Head off on a hike
The train from Kilkenny to Waterford passes through Thomastown (12 minutes, every 2–3 hours). The station is a 15-minute walk from the village, along a quiet country road with green hills on either side.
Alternatively, the Bus Eireann 73 services travels between Kilkenny and Thomastown (25 minutes, twice daily). Kilbride Coaches also runs a service between Kilkenny and Inistioge, stopping in Thomastown (25 minutes, twice daily).
Once you’re in the village, grab a coffee from one of the cafés and make your way to the bottom of Market Street, where you’ll find the trailhead for the Grennan Loop Walk (7km, 2 hours).
Head to the right and cross over the picturesque five-arched bridge – if you want a proper look at it, detour briefly down to the river’s edge. At the end of this small path you’ll find the remains of Sweetman Castle, built in the 14th century but now derelict, with greenery growing out of the roof. There are picnic tables to the side, which make for a nice spot to sit and watch the ducks on the river, who sit in the shallows at low tide.
Once you cross the bridge, turn right past the statue of Kilkenny hurling legend and Thomastown local Ollie Walsh, before following the small red arrows that lead the way along the trail. This looped trail shares some of its tracks with the Nore Valley Walk, so make sure you follow the red arrows and not the green (or you’ll end up in Inistioge, a much longer walk).
The countryside begins as soon as you pass the GAA grounds, when you climb over a stile and (seemingly) into a field of inquisitive cows and horses. But don’t worry – there’s an electric fence to separate the footpath from the field itself. In the same field, you can see the crumbling remains of Grennan Castle, built by the son-in-law of Strongbow, Thomas FitzAnthony, but now the domain of the local cattle who graze around its base.
From there on in, the path weaves alongside the banks of the River Nore, with tiny pebbly beaches on the water’s edge and dense woodland on either side. As you get closer to Grennan Woods, the path gets narrower as the trees climb up the steep slope to your right. The trail is relatively flat, but there are a few points where you can rest and take in the view, with benches or even wooden swings placed at particularly scenic spots.
When you’re in the woods, keep an eye out for the Audio Points from Trail Kilkenny – scan the QR codes on your phone and you will hear a snippet of narration about the local trees and wildlife, complete with birdsong that can help you identify what you can hear twittering in the trees.
Once you leave the woodlands, turn left and walk briefly along a country road. After 300 metres the trail veers right and follows the Upper Rock Road, which is more of a lane. From there, it’s a peaceful walk back into Thomastown, with great views of the village as you pass over the top of the hill.
Explore the village
If you’re doing the walk on a warm day, you might need a cooldown when you’re done. Head to the Island Weir Pool*, a local swimming spot with steps leading into a calm stretch of the River Nore and lifeguard service in the summer. On sunny days, locals stretch out on their towels to soak up the rays between dips in the water, and you’ll see a fair few picnics, too.
When you’re walking back into the village, look out to the right over the bridge and you’ll get a good view of the old mill buildings, which tower over the side of the water. They’re not in operation anymore, but still make for a handsome sight.
At the bottom of the Quay, Brid Lyons Ceramics is the studio of a local artist who specialises in original sculptural pieces. She’s not always in situ so it’s worth calling in advance if you fancy a visit. If you have a sweet tooth, you can pick up a box of chocolates like hazelnut pralines or vegan truffles at artisan chocolatier the Truffle Fairy and get a hot chocolate while you’re there.
When it’s time to head back to Kilkenny, you can walk to the train station or catch the bus from the bottom of Market Street. If you’re heading further afield, the Bus Eireann Expressway 4 service goes from Thomastown to Waterford or Dublin (eight times daily).
Where to eat and drink in Thomastown
If you like your coffee with a side order of cool, Unwind Coffee Co is the place to be. With seats made from wooden pallets and recycled coffee sacks, it’s the kind of spot where you want to sit and enjoy your coffee, rather than racing straight out the door. They make their own cold brew in the summer, and all the coffee is from Three Fools in Cork – they also stock locally made treats like energy balls or vegan overnight oats.
Just over the road, the Blackberry Café is a snug space with a pared-down menu, set in an old shoemaker’s shop. They specialise in toasted sandwiches and homemade quiche, all made with local ingredients and served with different salads. Save some room for dessert, though – there’s always a platter of lemon drizzle slices and coffee cake at the counter.
On the way back from the Grennan Loop Walk and the Weir Pool, the Salmon Pool Bar is a nice pub for a pint or a glass of wine, with great views over the river from out the back. Just over the road is a colourful outpost of Wattie’s Ice Cream, in a former mill decorated with a giant mural by local artist Sinéad Whelan. You can get a cone of salted caramel ice cream or an Eton mess sundae, and there are plenty of seats outside, too.
Fancy a quick drink before you leave? O’Hara’s is a traditional pub right by the bus stop, with old stone walls, comfy seating and giant wooden tables.
* Reminder: always be prepared for whatever the water brings. Swim safely and check water quality for your next swim spot.