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Comment: Greenway trails can help reboot the countryside


The Great Western Greenway

The Great Western Greenway

The Great Western Greenway

My husband Robin is a great one for ideas and recently came up with the notion to "reboot the countryside".

This has a couple of meanings - the obvious one is in terms of restarting (as in a computer), but also getting people to put back on their boots to go walking in the countryside.

Of course, it doesn't have to be about walking or any other specific activity - its anything that improves people's mental and physical well-being through activity in rural areas, which would themselves be revitalised economically in the process.

A perfect example of this concept is Waterford's newly opened Greenway, which we recently visited. Described as Ireland's longest cycling and walking trail, it stretches 46km from Waterford City to Dungarvan along an old railway line. It has been getting rave reviews, which are fully justified.

The views are varied and magnificent, and stunning sights include Ballyvoyle Tunnel and two stone viaducts, while there is direct access to the famed Mount Congreve gardens. The surface is silky smooth. It is also clean, well maintained and well fenced, though the track could do with more bins, picnic stops and a couple of water taps.

But the real big bonus is the route is uninterrupted by gates. Where I come from in west Limerick, the Great Southern Trail has also been established along an old railway line. The presence of a lot of gates means a lot of stopping and starting. This is less of a issue for walkers than cyclists. In Waterford, the issue has been overcome by the construction of numerous underpasses and overpasses. Thus, it is not surprising to hear that it cost €15m.

I also heard that the development - which began in 2004 and stalled in 2008 before being revived in 2013 - wasn't all plain sailing. When it comes to Ireland and public access or even proximity to private land, is it ever? So well done to all concerned in getting this over the line, especially the landowners concerned, Waterford Council and the local Deise Greenway campaigners.

Obviously, a major part in this coming to fruition is that the route already existed. I would love if we had something similar in this part of the midlands. There was some tentative talk about establishing a cycleway on the stretch of railway from Portlaoise to Kilkenny. However, it appears that overwhelming landowner opposition was anticipated.

When we were in Waterford, near Dungarvan, the path was bustling, mainly with cyclists.

We were among a small number of walkers and I do have some concerns whether, at busy times, it would be safe for both cyclists and walkers. I say this in the context of the proposed redevelopment of the Barrow Way.

But the net result in Waterford is a terrific attraction, which is already proving a massive boon for both the local community and tourism. Bike hire shops have sprung up, nearby refreshment stops are bursting back into life and more businesses will follow. Anybody who wants to see what such a development can do for an area should pay a visit.

If those of us living in the countryside are serious about restoring its vitality, as well as help from the State and its agencies, we also have to look to ourselves for what we want.. and what we are willing to give to get it.

I look forward to going back to Waterford to cycle the entire Greenway.

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