On yer bike: Adventures on the Waterford Greenway
The Waterford Greenway has been on my hit list for the longest time, though I can't say the same for my husband - he's not the world's greatest fan of cycling on any level, let alone 46 kms in one day. Bribed with a night's stay and a feast in The Tannery in Dungarvan to end our day, his arm was somewhat twisted. Bikes were hired from Waterford Greenway Bike Hire in Waterford City, the sun was shining and we were ready to rock.
Well almost. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the shuttle bus service was no longer in operation (we knew this in advance), leaving us with the small issue of what to do with our car as we were only cycling one-way. Plan A: drive directly to Dungarvan that morning and leave car in the free public car park. Drop bags off in guesthouse. Enjoy leisurely coffee. Take Bus Eireann to Waterford City, collect bikes, cycle 46 kms back to Dungarvan and give ourselves a huge pat on the back...
You know what they say about the best-laid plans... We arrived at the Bus Eireann stop in Dungarvan in plenty of time, standing back to allow for social distancing. Bus arrives, an Irish 'queue' forms and pushes ahead of us, bus is operating at 50% capacity and everyone else gets on the bus apart from us. Let's just say I've had better moments in life. Nervous of the same thing happening with the following bus, we got our car, drove back to Waterford City and left it overnight in the long-stay car park on the quays for collection the next day. A deep breath, a double espresso, a sandwich and a renewed sense of perspective and we were finally on our way. Spoiler alert - we made it in one piece.
I couldn't recommend the Greenway more highly and really enjoyed the day's cycling. It's peaceful, very safe and is entirely off-road though you will be required to cross a few junctions throughout. And as for the scenery - mountain views, golden fields and blue skies - we totally lucked out and the Sunny South-East lived up to its reputation. The landscape is diverse and the route is scenic, even from the earliest stages just outside of Waterford City. Following the track along the old railway line, the initial stretch starts with an uphill slope - just enough to get the heart rate up. We'd been told that it was relatively flat for the duration but that's not strictly true. There are a number of slow, steady inclines but nothing too challenging, though my other half may not agree with me on that point.
The track at this section runs parallel to the River Suir with views across to Co. Kilkenny on the other side. Don't be surprised to see a train approaching - the very charming Waterford Suir Valley Railway tourist train still runs along part of the disused Waterford-Dungarvan line, terminating at Kilmeaden. This station is picture-perfect and has been delightfully restored - the original signage is in place, there are potted plants along the platform and an old-style Irish Rail train has been converted into a café serving hot and cold drinks, ice-cream and other treats. There are bathrooms here too if you need a pit-stop.
The main landmark before Kilmeaden is Mount Congreve with its pretty arched outer stone wall. Described as one of “the great gardens of the world”, it is home to seventy acres of woodland, a four acre walled garden and sixteen kilometres of walkways. Once accessible directly from the Greenway, this is not possible at present due to Covid-19 restrictions. Visiting requires pre-booked, timed tickets and access is from the main entrance only. We had planned to visit it the following day but sadly torrential rain put paid to that plan. Just gives us another excuse to come back.
The landscape at varying times looked like Bavaria; at other points like Provence. I particularly loved the section of Greenway between Kilmeadan and Kilmacthomas, a 13 kms stretch of lush green countryside with a high ridge of forest running parallel. Such unbridled joy to see the tree tops silhouetted against a blue sky with big, fluffy clouds. You will pass over the impressive Kilmacthomas Viaduct with its eight arches but the best views of this are from the village. You'll need to come off the Greenway if you wish to take it in in all its glory. We were a little tight for time due to our unforeseen morning delays so we missed out on a perfect photo opportunity. Again, another reason to repeat the experience.
Further on, fields of yellow corn with the prettiest border of foxgloves literally stopped me in my tracks - a sight so familiar in my beloved France, but a distinctly un-Irish tableau. A stunning spot to pause, take a moment and breathe in that fresh air, redolent with the scent of wild flowers.
Another show-stopping vista is on the cards as you approach the valley with the Comeragh Mountains as a backdrop. The range is made up of eleven peaks in total, its highest point standing at 792 metres, stretching all the way from the inland areas of Dungarvan to Clonmel in Co. Tipperary. Apparently they are a popular range with hikers, offering spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and lakes. I can see why.
You will cross three viaducts in total if cycling the full route. Next up was Durrow Viaduct, closely followed by the striking remains of Durrow Station, overgrown and covered in a layer of crispy brown ivy. The waiting room on the platform is still standing and the view on approach is a satisfying one, worthy of our one and only pit-stop. There are picnic tables and benches here for your convenience.
