation there together with a well and a spring.

    “Derryounce Lake was formed artificially through the digging of a hollow down to the sand layer below the peat. Some of this sand was deposited at the edge of the lake and it now forms an unofficial inland beach often frequented by families and individuals in summer months.”


    Solas Eco Garden Centre – ‘We really think we’ve built something here that is worth visiting’

    And as you listen to founders David Maher and John Carey it’s easy to see how their energy combined with their vision has turned a vacant five-acre industrial site in Portarlington into a €2 million development that is now the quirky Solas Eco Garden Centre, the first of its kind in Ireland.

    It is designed with recycled shipping containers and employing almost 40 people

    Solas opened for business back in May and the business partners are confident will “stand up to national and international comparison”.

    Located in the Dublin Road Business Park on the outskirts of the town, the garden centre boasts of a 22,000 square foot indoor garden shop, their outdoor plant area and an atmospheric food village that connects the two.

    They also held their inaugural farmers market there last Saturday and that will continue every Saturday morning from 10am to 2pm and feature a host of local suppliers including Mueller O’Connell, G’s Jams and Ratheniska Farm Fresh.

    Abbeyleix Bog

    Abbeyleix Bog Walk – a highly-recommended experience

    All through this blasted pandemic we’ve walked through various woods, hills and mountains – though locally one of the most satisfying is the bog walk in Abbeyleix.

    In fact it’s a credit to the community effort in Abbeyleix that have worked tirelessly over the past decade or more to make it a reality.

    With ample parking at the Abbeyleix Manor, where the Kent family have put huge imagination and quality into their outdoor coffee and catering area Polly’s, there are two routes – the 4.5km Collins Bog loop (green signs) and 8km Killamuck Bog Loop Trailhead (purple).

    The longer 8km route takes you across the main road and onto the old railway track where you get quite close to the heart of the De Vesci estate.

    Both routes take in the bog, which you traverse via the wooden boardwalks. Be conscious that these can be quite slippery when wet. And if you do step off the boardwalk at any stage, prepare to get wet and mucky. It is a bog after all!

    Though the entire loop isn’t suitable for buggies or wheelchairs as it is too narrow, the start of it is much wider. It means you can experience the boardwalk and the wide expanses of the bog even though you will have to turn around and go back the way you came.

    SEE ALSO – Incredible quality on display as Laois Farmers Market in Portlaoise a real show of class

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    Steven Miller is owner and managing editor of LaoisToday.ie. Husband of Emily, father of William, Lillian and John, he's happiest when he's telling stories