Recently, I’ve been writing about nice walks within the 5km radius of my home. My previous post was about The War Memorial Gardens and Phoenix Park. This time, I am going to talk about walking the Tolka Valley. This post also includes the sights from the sombre Glasnevin Cemetery and the spectacular Botanic Gardens.
Starting point for Walking the Tolka Valley
The Tolka Valley Park actually has a number of sections in different areas of the city that the river Tolka flows through. The one I am going to concentrate on in this post is in Ashtown in Dublin 15. Starting at the Ashtown train station, walking downhill through the village of Rathborne brings you to the entrance of Tolka Valley Park.
The first sign of the river Tolka is the sound of the babbling of water to your left as you walk along the smooth pathway. It’s a couple of hundred metres before you actually see the river.
There are a myriad of different pathways within the park. The main path has markings for cycleways in both directions as well as a walking section. In general, I like to just follow the paths that lie closest to the river as it goes from east to west. The river will stay on your left hand side until you cross a bridge after about a kilometre.
The busy Ratoath Road dissects the Tolka Valley Park. However it is possible to go underneath this road. The best way to do this is take a minor path and not cross Cardiff’s Bridge i.e. keep the river on your right hand side.
Interestingly, Cardiff’s Bridge appeared in maps of Dublin as far back as 1654 but there is thought to have been a bridge here since the 12th century. Also, a pub in this location as recently as the 1940s. Hard to imagine that now!
He’s Some Egret
Following our minor path brings you under the Ratoath Road and enters the larger Finglas section of the Tolka Valley Park. The river is now fully in your view and this is a great section for Heron spotting. I have on one occasion seen an Egret here too. Egrets are members of the Heron family but with all white feathers. Really beautiful birds!
It’s a lovely nearly 2km stroll then along the river banks to the far end of the Park. There is a nice lake with a fountain along this path also. At the moment, there is a family of swans who have taken up residence there. The 2 adults and 3 Cygnets always seem to draw a crowd of onlookers on the lakeshore.
You exit the Tolka Valley Park at the Finglas Road after walking about 3.5km so far from Ashtown. There is a pedestrian crossing to your right to get across this busy thoroughfare.
There are a couple of walking options from this point. If you want to keep walking the Tolka Valley, you can go into Violet Hill Park and continue along the river bank for just over a kilometre. The path ultimately fades away into an apartment complex but the walk before that is very nice.
The other option is to take in Glasnevin Cemetery and the Botanic Gardens. There are a few entrances to the cemetery along the Finglas Road. It’s up to your own personal preference as to which one to take. Some people might feel it is disrespectful to go on a walk through a graveyard. My view on this is that there is a tourist centre in the cemetery already so I’m taking it as a given that a leisure walk is ok here. The important thing I feel is just to be respectful at all times. If you have any concerns though, then it might be more comfortable to use the main entrance beside the Round Tower /Museum.
The Cemetery itself is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Dublin. And rightly so. It contains the graves of some of the most important people in the history of Ireland. And it has a unique history in its right. The many towers that still stand around the perimeter walls were used as guard towers to stop gravediggers coming into the cemetery to steal bodies.
Unfortunately, the museum is closed at the moment due to Covid Restrictions.
Alternatively, “One Million Dubliners” by Aoife Kelleher is a wonderful documentary on the topic if the walk does pique your interest in the history of the place.
Ultimately our aim is to reach the north western corner of the cemetery and the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. I have no real advice as to the best way to do this, you can try visit some of the more famous plots such as Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Maude Gonne, Kevin Barry, Constance Markievicz, James Larkin, Brendan Behan, or Luke Kelly to name but a few.
Or just take in the round tower and various other monuments along the way.
Saving the Best Until Last
The final stage of this walk is the Botanic Gardens. As mentioned above, there is an entrance directly from Glasnevin Cemetery into the Gardens. This place is amazing! Definitely my favourite place to walk in during the Lockdown restrictions.
Again, I can’t give any guidance as to where to walk as it is all beautiful.The Tolka flows through the Botanic Gardens too so you can pick up its trail again if you want. Just take a stroll around though and enjoy the nature that surrounds you. Open your eyes and be mindful of your surroundings. It’s as close a guarantee I can give you to something that will improve your mood. And that’s something we all need these days.
Statues and Sculptures
Keep an eye out also for the many monuments and sculptures that are dotted throughout the gardens. One in particular caught my eye. I needed to google why there was a statue of Brazilian soccer player Socrates situated in the Botanic Gardens. I presumed it was a tribute to the 1980’s icon as one of the greatest players never to win a World Cup. It turns out though that the statue is actually of a different Socrates. Some Greek philosopher fella with the same name. And the reason he’s there? Well, none really. Formerly owned by the Guinness Family, it was moved to the gardens in 1959 by the OPW. Just there for us to enjoy I suppose.
When you’ve had your fill (or in my case where it was getting dark – gardens close at 5!), simply retrace your steps and head back towards Ashtown. The last time I did this walk I covered about 12.5kms but the beauty of this walk is that you can tailor it a bit to suit your own needs or time restraints.
As I walk back, I am generally overcome by a feeling of how lucky I am to have all of these great amenities at my doorstep. Even Socrates himself would have thought so.