Arguably the most famous (certainly the most-photographed) section of the Greenway is the 400 metre long Ballyvoyle tunnel, dramatically lit from within. Cyclists are requested to dismount before entering and I can see why. It's a prime spot for photos but a tad dangerous as most people seemed to disregard the notice - bikes were whizzing past me as I tried to take some shots so I exited as quickly as I could, hence my slightly less than inspiring photos. Most of the hire bikes do not have lights which makes visibility an issue. It's seriously cool though and the atmosphere changes dramatically for that short section. On approach, there is a dense and very high wall of deep-green moss on either side, decorated with a series of fairy doors. You can feel the temperature drop here, and drop some more as you enter the brick-lined tunnel. The air feels clammy and damp with droplets falling from above. Emerging the other side, you are greeted by a canopy of verdant delights - lush, green and gorgeous, definitely one of my favourite sections. Next up is the 19th century Ballyvoyle viaduct, blown up during the Civil War in 1922 and rebuilt in 1924. Nearly there...
The final stretch is along the coast road. As you travel around the headland, that first glimpse of the sea and the Copper Coast is really breathtaking and makes you forget all about the dull ache in your legs. The sweeping views of Clonlea Strand are definitely worth hopping off your bike for. A storm was a-brewin' at that point so we didn't want to linger too long. We'd been so lucky with the beautiful weather all day but knew that a downpour was not a million miles away. Back on our bikes for the last 4 kms...
The final stretch is an easy one, mostly flat and thankfully downhill on approach to Dungarvan. The short causeway towards the end was really the only part where you're forced to compete with pedestrians and dog walkers in a narrow space. You just need to pay a bit more attention here. We followed the coastline the entire way to the port at Dungarvan - a golden evening light had enveloped the harbour and the water shimmered pleasingly. We made it!!! We dismounted at the very pretty and well-maintained Walton Park, and dropped off our bikes, twenty minutes before the shop closed. Though my legs felt like lead at this point, I was energised and felt a real sense of accomplishment. My regular cycling experience involves nothing longer than a casual jaunt in and out of the city centre so perhaps a bit of extra training in longer distances might have been beneficial in the lead-up. But hey - we live and learn. We still managed to cycle the full distance in less than three hours, including a half-hour break. A celebratory cold beer in a harbour-side bar was very much in order but sadly due to public health restrictions on pubs, this was not to be. We settled for a bag of crisps and a bottle of Corona from the local Spar which we devoured in our room - classy as always.
Forgot to mention, there is some really cool art painted on some of the tunnel walls - this one was my favourite.
The Greenway is very safe, even when busy, and is suitable for all ages, abilities and levels of fitness. It's divided into six different sections - you can read more about these here - so you can decide for yourself how far you'd like to go per day, enjoying bite-sized chunks or going the whole way as we did. There are any number of bike hire spots in the region. We rented ours from the Waterford Greenway bike hire: they have three depots to collect and depart from: Waterford City, Kilmacthomas and Dungarvan. We opted to start from Waterford City as we'd heard the views on approach to the sea at Dungarvan made for a fabulous end to the cycle. They weren't wrong. Also we wanted to stay in The Tannery and were finally lucky enough to book a room.
Bike rental was €25 each for the day.
The Tannery, Dungarvan:
What a welcome treat at the end of a day's cycling! The Tannery is a restaurant and townhouse run by the renowned chef Paul Flynn and his wife Máire. The guesthouse has just fourteen rooms and tends to book up far in advance so we were extremely lucky to bag ourselves one on this occasion. The stars had definitely aligned. Our room was simply but tastefully decorated in muted colours in a style I'd describe as Scandi country-house chic. The bed was super-comfy with great pillows and good quality bed-linen. Let's just say I had no issues in getting to sleep that night.
But first, some well-deserved bubbles. A crisp and sparkling Pinot Rosé quickly made us forget our aching knees and hips. And finally it was time for a long awaited gastronomic tour-de-force. We tucked in with great gusto to a culinary feast of the most innovative taste combos. I'm talking crab créme brulée and golden onion pannacotta. Yep these are starters, not desserts. Absolutely incredible flavours. We were at the pot-licking stage if they hadn't had to be practically wrenched out of our hands by the lovely waiting staff. Mains were a mixed fish grill for me, and steak for Martin, with sides of the most deliciously creamy mashed potato, as well as chips, aioli and rosemary salt. Every bit as good as they sound. Somehow I managed to squeeze in a passionfruit & mango cheesecake with white chocolate afterwards. I'm a trooper like that. A perfect end to a lovely day.
Breakfast the next morning was also a delight. This time we were seated upstairs in the bright, airy and spacious restaurant (the previous evening we'd had a cosy table downstairs at the window). Due to Covid-19 protocols, there was no buffet area - our food was brought directly to our table, including fresh orange juice, coffee and a continental assortment including yogurt, fruit and pastries. Hot dishes were made to order - I opted for the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. It was just delicious; flavoursome, buttery and perfectly cooked with the freshest salmon - a winner in my book. Staff were very friendly across the board: a cherry on the pie of a wonderful stay. We look forward to returning at some point in the future.
Fresh air, exercise, beautiful scenery and wonderful food - life doesn't get much better than that. There might be something to this staycation business after all.