You get those days when you wonder… what the éff am I doing here?!? And all of that after closely watching the weather for days before. Anticipating. Then… the day breaks with all the promise of some sunshine. Promise? You con the good lady wife into the belief that she will indeed be enjoying herself for the day. You try getting junior son interested in accompanying you…
By the time you eventually get out of the front door for the drive down to the Abbey the clouds are gathering… the westerly breeze stiffening sufficiently to be dragging the moisture in off the Atlantic… did I mention the promise of sunshine? Anticipation?
What’s that real old classic… staid and worked to death… 2% inspiration… 98% perspiration. Flip! Why did I ever get into this mode? To walk the whole length of the Royal Canal before the end of summer. Summer has long ended yet I’m still trying to get to the Shannon… what’s so important about all of this? I don’t know… especially when my feet are wet through only ten minutes after trudging out of Abbeyshrule. Ah well… nothing ventured… nothing gained!
I soon reached Draper’s Bridge at Lock 39 and much to my delight the towpath changed to hard surface. The walking was easier… the feet still wet though. Not long after passing the lock I spotted my first signs of life out on the canal… a canoe was making its way toward the lock. The skipper happily using the strong westerly wind on his back to assist his progress. He was heading as far as Abbeyshrule… not far to go… would he be locking his vessel through? I asked… he laughed and waved goodbye…
At Allard’s Bridge the towpath again changed to the muddy grass cattle track. Well, so it seemed. The farmers all along the canal use the towpath… so, expect to find churned up clay and mud as far as you go. A certain Paul Simon song kept doing the rounds in the bone-box…
“Slip sliding away… the nearer your destination the more you keep slip sliding away… “
Now the next test was sent to try me… the mizzle changed to all out frontal attack… the wind threatening to wreck my umbrella… the mud threatening to trip me up at almost ever step… the damp rapidly heading for my bones. Fun! Past Guy’s Bridge and on to Molly Ward’s. Here the towpath mercifully changed to tar. My good lady wife rang to ask how things were going. I knew the N55 would soon be reached. Should I get her to collect me at the crossing or should I continue on to Lock 40, my planned destination for the day? The internal debate raged on as I walked. The rain eased and soon passed.
I reached the N55 at Fowlard’s Bridge and kept going. I knew all along the taxi was close at hand should I want to chuck it in… I also knew the logistics of the next walk should spur me on to get as far as possible while I could. I kept to the northern bank as it seemed in better condition and more easily accessible. The southern route seems blocked by railing barriers and a barbed wire fence. Looks like the farmer in the area has also closed off the towpath below the bridge with pallets to prevent animals straying.
Toome Bridge arrives with a bit of a surprise… I was concentrating on getting a picture of a hare/rabbit when the bridge appears without much warning… the canal making a sharp bend to the north. Here I crossed back over to the south… the towpath proving better going all the way to Ballybrannigan Harbour. Another surprise soon presented itself. The paddler from earlier… who was going as far as Abbeyshrule, appeared… pushing his bicycle. He had his dog with him. He explained that the dog had followed without his knowledge so he was walking the last stretch to his van at the harbour. The old girl was not up to running the whole way so to give her a break he pushed the two-wheeler… madness, I say… willingly doing all that exercise on one day…
We said our goodbyes… at about this time the good lady rang to say they were at the new Longford Bridge… would they wait for me or go down into the village of Ballymahon for a warm coffee? I suspected I was quite close to their location by the description of buildings being supplied from the lady’s vantage point. No… I’ll keep going on to Lock 40, you go have your well deserved coffee, I agreed. Not many minutes later I rounded the next bend and the bridge came into view. I made mental calculations… it should be less than 45 minutes for me to reach the lock… keep going, the fun was never-ending, I consoled myself.
I lingered a bit at Archie’s Bridge… having a look at the remains of the two large ivy covered stone warehouse buildings. An interesting snippet of information gleaned from the IWAI Guide, map 12… the canal is only about 2 miles from Lough Ree and the River Shannon at this point. I believe the powers-that-be back in the day thought it best to swing north and link Longford Town with the river, hence their decision to continue on for another twelve odd miles until the canal reaches Richmond Harbour at Clondra.
Not too long past the buildings, in the bend where the canal swings northward, another boat passed me by. The name of this vessel had to make me smile… Shangri–La… I wish! I was still musing this little joke on my sore feet when the cottage at Mullawornia Bridge and Lock 40 came into view.
Wow… I had made it… another section complete. By my reckoning it was still 12 miles to the end of the canal… one more day’s worth of effort and I’d complete the challenge. The good lady collected me about 30 minutes later… was I happy to get the weight off my feet!
Ed’s Note: Click on any photo to enlarge… then use the scrolling arrows beneath the pictures to navigate the gallery.
PS – The online IWAI maps are slightly dated, however, they are still a valuable tool for anyone that wants to walk the canal. Also, do use the site… it’s crammed full of information of the boating kind… the Forum is a place of lively activity… many a good thread is ongoing at any one time… fun in the sun… well, you know what I mean! 😉