If it’s one thing I’ve come to accept is that my mind is never satisfied with something to focus or even fixate on, if I truly want to be at peace I need something to obsess about.
When I was prepping for my run along the Royal Canal and even for several weeks after I completed it I kept telling myself I had no desire or need to do the same on the Grand Canal. I’ll say it now though so it’s out in the open, I will always have a bias for the Royal Canal and all the troubled history that goes with it. That said, sitting in work for several weeks my subconscious chipped away at me, ‘you’ve done one, it only makes sense to do the other’ and ‘sure why wouldn’t you do it, it’s shorter’ so a few weeks ago I set myself a target of running the main line from the Liffey to the Shannon over several runs just to map it out.
My approach on the Royal Canal was planned out meticulously, like eating an elephant, I took my time, one bite at a time, one section at a time but since completing it to quote Top Gun my “ego is writing cheques my body can’t cash”.
I was a little over zealous on my first day out on the Grand Canal. I had planned on running from Grand Canal Dock to Allenwood. A nice round 48km, bearing in mind the furthest I had run in one go since June was 16k. The first 20k went fantastic, a warm autumn morning making my way up the locks out of Dublin and into Kildare. Ah but then the reality kicked in, as I transitioned into the softer grasslands of Kildare the body highlighted that I was undertrained, under fueled and under hydrated. My highly inflated ego got a much needed reality check.
After leaving Sallins I bargained with myself that I would make it as far as Robertstown, still a respectable distance, still further than a marathon and I would stop there. I was rather happy when I saw my lift waiting for me there, a cold bottle of Diet Coke easily acquired in the local shop. 1/3 of the Grand Canal covered in 1 day. Happy out. Time to rest.
And yet the mind and body want to wander. I happened to be off work the following Tuesday (3 days later) so with the relative arse kicking I got 3 days earlier I decided on a slightly easier run. Pick up where I left off in Robertstown and run the 20km to Edenderry where I had access to public transport which could get me back to near where I left the car. A splendid run on an overcast day, a manageable distance. Half the Grand Canal covered in 2 days.
The following Saturday I decided it was time I jump back into running marathons, it had been 3 months and with proper fueling and hydration I managed a sub 4 despite not having the adequate training. Certainly a good result, the body deserves a rest. But of course I’ve got half the Grand done now, my mind is obsessing on the rest… how can I not continue.
So events conspired that my wife wanted to do a new parkrun this weekend while another friend was planning on visiting a parkrun near Edenderry… near Edenderry, interesting, so with a lift arranged to where I stopped 11 days previously the plan was in action, run from Edenderry to Tullamore and get the train home. Sorted! 32k more I can tick off as done, mapped and documented and only leaving 35km more to do.
So at half 8 this morning I was dropped at Edenderry Harbour and made the mile walk down the Edenderry Branch to where it meets the Main Line at Downshire Bridge. I set off over the bridge where I previously stopped at 8:50.
Leaving Downshire Bridge the towpath is still firm as it heads west past Colgan, George and Rathmore Bridges. Rathmore Bridge has a set of stop gates just west of it, similar to the stop gates near the Ribbontail Bridge on the Royal Canal. I can only assume these are there to assist stopping the water flowing should there ever be a breech on the longest level of the Grand Canal.
Unfortunately as you can see from the above image, once you are past Rathmore Bridge you are onto a grass trail. This short section to Cartland Bridge isn’t too bad, the grass was short and when I passed to the other side of Cartland Bridge I was back onto a solid surface.
There was a road down to a house after Cartland Bridge but once you pass the house it was back onto the grassy trail once again.
Next up is Trimblestown Bridge, there are quite a few bridges as you head west out of Edenderry. What was to be found the other side of Trimblestown Bridge was certainly the most difficult surface of the day. High and wet grass followed and while the ground wasn’t muddy the soft grass was energy sapping and the my feet got wet which raises the possibility of blisters, something you certainly don’t want to encounter on a long run.
In the midst of all the high grass I found another old mile marker, this time either 32 or 37, weathering has made it difficult to decipher, either number still makes no sense for James’s Street Basin or Grand Canal Docks so I’d love to know where these Mile markers are laid out from.
After 4.5km of the high grass where the focus is so much on avoiding trip hazards below you that you hardly notice the canal beside you, you come the Rhode Bridge and thankfully some better maintained short grass the far side of it.
Leaving Rhode Bridge behind it is just another kilometer to Toberdaly Bridge with its wide grassy on approach and a short section of roadway as you leave. Sadly the dry road surface only lasts for a few hundred meters before you are back on the grassy trail but still loyal to the canal bank.
