Amanda Ryan (Dolly’s Bar and Pantry).

Discovering Boyne Valley's hidden gems on a Royal county path less travelled

When Boyne Valley Tourism asked the Meath Chronicle to join a press tour to highlight some of the county's best places to visit, we wondered if it wouldn't be a case of preaching to the choir. Us Meath folk know all about the sacred Hill of Tara, the wonders of Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange and of course, the majesty of Trim Castle.

But this adventure was to be more about the Royal county tourism path less travelled than our major visitor magnets and it proved to be a wonderful and insightful experience.

You might find yourself looking for things to do as the school holidays kick into top gear so here's a flavour of some of Boyne Valley's hidden gems for you to visit.

You can start your morning off right, just like I did, with breakfast at Dolly’s Bar and Pantry in Balfeddock, Slane where you have the choice of delicious artisan hand-produced foods ranging from homemade sausage rolls, pancakes, sandwiches, wraps or if you’re feeling like something sweet, there are plenty of delicious desserts and pastries to go with your tea or coffee.

It didn’t take me long to put my name on the slice of carrot cake on display before I even got to take my seat.

Dolly's Bar and Pantry, owned by Amanda Ryan only opened just over one year ago and is a feast for the eyes as much as the belly, from the outdoor painted benches in pastel colours to the China tea sets on display. Dolly's is open seven days a week, is a cosy-modern theme cafe perfect for a coffee and a treat with your friends and family.

Just a 15-minute drive from Dolly’s Bar and Pantry, Boyne Valley Wools located at The Leck, Donore, is where Alison Fullam Gogan keeps her large flock of Jacob sheep along with lambs and pigs at her farm.

Here, Alison spins all her own Jacob wool and craft products. As visitors watch the sheep graze the fields, they can also enjoy the views of Newgrange. It is certainly the place for animal lovers to get hands on as I found out when offered the chance to bottle feed Duncan and Ralph, the cutest little lambs, which was followed by a unique wool craft experience where I got a brilliant demonstration and the chance to learn how to spin wool. Alison also explained the process of cleaning the wool and drying it before it can be spun into yarn.

Wandering around the wide variety of handmade works from local crafters was a real pleasure; on display were Christmas ornaments, wool, decorations, pictures and handmade garments made from Alison's Jacob sheep wool. It will make it difficult for you to decide which one to get as a gift and which one to keep for yourself.

If getting into a new hobby or polishing up on an old one is on your 2024 to-do list, College Hill House and Gardens situated in Braystown, Slane just near Tankardstown is for you. Take a stroll of the beautiful gardens and take a tour of the house and grounds enriched with history from famine broths to rock art that is 5,000 years old or take a gardening class as a group or as a single, the choice is yours.

Our party received a warm welcome from Eileen O'Grady, the owner of College Hill House and Gardens who immersed us in the basics of gardening from handling cuttings to tips and tricks on how to achieve my own little piece of floral artistry and how to keep my flowers nourished and blooming. I even got to bring home the flower cuttings I practiced on.

Host Eileen discussed how the locals always had a connection to College Hill House and Gardens - there was an old parochial house on the grounds that the locals used to visit daily for mass. Now that parochial house has turned into the guest house.

My day of new activities didn’t stop there. Kilberry Pub and Kitchen located at Kilberry, Navan close to both Navan Racecourse and the Boyne Valley to Lakelands Greenway, was the next port of call for a late lunch to get us fuelled up for the next adventure. With it's great location and outdoor and indoor facilities, it’s a great stop off for locals and tourists alike.

Greeted with a warm welcome and a menu of delicious lunch options I was torn between the chicken pesto ciabatta or the pulled beef sourdough. Instead, I enjoyed a delicious buffalo chicken wrap before I headed off to sample the delights of the 30km Boyne Valley to Lakelands Greenway where I started from Park Beo, located right beside Doughty’s Texaco Mace, Navan.

I jumped on one of the electric bikes from Feel Good Bicycles (it’s all in the name) from their super bike hire base at Park Beo Greenway Services Hub which makes the greenway experience even more enjoyable. You can book online or just show up on the day and there are regular bikes always available too. There is something for everyone, no matter how young or old.

The Boyne Valley to Lakelands Greenway is mercifully flat so an absolute pleasure to cycle or e-bike on. I passed joggers, walkers and families along my way all enjoying one of the great new amenities in the county. Luckily for me it was a hot summer's day and I could enjoy a quick 5k loop of the greenway from Park Beo to the Castletown area and back around to Park Beo again where I refreshed myself with an iced coffee with a hint of caramel of course.

The electric bike ride didn’t make me feel like I deserved a big ice cream afterwards that was being served from the coffee dock, but the treats certainly enticing for all, even for those with four paws.

I still got to relax in the sun after on the park benches but those who were feeling too warm could cool down under the covered gazebo. Parking, accessible toilets, baby changing facilities, picnic areas, bike hire and easy access directly onto the Greenway are all available here. It is also available whether you are travelling by car, foot, bike, bus or campervan. This 3.5 acre outdoor space is run by local family, the Doughty's and has a supermarket and a deli. Eimear and Brendan Doughty developed the Greenway hub on the Boyne Valley to Lakelands Greenway for you to walk, talk, cycle, run or simply just sit and relax!

The Greenway experience plus all the other great offerings along the way came courtesy of Boyne Valley Tourism whose Tourism Officer, Michele Whelan, said: “We are really looking forward to what is sure to be a busy summer in the Boyne Valley.

“With a wealth of gardens, walks, beaches, hills and waterways just waiting to be explored, along with sites such as Brú na Bóinne, and Emerald Park, there is something for everyone, whether you're looking for an active holiday or a relaxing break.

“We are very proud of the history of the region and all the local businesses that make the Boyne Valley what it is today, from accommodation providers to food establishments.

“Tourism is very important to the success of the Boyne Valley and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors from around Ireland and from all over the world in the coming months.”