Today’s walk was a somewhat strange quest – the idea was to do a walking canvass in support of a local Green party candidate who is running for election. In practice, we know it wasn’t going to be much of canvass as I wasn’t likely to meet many people but the idea was to draw people’s attention to the fantastic resources we have in the area that are being so woefully underused. I’ll have to apologise for the photography on this way – the weather was so wet that I had to stow my camera so most of the pictures were taken on my phone.
Today the plan was to leave from my back door rather than driving to the start of the walk. This was for two reasons – first I didn’t want the hassle of picking up my car and second I wanted to walk some of the roads up on Brí Leith (or Ardagh Mountain). So I set off as soon as it was bright enough to be safe on the roads.
My route took my straight up the mountain past the entry point to my usual forest walk and I quickly got to a point where I was treated with the fabulous view over the plain from the top of the hill. Although this part of the country is somewhat lacking in mountains, when you do get to the top of a hill, you are rewarded with spectacular views. Unfortunately, it was a bit dreary today to make the most of it.
I didn’t go right to the crossroads at the top as the map had little shortcut up a track and I figured I may as well do a bit of exploring. This lead past what I think was a water storage tank. By now a bit of drizzle had started which was annoying and was to become a feature on this walk. It was interesting to see the other side of the mountain while walking along this road.
This track turned back into a road and I found myself walking a dead straight road for about 3 km. There wasn’t much traffic about – just a couple of farmers getting a start on the day and a single runner. It was on this stretch that I managed to get rid of my own canvassing literature of the day. Anyway, this road took me towards Carrickedmond and Monument cross roads where I saw this somewhat appropriate warning sign for the day.
After this, I headed towards the N55 and cross this on the way towards Colehill. I used to be cycle these roads quite a lot and was always somewhat taken aback by the number of deserted houses in the area but on foot this is even more start – it is depressing to see fine buildings just being left to decay over the years.
The rain was getting a bit stronger by now and it was all getting a bit grim before I even got to the canal. My pre-amble to the main walk was turning into a bit of a slog and I was glad to see Abbeyshrule when I got there. I had a quick stop here to grab a mouthful of coffee but conditions weren’t really amenable to a sit down so it was literally a minute of a stop.
Normally you’d see a few walkers out around Abbeyshrule but this wasn’t to be today. It was a bit of a mucky morning, but it was only really drizzle – not serious rain. Anyway, for whatever reason I had the canal to myself as I headed across the Whitworth aquaduct. I was making quite good progress at this stage – well above my 5 km per hour goal.
They have extended the proper surfaced track all the way back to Abbeyshrule on the opposite sign although it was still blocked off at the Abbeyshrule end as it isn’t completed. When I got to bog bridge, I noticed that the unsurfaced side which is the original Royal Canal Way was very badly torn up by machinery so I decided to cross over to the track.
This stretch of the canal is about the wildest part there is. As you cross the bog here the solitude is just amazing. You are completely alone with your thoughts. Only once I have a met somebody on this strange and it is so remote that the only sound of humanity you will hear is that of overflying aircraft.
I pushed on towards Ballynacarrigy but by the time I got to the lock at Kelly’s bridge, the rain had eased off enough for a bit of a sit down with coffee and chocolate. Lock gate arms make for excellent picnic benches and are a good spot for a quick stop. It would be nice if there was a bit more attention given to spots for a bit of a sit-down along the canal. The odd bench or picnic table would be very much appreciated.
Anyway, Ballynacarrigy arrived quite quickly and I had another quick stop to replenish my water bottle. This is quite a nice feature of this part of the canal. The harbours at Ballymahon, Ballynacarrigy and Coolnahay all have taps that you can use to replenish your water supply. This is especially nice in summer when I can easily get through 5 litres of water in a day’s walking.
Somebody has been busy since the last time I was here as there are a load of new distance signs along the route. These are a welcome addition – the first time I walked the route I had no idea of what kind of distance I had left and it is nice to know. After Ballynacarrigy, I planned on stopping at Coolnahay for a spot of lunch but I started to hit the Wall a bit early at this point. My lack of recent long walks was showing so me legs started to give out at this point.
So when I got to the series of locks about 2.5 km from Coolnahay I gave up and sat down to a lunch of soup, bread and cheese on a lock arm. I also broke out my emergency Coca Cola at this point which is always good for giving me the zip for another few kilometres. My brother rang at this point to see if I wanted to meet up so we made arrangements to meet up at Ballinea and perhaps some of us would walk on into Mullingar while he went running.
The Coca Cola worked its usual magic and I managed to get enough energy to get myself into Coolnahay which was unusually deserted. By now the rain had cleared off and it was quite a pleasant day for walking. I had another quick stop to put a bit more water in my bottle and pressed on towards Ballinea.
That is about it really for my story of the walk. My brother called me again to let me know he was in Ballinea and we changed the plan since I was slower than planned so they would walk towards me and I’d finish up at Ballinea. I met a runner and a cyclist on this stretch but they were both going a bit fast for me to try stopping them for a canvass.
So that was my day on the canal. I wouldn’t say that I was planning for the day to be so solitary but I was surprised to see absolutely nobody for 20 odd km of the canal route even if it was a drizzly February Saturday. We have this amazing network of trails in Longford and Westmeath and it so under used. There is 100 km of canal trail in the area and another 45 of the greenway built on the old Mullingar to Athlone railway.