Tuesday 18 June 2019

Kilkenny... Get yourself wired for fun

 

Zipline in Castlecomer Discovery Park is the longest in Ireland
Zipline in Castlecomer Discovery Park is the longest in Ireland
Cool for cats... Philip on the zipline

Philip Hedderman

My mouth is bone dry, I'm finding it hard to swallow and visions of humiliation fill my head as the cocky teenager scans my face for any trace of fear. It doesn't help that we are 35m above a dense woodland and terra firma is another 300m away in a cliff-like drop.

All I have got to do is negotiate myself (and those few extra pounds I gathered since Christmas) through the tree tops, over two lakes and a 17th Century hand-restored bridge.

Not being brilliant with heights has not been helped by the fact that the little rascal (my son) waited until I was halfway across a tightrope on the adrenaline-fuelled Octogon High Ropes Course before vigorously shaking the thread-like line I'm inching across.

Now is not the time for a dad to buckle, and with steely determination I surprise myself by taking a run and a giant leap into what can only be described as the most exhilarating thing I've done in ages.

Cool for cats... Philip on the zipline
Cool for cats... Philip on the zipline

I even had time to take in the stunning views between shrieks of excited laughter.

The scenery comes courtesy of Castlecomer Discovery Park - home to the longest zipline in Ireland - in 80 acres of lush forest set in the former grounds of the Wandesforde Estate.

Opened in 2007, the Community Enterprise not for profit adventure park offers a range of activities including orienteering and walking trails, mountain biking, archery, canoeing, axe throwing (for my wife, Lucia), camping and raft building. For smaller children there's Timber Tumbles playground, the elf and fairies village or the magical bouncing net where they can run wild while mum and dad enjoy freshly ground coffee in the Canopy cafe.

All of that excitement takes its toll on body and mind (don't even get me started about the horrific roadworks on the M7) so thankfully we were staying in the luxurious four-star Newpark Hotel and Spa on the edge of Kilkenny City.

After checking into our spacious family room - welcomed by the most delicious chocolate-covered strawberries and a glass of chilled fine wine - the boy wonder Cameron and I headed for a well-deserved swim.

After a quick dip we retire to the outdoor infinity pool where the crisp March breeze mellowed as the spa pool's bubbles fizzed around our shoulders.

Totally famished, we dined in the hotel's fabulous Gulliver's restaurant - an intimate experience of the most decadent dishes.

The grilled Dublin Bay prawns in coriander butter served with garlic croutons were delightful as were the goat's cheese and sun-blushed tomato tartlet starters.

The 8oz sirloin steaks were to die for while the grilled fillet of wild Atlantic salmon was perfectly complemented by the citrus salsa verde and tender stem broccoli.

The following morning after a hearty breakfast we headed into the medieval Mecca for a spot of sightseeing, and first on the list is Kilkenny Castle ­- built soon after the Norman conquest of Ireland 800 years ago.

Soak up the history with a leisurely tour of the 12th Century buildings including the magnificent library, drawing room, bedrooms decorated in 1830s splendour and its piece de resistance - the Butler Art Gallery - which mounts frequently changing exhibitions of contemporary art.

Later that afternoon Cameron and I embarked on the must-do hurling tour run by local publican PJ Lanigan.

Steeped in GAA heritage, PJ's great-grandfather was playing for the Tipperary team when Michael Hogan was shot dead on Bloody Sunday in 1920, and his granddad went on to win two All Ireland medals for the Cats. After a brief introduction about the fastest ball game on the planet and a selfie with the Liam McCarthy Cup (one of only two replicas) we head to the home of Kilkenny hurling - the hallowed turf of Nowlan Park.

From there we cross the road to the O'Loughlin Gaels's ground for a crash course in how the beautiful game is played.

Being a Dub, the locals wrongly assume I wouldn't know my Bas from my elbow and are astonished when I win the Poc Fada and score two cracking goals during the mini tournament that followed.

I did feel sorry for the two girls from Texas who made a valiant effort and with a bit more practice would definitely make fine camogie stars.

The Kilkenny Way Ultimate Hurling Experience - a great workout and terrific fun - is consistently voted the No 1 attraction in the city through TripAdvisor.

While we nursed our aching limbs in the bar over an ice-cold Smithwick's (when in Kilkenny...) my shopaholic wife headed for the treatment rooms in the Hotel Spa where the house pedicure provided a soothing end to a day of serious retail therapy.

That night we headed straight to the locally renowned steakhouse - aptly named Butcher. Situated off St Kieran's Street, the US-style loft diner complete with blood red neon signs, is a one-minute stroll from the main strip.

Our waiter warned us about the portion sizes so we skip the starters and go straight for the meat feast of two 10oz rib eye steaks (medium rare) with rustic chips and mac and cheese. My wife - a pescatarian - opted for pan-fried king prawns and a green salad.

Wow. Steak succulence has been brought to a whole new level here as every sliver of beef melts in your mouth. A gastronomic delight and without doubt, these char-grilled cuts are the best I've ever eaten. The delicious crustaceans go down a treat too with the pickiest of eaters.

We finish off the night back in Lanigan's where a trad session with a twist leaves us speechless. In between the well-known ballads a super svelte male dancer explodes into a Riverdance routine as the delighted crowd whoop, cheer and stamp their feet. Another adrenaline rush which left all three of us feeling like the Cats who got the cream.

 

Getting there

Newpark Hotel has created a midweek package specifically designed for guests to experience all that Medieval Kilkenny has to offer. 

Enjoy a two-night stay in Ireland’s Medieval capital, including breakfast and dinner on one evening in Scott’s Bar & Brasserie. Guests are greeted with a pint of Smithwick’s on arrival and tickets to Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile Museum. Newpark Hotel guests receive complimentary access to the Escape Health Club, Thermal Suite and Outdoor Infinity Pool. This package costs from €318 for two people sharing and is available from Sunday–Thursday.

newparkhotelkilkenny.com

visitkilkenny.ie

thekilkennyway.com

discoverypark.ie

butcherrestaurant.ie

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