By now you can see the new Mount Lucas Wind Farm off to the south as you approach a Bord Na Móna Lifting Bridge that runs through the bog and carries on south through the wind farm. The bridge seems to be left in the upright position which may mean the canal has more traffic now than the railway but that might just be wishful thinking.
After another 2km from the Lifting Bridge you get a short reprieve of 1km on the road before you take on the last section of grass trail that brings you from Killeen Bridge into Daingean.
Daingean is a neat little village on the Grand Canal with a few pubs and mooring spots. As you get to the centre of the village the remains of a 3 bay, 3 storey old Grand Canal Storehouse towers over the bank beside Molesworth Bridge, staring across at the high walls of Daingean’s joinery and what was Saint Conleth’s Reformatory School.
Once the far side of Molesworth Bridge we can rejoice as we have now ran our last grass section this side of Tullamore and have solid ground for the the next 15km.
3kms west of Daingean we come to a triple arch fixed span Bord Na Móna Bridge built in 2000. I think it looks in character with the canal unlike many of the modern bridges I deliberately neglect to mention but I think the greatest thing you notice as you approach this bridge is the width of the canal at this point.
It’s important to be mindful around here that you actually are on a road a several vehicles including farmers, fishermen and Waterways Ireland staff passed me along this section with only room for one vehicle always keep an ear out and don’t have the headphones up too loud. Just before we come to the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch we pass under Chenevix Bridge.
After passing under Chenevix my eyes immediately fall upon Bye-Trader Boat 107B looking a little forlorn. I know this boat was regularly moving up and down the canal after being restored in the early 2000s. Sadly it looks like it hasn’t seen much love lately and goes to show the mammoth task it is to take on to be a custodian of one of these amazing heritage boats and the never ending dedication and work it takes to keep them alive.
While 107B might need a little love, it would take a lot more to bring the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch back to life. Kilbeggan used to be a vibrant branch of the Grand Canal with much of the towns whiskey shipped out on the boats of the Grand Canal, unfortunately like the Longford Branch of the Royal Canal it has long since been dammed and gone dry. Campbell’s Bridge still spans the branch behind the dam and like Downshire Bridge at Edenderry is a narrow bridge designed for horses and pedestrians to cross over the branch to continue on the main line.
After 30km on the 20th Level we finally reach the 21st Lock at Ballycommon just after passing the Kilbeggan Branch. While not exactly a flight of locks, we fairly quickly descend down from the 21st Lock to the 26th Lock before we enter Tullamore.
The 21st Lock also has the remains of an original Grand Canal Lock Keepers Cottage adjacent to a much newer one which I’m guessing serves the same purpose given it had a Waterways Ireland keep outside it.
The road between the 21st and 22nd Lock is made up of a harsh stone, ok to run on but I would be cautious of it on a road bike, that said if you made it past some of the previous grass sections on a road bike you are hardier and braver than I. The 22nd Lock has the adjacent Cappyroe Bridge to the west of it.
There is only 600m between the 24th and the 25th Locks. The 25th Lock has a Bridge with the plague ‘Digby Bridge 1797’ on it. According to Waterways Ireland Guidebook for the Grand Canal the bridge at the 16th Lock is also Digby Bridge and the bridge at the 25th Lock is called Cappincur Bridge (after the local townland) but who am I to argue with either WI or a plaque that most likely existed long before me and most likely will still be weathering storms long after I have turned to dust.
After the 25th Lock there is a lovely smooth tarmac surface that leads most the way into Tullamore town and is obviously a popular exercising route.
The 26th Lock has an interesting Lock Keepers “Cottage”, two Storey and oval in shape, built around 1800. It is open as a visitor centre in the summer months.
Just beyond the house and lock Bye-Trader Boat 112B – Terrapin is on display. Terrapin also served time on the Royal Canal as Horse Boat 21. Click on the link below the image for more info on her.
We are now on our final approach to Tullamore, coming off the tarmac path to join a ordinary footpath between the canal and the road. Across the canal we see Bury Bridge and the entrance to Tullamore Harbour off the Main Line.
At last I reach Kilbeggan Road Bridge where I stop my watch for today. This will be where I start for the last run to Shannon Harbour which I’ll hopefully do in the near future, I just need to find someone willing to pick me up from the Shannon.
After I finished I had two options before me, run for a soon departing train back to Dublin… or get a curry chips and wait for a later train. I went for the chips!
To be continued…
Part 1: Grand Canal Dock to Edenderry