Royal Canal – Barry to Mullingar

I got a very early start from the N55 at Barry in the half-light just before 8 on a winter morning. To say the conditions weren’t promising is a bit of an understatement – it was absolutely pouring with rain, but the forecast was for it to clear by around 10 so I decided to get started.

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There was barely any light at the very start so I didn’t take any pictures until I came across the Inny about a mile into the walk. The canal follows the Inny for a few kilometres before crossing it at Abbeyshrule. I also didn’t take my camera out as it was just too wet to use it.


I quickly left Abbeyshrule behind and headed across the Whitworth aqueduct and on to Bog Bridge where I took a short break. By now the rain had turned to drizzle and the sky was brightening.


Bog bridge really is a strange structure. It is in middle of nowhere and isn’t on my survey map although it is on older maps. There is no clue whatsoever as to why it has been built as there is nothing but bog around.


Anyway, after a quick snack of coffee and Fruit & Nut bar, I was on my way again with a minimum of fuss. The rain finally stopped and it suddenly cleared to a fabulous winter morning. It was just a pity I was quite wet from the earlier downpour.


The stretch from Bog Bridge towards Ballynacarrigy must be about the most isolated place you can get to in the midlands. At this stage, I still hadn’t met anybody and it wasn’t looking likely I would.


The landscape around here seems to be quite historic according to the survey map and there are a lot of mounds and ringforts about. This one looks quite substantial.


Away in the distance there was a rather eye-catching stand of trees on a hill-top.


Anyway, I wasn’t long getting to Ballynacarrigy and it really was lovely weather by now. Although it was only 6 km since my previous brief stop, I decided to take advantage of the park bench and have a sup more coffee and some chocolate.


After that stop, I set out to push on towards Coolnahay where I was planning my lunch stop. However, the lock immediately after Ballynacarrigy had its sluices open and the next section was drained and accompanies with Canal Bank Closed signs. After a quick look at the map, I decided to push on as there wasn’t really an alternative route aside from the busy R393 road and there was no info as to whether the bank was closed 1 km or 10 km up the line and it was mostly public road.


So I pushed on for about 2 km until I came to a blockage. However since there was no work going on and there was ample evidence of dog-walkers, cyclists and even horse-riders having ignored the signs, I bypassed the fence and trudged through a few hundred metres of mud until I got to the next lock.


I’ve had this same experience last year near Kenagh and that time it was quite unnecessary really. It wouldn’t exactly be difficult for Waterways Ireland to post a diversion route for walkers and cyclists or to leave one bank open.


Anyway, rant over and back to the walking. There were more interesting views to the south over the Hill of Laragh and the Deerpark.


From here on it was a relatively uneventful few kilometres to Coolnahay where I could stop for lunch safe in the knowledge that the bulk of the walk was behind me. Coolnahay is a very active little spot with a tea-shop and it represents the western end of the Westmeath greenway which stretches from here all the way to the eastern border. It is a nice little spot for lunch.


Now I had about 12 more km to go – a quick 5 km stretch to Ballinea and about another 6 or 7 to Mullingar station. It had turned into an idyllic afternoon although it was a little cold and the lingering damp from my earlier soaking wasn’t helping matters.


Still the going was good and I wasn’t long about covering the distance to Ballinea. I hadn’t met anybody at all between Barry and Coolnahay but now I was coming across a cyclist or dog-walker every 5 minutes or so. It is interesting to see the effects of having a well-developed path in place.


Anyway, I arrived at Ballinea where the way changes sides on the canal for a kilometre or so. I stopped again for a quick coffee and nibble of chocolate and set off on the final stretch.


On crossing back over, the clearance work on the old Mullingar-Athlone MGWR railway line is looking good and it doesn’t look as if it will be long before it will be open.


It is a little odd to see the new path running alongside the existing canal greenway – they seem to run in parallel for about 3 km. Anyway, I continued on towards Mullingar. In the town itself, I come across this branch on the canal which isn’t on the map. It just looks to be a little dock area from aerial imagery.


Anyway, that’s about it for my walk. It was another couple of km to Mullingar station alongside the huge abandoned railyards. It is a pity that the greenway doesn’t seem to follow along this route. It would be quite cool to have the deserted Athlone side of the station refurbished as a terminus for the greenway.


The ruins of the old station yard are looking quite spectacular in the early evening light. It was a nice walk at just over 34km.


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