Royal Canal- 4th/8th April 2015

ROYAL CANAL: Ballymahon to Longford 8th April


Clear skies again with the promise of another hot day once the most had been burned off.  

Our last day on the walk and we had decided we would walk up the canal branch to Longford and try to get us and the dogs on the train back to the car at Maynooth. 

At the next lock the keeper told us that there were lots of leaks and it was a bit of a struggle keeping water in some sections. Sure enough later on we noticed that the level was down at least a foot between a couple of locks. 

There is currently a lot of work being done on the towpaths creating the walk/ cycle way and dredging and clearing the canal itself. We came upon one of the diggers with a massive arms for scrapping the opposite bank. 

After a longer than planned breakfast stop at Foigha bridge waiting for the shop to open it was out onto the Corlea bog where the visitor centre that displays the Neolithic timber trackway has been making a path out to the canal. 

It was a lovely peaceful stetch of wildness through the land that time forgot. We passed another little canal house slowly disappearing into the bog. 

It was sad to think of all the work and effort that had gone be into the 30 years of building the canal only really funcioning for another 30 before the railways signalled the end to the endeavour apart from a few years over WW2 when fuel shortages encouraged horsedrawn barge transport. 

The massive clearance task taken on by the voluntary Ammenity groups over decades was really brought home to us when we got to the Longford branch and saw it was blocked off and unrestored. 

Time for a rest with just 8kms to go. 

On the outskirts of Longford a roadbridge over the top of the canal shows what little regard the planners of the seventies and eighties had for the amazing structure we had followed across the country for 125kms. 

All of Ireland’s inland waterways are a beatiful way to explore what is still”real Ireland”. I hope that the creation of the new walk/cycle tracks and greenways encourage more people out there to enjoy the sadly under-utilised resource. 

Mission accomplished. 

ROYAL CANAL: Coolnahay to Ballymahon 7th April


Another cold clear night under a micron of nylon and a frosty start to the day. There was a skin of ice over everything and no camp fire to dry/warm things over so we put the tents away wet hoping to dry it all out at camp that night. 

After reclaiming my battery pack that had been charging in the tea room all night and a chat with the friendly lock keeper, who we have awarded best of 2015, we headed off down past his canal side gardens and tree planting on a newly laid walking / cycling track. There was a rash of bridges and locks over the next few kms some sporting interesting graffiti and some with neatly kept flowerbeds. 

Then quite a long straight section across empty flat land on the approach to Ballynacarrigy. 

The lock keeper of the year had given us fresh scones for breakfast but we needed more so we stopped at the impressive harbour there for coffee and chocolate and marvelled at the unknown or celebrated attractive villages we were discovering on the canal. 150 years ago this backwater was a important trading centre and had in the early seventies formed the first Royal Canal Ammenity Group which kick started the whole restoration process. By 1990 the canal had been, bit by bit, cleared and rewatered from Dublin to Mullingar but it took another 20 years to complete all the way to the upper Shannon at Tarmonbarry. 

We carried on towards the bog at Ballymaglavy passing an abandoned canal house that would have made a fine home for the night. 

We went over the beginnings of the river Blackwater 

and across a  vast expanse of bog where the turf was being harvested in a way we hadn’t seen before. 

There was yet another of the meloncoly bridges to nowhere

and a derelict lock house with an interior that needed a severe makeover. 

We crossed over the river Inny and past an airfield on the outskirts of Abbeyshrule where we had soup and sandwich to get us through the heat of the afternoon for another 12kms. This section of the canal is very twisty turns with a series of curves and bends following the river valley and is also the most level with 11kms between locks. 

By the time we got to Ballybrannigan harbour I was ready to join the swimmers

but we needed to go on a bit further to get supplies and camp. Sally headed into Ballymahon, celebrating its massive investment by Centre Parcs, to get dinner while I took all the kit on to Archie’s bridge and set up camp. 

A nice sheltered spot by old derelict canal warehouses kept us warmer than previous nights but it had been a long hot day and my track buddies feet were suffering. 

ROYAL CANAL: Killucan to Coolnahay 6th April


A quick posting so as not to get too far behind real life events but with dwindling battery and meagre coverage and dogs and track buddy keen to get going. 

A lovely misty start after a cold clear night. There was a hard frost and our bags had done well to keep us cosy. The problem with the cheap one skin tents is the condensation on nights like that so we spent a while drying gear before heading off. 

There had been a run of 6 locks in quick succession and we headed past the charming 7th to bring us up to the summit level which was to then run flat for 24kms. 

Before long we had got to the (closed) pub at the road bridge replacing the old Neads bridge which had very nearly been built too low to allow any canal traffic before it had been restored. 

We’ve been past a few of these “accommodation ” bridges built to facilitate farmers and raised by hand. 

For a long stretch towards Mullingar the engineers had chosen a route which involved a lot of deep cutting though rock which pretty much bankrupted the company again. 

The outskirts of Mullingar were pretty grim with terraces of boarded up housing and swans swimming amongst filth. 

The railway line to Athlone was abandoned and one particular spot was bush drinking central station. 

