Hi all, sorry for the glitch yesterday when this post went live in its incomplete state. Thanks for the folk who liked it without the photos. This move drama and the lack of internet in the new house is a tad counterproductive at this stage in time… however, now you can read the post in its final form at your leisure. Finally, the post was written for the hard copy edition of our local Kilcock parish quarterly paper… so here goes… round two!
How well do we know the bit of water running through Kilcock? OK… I’ll qualify my query. Actually, there’s more than one bit of water running in close proximity to the town. The Ryewater meanders along the outskirts before twisting south and finding a parallel path with the road, the canal, the rail and a lesser road. I believe there is nowhere else in Europe where we have as many ‘features’ alongside each other, thus making Kilcock even more unique.
But, before I get carried away, let’s concentrate on one specific bit of water passing through the town. The Royal Canal is almost as old as the town… well, metaphorically speaking. I’ve wondered in the past how many litres of water have flowed by the village. The canal reached Kilcock in 1796 and for a while the harbour was the most westerly navigable point along the canal. Enough history? Yes.
Today the canal is once again in full operation, the restoration process being completed somewhere in 2010 and the canal fully reopened to navigation at a function later that year. Now it is possible to cruise, paddle, cycle or walk the full length of the canal, from Spencer Dock on the Liffey in the east to Richmond Harbour near the Shannon in the west.
Many folk have worked long, hard years to achieve the Royal Canal’s reopening. The local Royal Canal Amenities Group has been closely involved with the process from about 1982… turning a once derelict ditch of boggy march into what is today the great harbour facility. Waterways Ireland play a huge part as well… as have other stakeholders during the years. We have to say thanks to all these folk, past and present but mostly, we have to show our gratitude for all their work by using this fantastic resource.
It will only be with constant, growing use and improvement that we will retain the joy of having a future on or beside the water. So, with all that in mind, how do we utilise the canal as best we can? Many folk use the towpath, or to be more exact, the horse-walk, to exercise themselves and their pets. Many folk fish along the canal and occasionally a few cycle between destinations.
Then, there are folk like myself, who just need a bit of space… a bit of wilderness… a bit of tranquillity. My camera has become a constant companion so I’ve been able to capture quite a few interesting occurrences along the way. I’ve met fantastic people who share my affection for this stretch of our heritage.
For those of you who haven’t taken a stroll along the canal you should venture out… sample what’s on offer. You don’t need to be particularly fit, you don’t need expensive equipment but at this time of the year it is worth your while to dress warmly, preferably wearing waterproof shoes or boots. Always take a snack or two… fruit is good. Why, I’ve often left an apple core for a very appreciative duck. Do take water as well.
This is not a survival lesson so if I state the obvious don’t take offence. I have on more than one occasion met folk who set off for a walk, then became engrossed and walked much further than planned. They then dread the return trip, often thirsty and even a little peckish. You may say you don’t plan to walk much further that a kilometre or two. Great, but rather be prepared.
One can even walk as far as the next village and catch a bus or train back to Kilcock. With that in mind I’ll share a little more of the walk from Kilcock to Enfield. Let’s say we start at the harbour. The first structures are Shaw Bridge and Lock 16. Lock 16 is a double lock and also the place I first set eyes on the Rambler, while the Waterways TV program was filmed. Heading west past the lock the town lays sprawled out to the right. The church steeple the prominent feature.
This tree-lined, meandering section of canal is very popular with the folk who live in the apartments along the bank. Much fishing also happens along this stretch. The only downside? Occasionally the doggy-do-do’s, beer cans and chipper rubbish is left to spoil and soil the views. It does not take long to arrive at Allan Bridge. Keep going and soon you’ll be out in the open countryside. In the distance, to the north one can see the little Balfeighan Cemetery.
The large modern box that is Musgrave’s seems unobtrusive… I’ve often thought how the shape seems to fit into the countryside without being much of an eyesore. Keep going past the warehouses toward the 17th Lock, or Ferran’s, as it is known by all. Not long past Musgrave’s the rail line again runs adjacent to the canal. There is much history linking the Royal and the Rail… but we’ll leave that for another day.
Ferran’s is another double lock… a little tricky to navigate as you enter the lower chamber from beneath McLoughlin’s Bridge. This is a convenient spot to turn back toward Kilcock if you’re only after a short stroll. But… for those a little more adventurous this is the beginning of a very picturesque section of the canal.
Here the tow-path crosses over to the south bank. Of note… Ferran’s is the start of the Long Level. Looking for the next lock? Then, be prepared to walk another 20 miles (32 Kilometres)… destination Thomastown, Westmeath. Yep, Westmeath. As the name suggests, this is the Royal Canal’s longest uninterrupted bit of horse-walk. Walk… walk and a little more walk?
Walk… if you have any intention of seeing one of the prettiest sections along the Royal then please keep walking. It may well do your soul some good. Not too many minutes after saying cheers to Ferran’s the tow-path opens up a tad… then it gets a little tighter… then opens up again. Somewhere… not too distant, the Cappa Bog’s trees catch the eye.
The North bank turns positively wild… large limbs overhanging the water… to the ire of the boaters who have to dodge the limbs. There’s an otherworldly feel to the place.. spooky… eerie tranquil… fun. Fun!! Deer… pixies dancing in the twilight? Leprechauns? Pike as long as a leg lurking in the shadows? No… beauty… that’s about it. I have on a few occasions seen deer on the outskirts of the woodland… not of late though. Maybe the less dense foliage during the colder months will allow the odd glimpse again.
Keep going westward toward Cloncurry’s Bridge. The towpath can become a little overgrown along this section so waterproofs are very useful. Cloncurry’s Bridge is the first point after Ferran’s where a road crossed the canal. These are all useful landmarks as it allows folk to be collected if they feel they’ve walked far enough.
Leaving Cloncurry’s behind and heading along the south bank on the last stretch to Enfield. The towpath is a tarred strip for at least half of the section so walking is easy. Not too many minutes after crossing from the tar onto the grassy walk one rounds a slow left bend to catch sight of the Enfield Station and Enfield Bridge. Why not have a refreshing drink at one of the watering holes before catching either a train of a bus back to Kilcock?
Why not indeed? Just reward for a few hours out in the countryside. The total distance from Kilcock to Enfield along the canal is about 12.75 kilometers so, call it a round 13. I usually rate my walks at about 4 kilometers an hour. That allows enough time to stop and look around or take photos… time to have a snack or just to appreciate the splendour of the countryside. Come on… I dare you, go take a Saturday stroll and enjoy yourself!