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Walk the Boyne Ramparts - an 8km trail back in time in Co Meath

The Boyne Ramparts walk is a gentle, 8km hike through history in the Boyne Valley, says Pól Ó Conghaile

I remember the first time I ever saw a jay. It was last week.

My daughter and I were walking the River Boyne ramparts between Navan and Stackallen, and a bird sailed over the water, landing on a branch beside us.

Jays are jackdaw-sized, but much more colourful, and rarely break cover. Suddenly, here was one perched right in front of us, with its rusty red belly and blue-barred wing feathers — so bright, they could have been plucked from a peacock.

It was the highlight of a showreel nature played on a day when bright sunlight bounced off the Boyne’s brown waters. We watched a heron perched on a weir, waiting patiently before plucking fish from the churn. A red kite circled above, swifts sped about like spitfires and a duck led her ducklings through the reeds. A fisherman cast off from his beat; a dragonfly landed briefly on a sleeve.

“It gets very busy at weekends,” the couple enjoying tea and sandwiches at the Stackallen trailhead told us. The Boyne ramparts walk is a linear 8km path between the two towns, following a flat, gravel track alongside the river. You can walk one-way if you arrange transport back, take a return trip (16km in total), or start from either end and shorten the distance by turning around at any stage. There’s more parking in Navan, but we found the Stackallen end quieter and quicker to deposit us into the wilds (you’ll find more details on discoverboynevalley.ie).

“Go as far as Ardmulchan anyway,” the couple said. “The rhododendron is looking lovely. But it’s easy to forget you have to walk back.”

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Dunmoe Castle, Co Meath. Photo: Pól Ó Congaile

Dunmoe Castle, Co Meath. Photo: Pól Ó Congaile

Dunmoe Castle, Co Meath. Photo: Pól Ó Congaile

As we left the glorious arched bridge at Stackallen, the towpath felt like a diver’s line, tethering us to the real world as we dipped down through the centuries. Across from Ardmulchan, a redbrick, baronial-style private home originally built as a hunting lodge, sat the ruins of 15th-century Dunmoe Castle. Dotted along the navigation, we passed the remnants of a canal once used to lug goods between riverside mills and Drogheda overgrown locks and the husk of a lockkeeper’s cottage.

“The history of Ireland might be written in tracing its banks,” William Wilde (father of some bloke called Oscar) wrote of the Boyne, and it’s easy to see how its use as a transport artery, and the fertile farmland on either side, are so layered with stories from Newgrange to the Battle of the Boyne.

Running water and birdsong removed any sound of traffic as we proceeded along what felt like our own private boreen. Now and then, a jogger, walker or adult pushing a buggy passed by, and the Navan end was notably busier, but our midweek stroll was quiet. Meadows exploded with buttercups, and a sign had us watching out for a kingfisher or madra uisce (otter), though both stayed hidden.

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A jay along the River Boyne between Navan and Stackallan, Co Meath. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A jay along the River Boyne between Navan and Stackallan, Co Meath. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A jay along the River Boyne between Navan and Stackallan, Co Meath. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

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Our instinct is often to bolt for the coast. But there’s a whole other world of walks in Ireland to explore along our rivers.

Arriving back at Stackallen, we drove the five minutes to Slane Castle for a cuppa and an organic ham sandwich at its shiny new Airstream food trailer. The ancient river flowed past us there, too.

Need to know

Level: Easy to moderate, depending on the length of route. The Boyne ramparts walk is a linear trail on well-maintained gravel paths, but occasional gates may pose obstacles to wheelchair users (there is a gate like this at the Stackallan end).

Distance: 8km one-way, 16km return. Allow roughly two hours each way.

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A foccacia sandwich with organic ham from Rock Farm at Slane Castle's airstream trailer. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A foccacia sandwich with organic ham from Rock Farm at Slane Castle's airstream trailer. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

A foccacia sandwich with organic ham from Rock Farm at Slane Castle's airstream trailer. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Tips: This walk gets popular at weekends, and parking is limited at the Stackallan trailhead. Go midweek or arrive early to beat the crowds and traffic. Pack binoculars for bird- and wildlife spotting. And remember to leave no trace!

Nearby: The Boyne Valley is loaded with history, heritage sites and great walking options. The ' Boyne Valley Camino', for instance, is a self-guided, 25km looped walk from Drogheda, which travels via Mellifont Abbey and Oldbridge House, along the Boyne Canal, returning along the Boyneside Trail. You can collect official Camino passport stamps, too.

More info: discoveryboynevalley.ie; meath.ie; boynevalleyflavours.ie

Your walking checklist

  • Safety comes first on a walk, no matter how easy. Check the weather, leave word of where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and pack smart. And remember, never leave valuables visible inside parked cars.
  • A fully charged phone, water and snacks, layers of appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear are essential for most walks. Bring a bag for rubbish, and clean shoes and socks in the boot for afterwards.
  • Covid-19 measures: Always follow lockdown travel restrictions and official government advice. Avoid peak times at busy spots (going early, late or midweek), don’t arrange to meet in large groups, observe social distancing, and park considerately — leave room for farmers, locals and emergency services to pass.
  • Check websites before travelling for the latest opening hours for restaurants and pubs, most require booking ahead, and have a Plan B in case your car park is full.
  • Responsible walkers always respect private property.

For more great walks in Ireland, visit our Irish walks hub.


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