There had been a lot of restored and gravelled or tarmaced tow path in Westmeath for walkers and cyclists and a lot of it was part of the Dublin to Galway greenway being got together. It looked like they were getting this deserted line done as part of it. 

After Mullingar the way was really lovely and the swans had a nicer time of it. Nice harbour at Ballinea with picnic tables and grassy bits etc but we decided to carry on to Coolnahay, recommended by the lads on the barge. 

We were glad we did. It was a beatiful walk in the sun to get there and we had tea and scones in the little old lock keepers cottage and camped on the grass surrounded by flower beds and benches. There was a water tap and toilet but we were a bit dissapointed to discover no pub. 

ROYAL CANAL: Enfield to Killucan 5th April


A disappointingly cloudy start to a disappointingly cloudy day and by the time we had faffed around packing up etc it was 10,30 before we got going. 

There were more people out and about running and walking down the tow path. Easter Sunday strolling. 

Before long we got to the Meath/Kildare county boundary and the river Blackwater aqueduct. 

The aqueducts are very hard to photograph Lord knows how hard to construct. My admiration for the engineers and labourers of the time grows with every passing km. 

After Kilmore bridge

the canal went through a lovely wooded stretch awns the towpath became narrow and lined with primroses. 

The next bridge Moyvalley, had a nicelooking canal side pub/restaurant but unfortunately we were too early, or maybe it was just as well. There was a big fishing competition going on with a long line of guys and a mass of gear strung out down the towpath. 

The line ended at the Ribbontail lifting bridge, built to facilitate people going to the nearby church but ironically a favorite hang out of the Ribbon Men, naughty men who back in the day would make holes in the canal bank to cause big breaches which would create loads of work to repair. 

Good rich land surrounded us. Big fields. Big trees. Soon we crossed high above the river Boyne on another aqueduct.  

A very cheery lady called Sadie passed us going the other way and a few kms later caught up with us from behind. I fell into step with her for a chat for awhile but her 76 year old pace was a bit too much for my track buddy who has been suffering badly from cold/flu and it was as a relief to e able to slow down again when she peeled off. 

An inspiration. That gives us another 15 years anyway. 

A nice length of wilder path got us to the pub at the Hill of Down where we had been hoping for lunch. 

No luck beyond Guiness ,lager and crisps which kept us going another 8 kms to the great pub restaurant Nanny Quinns at Thomastown harbour where we had a slap up. 

Near here were moored up the last two working barges on the canal but it must have been awhile ago. 

We camped up on a lovely spot not long after and a new barge came through the lock. 

A nice lad had just got himself a 20 grand bargain. New Diesel engine,7 year old steel hull. Him and some mates were taking it down to Dublin to live on. Their first boat trip. It had already involved a trip to hospital for a load of stitches after the lock key had  spun on the rachet and cracked yer mans head open. Good luck to them. 

So time for gathering firewood and settling in to admire a nice sunset as the clouds had finally gone. 

ROYAL CANAL: Maynooth to Enfield 4th April


Back on track. Good to be walking again even if my pack is heavier now I’m carrying two tents ( one for the dogs !) and cooking gear. But now that I’ve lost 10kg off my belly I can afford to put it on my back without fear of overburdening my knees 

There may have been some doubts about whether we would make it out to the canal after what I’m told was a fun filled dinner party the night before but luckily Sally wasn’t too hung over and we set off on schedule. 

It was alarmingly drizzly on the drive up but by the time we got to Maynooth it had dried and warmed up a bit. We parked in the train station which adjoins the canal and we are planning to come back by train from Longford in 125km and 5 days time. The track runs alongside us for a lot of the way as the land bought for the canal construction was wide enough for both. It wasn’t long after the canal was open that the train took over passenger travel anyway. 

In my relaxed state I was intent on starting to walk the wrong way, East rather than west, but luckily I now have a track buddy to put me straight. And I’m still following arrows 

We followed this wall, of St Patrick’s college for a good long way, they must have some serious amount of land on campus. We went up through two locks and noticed how short and narrow they appear to be. You’d only get one boat in at a time. But there is almost no boats on the move anyway. This was the only one we saw all day. 

After we walked the Grand Canal a few years ago we thought how underused the whole amazing resource was and the Royal seems the same. There’s some fine bridges that have to accommodate the canal, train track, river and one bridge even had a arch just for the towpath. 

Before long we were approaching Kilcock

where they were very keen on waterpolo and had numerous goals slung across the water. 

The section of the canal beyond Kilcock passes through Cappa bog which caused big problems during construction with sides slipping and bottom swelling up, a bit like ourselves. It looks nice now though. 

Irish Waterways hav been cutting the reeds From the canal and shrub from the banks and we came across fine looking little vessels for the job. 

Just before Enfield, or Innfield on some maps, we came upon a fine motte and bailey. 

Enfield had a lovely canal side amenity area with harbour and slipway and shower and toilet block but we decided to carry on out of town to camp, a little wary of the lads bush drinking antics. So we got some food and drink and headed off into a gorgeous evening a couple of km to a nice wide patch of grass with loads of firewood around. 

It was a bit near the motorway that we could hear all night but apart from that….all good. And a huge full moon rising.