My last visit to the Castlecomer Discovery Park involved a white-knuckle adventure through the exhilarating tree top walk.
I returned last Thursday, determined to keep my feet closer to the ground this time, but excited at the prospect of sampling the park’s latest offering. Paddle boats and canoes have since added another dimension to the park’s catalogue of activities, and they are already proving popular with visiting families and groups.
Depending on what you’re into, it’s a fast-paced excursion, or a more leisurely cruise around the lake, taking time to enjoy the natural woodland surroundings and posing for occasional photographs. In my case, the latter.
My boating activities were supervised by Matthew Cassin and David McLure, who are both serious canoeing enthusiasts. David placed 10th in the World Championships in 2013 for freestyle kayaking, while Matthew is a member of Kilkenny Aqua Canoe Club and has been teaching kayaking since 2012. He placed first in the Junior Liffey Descent, and first in the open Canadian three years in a row.
David is the more camera shy of the two, however, and so myself and Matthew took to the open water in a paddle boat. He was able to tell me about the wildlife in the waters – I spot one water hen dipping in and out by the side, but no trout, which are abundant here.
The lakes are man-made structures. They were constructed in the 1630s by Sir Christopher Wandesforde, who built them as fish ponds for food and leisure.
According to the park’s manager Liz Nolan, ice would be collected from the lakes during the severe winters of the 18th and 19th Centuries, and used to pack an ice house to preserve food. Locals can also recall dancing and skating on the lakes during the big freeze of 1947.
Our activities on the water take place against the backdrop of the park’s beautifully-restored 17th Century stone bridge (pictured here). The structure has had a number of renovations over the years, but last November, a full restoration project was begun using the original materials of local clay gall sandstone and lime mortar.
The work was carried out by stone mason Sean Flood, and supported by a number of local groups, including participants on the Tus scheme, students from the Castecomer Community School, and the Fetac Gardening and Horticulture course.
The restoration of the bridge, along with the recent installation of the pit head wheel, is part of a campaign to showcase the rich cultural and industrial heritage of the area. Liz says there are more things in the works including plans for the development of ‘off-road cycling community trails’ through the upgrading of the existing woodland trails, and restorations to another bridge – no surprise that the park is currently listed fourth in family attractions on Trip Advisor among visitor attractions in Kilkenny.
Boating and the Tree Top Walk are open seven days per week, weather permitting, and booking is advised See www.discoverypark.ie or call 056-4440707.