On our recent visit to Cashel, we spent one day in the village – doing the usual tourist thing – and one day out on our own in the “wilderness” of Central Ireland. From Cashel, a well-marked (but unpaved) trail follows a country road and the River Suir to the nearby village of Golden. We had a few harrowing encounters with electric fences and some very aggressive steers in a riverside pasture, but came out on the other end unscathed and with some great memories and pictures.
The trail begins at the base of the Rock of Cashel, and passes by the ruins of Hore Abbey – not named for what you might think – which are, like so many other Irish ruins, open for poking and exploration.
After Hore Abbey, the route officially follows a gravel road straight west from Cashel straight to the River Suir (pronounced “Sure”), one of Ireland’s largest rivers. As the trail hits the river, hikers are officially off the beaten path – literally. The route is marked by occasional waymarking posts, with the traditional yellow hiker and arrow, but there is no paved or gravel path to follow. Tall grass, fence crossings, and livestock all have to be prepared for and handled carefully.
In Ireland, a traditional and complex law allows public right of way on privately-owned lands. Recreational walkers and hikers are expressly allowed to use private land as a through route, provided that they do no damage to the land or property and they assume all risk in accessing the land. We’ve taken advantage of this many times, maybe most notably on the cliffs near Dingle.
Hikers have to be cautious in this idyllic landscape, as landowners still have to use their land, and access to the river is also their right. The trail inevitably runs through active cattle pastures – some of them with bulls or, as we found, a pack of aggressive and nervous steers. These jumpy bovines didn’t appreciate us encroaching on their field, and snorted and stomped at our heels as we walked swiftly to the next fence.
Here in Tipperary, stock keepers seem to prefer the practical electric wire fence to the classic drystone walls. Most fence crossings are equipped with a shockproof sheath to aid in crossing, but some of them are damaged or missing, leading to some awkward games of high-stakes limbo and mild electric shocks.
After following a bend in the river, the village of Golden comes into view with – you guessed it – another ruined castle. The charming little hamlet has a beautiful riverside park and a short high street with a handful of shops and pubs.
We weren’t quite ready to finish our walk, so we continued down the Tipperary Heritage Way south to another ruined abbey, supposedly more impressive even than Hore Abbey in Cashel.
Athassel Abbey certainly lived up to expectations. It was much larger and much more intact than Hore Abbey. Its more secluded location – surrounded by nothing but rolling green hills, the River Suir, and the nearby Galty Mountains – let us explore the large ruin uninterrupted by the noise of traffic or other tourists.
Within the complex, some of the old stone towers and stairs are still standing, and there are no velvet ropes keeping curious explorers at bay. We picked our way through the old church sanctuary, the still-in-use cemetery, and even a lower-level system of rooms with the stone ceiling intact.
After resting in the shade of the abbey, we began the hike back to Golden for a well-earned drink at the small pub on the river. We still had some walking to do – our bus was leaving from Cashel town, four miles down a busy road – but we were ready to relax and dry our wet feet before the last leg of the trip.
Our total distance for the day was about 25 km (15.5 miles), much of it through tall grass and uneven terrain. The river, the villages, and the ruins are beautiful – especially if you get lucky with the weather – but if you take this hike, be sure to take proper precautions. Bring along sturdy shoes and clothing, water, a snack, and make sure to watch out for those angry bulls!