The final stretch of the Barrow Line flows through Athy, past an industrial area, which is a reminder of the original reason for the canal spur off the Grand Canal. Then just south of Athy, at a confluence with some nice stone bridges, the narrow canal joins the wider, more natural flow of the Barrow River. This is the river I am more familiar with, and that I propose to follow down to St. Mullins.
The Barrow River flows slowly along a gentle valley and for much of the route to Carlow, scrub and woodland provide a corridor for the towpath. In places, tall willows and alder provide a wonderful backdrop to the river and a very important habitat for wildlife. The river was alive with damselflies and demoiselles. At intervals there are old small stone bridges that span narrow channels allowing access for livestock to the larger islands on the river, but many are now is a state of disrepair. On the other hand, the bridge at Maganey is an impressive structure. The towpath surface between Athy and Carlow is mostly grass but some sections have a hard surface. Nevertheless, all of it made for pleasant walking.
I met many more people walking or fishing along the towpath than I had over the two previous days. I made it a point of speaking to some of them about the proposed resurfacing of the towpath and all said, without hesitation, that it was a bad idea and would destroy the place. They talked about how they loved coming to the river, to walk or to fish, as there were few places like this around about. No one I spoke to said it was a good idea. So why is Waterways Ireland not listening to these opinions? Do the views and needs of the existing users of the amenity count for so little that Waterways Ireland feel it is ok to ignore them?
The Barrow Towpath differs from the Barrow Line in that you are much closer to the hustle and bustle of daily life. Much of the towpath runs close to roads, but obscured from them by the woodland corridor. Hearing the noise of passing traffic in the background does little to detract from the peace of the river walk; if anything it adds to it as it makes you appreciate what you are escaping from. And on the approach to Carlow, it was wonderful to see so many people out walking and running, and the river being used by the local rowing club. And right in the town centre there is a big new development of a promenade to bring the community back in touch with the river. To me, this is the kind of appropriate development that this amenity requires, rather than obliterating the peace and tranquility already enjoyed by people away from built up areas.