These are strange days, as I write this we are in the mist of Covid-19 crisis and while the weather is glorious and perfect for exploring the canal we are unfortunately all required to stay at home for the good of everybody.
That all said the section between Enfield and Thomastown is one I have traveled many times and I already have a good selection of photos to choose from so I thought I would carry on doing up another post in the hope some of you may find it useful when all the restrictions are lifted.
In the last post I left off as we reached Enfield Bridge by the railway station. In this post I will look at the 23.5 kilometre stretch from Enfield to Thomastown Harbour, all of which lies on the Long Level of the Royal Canal. This route offers a great chance to cycle a flat good surface out to Thomastown where you can get a good lunch and a pleasant return journey to Enfield to finish where you started, ideal to pick up you car or get a train back towards Dublin. Paid parking is generally available in the railway station car park in Enfield.
After spending a considerable amount of time on the north bank of the canal up to now, you now swap over to the south bank at Enfield as you head west. We see a good re-purposing of old railway tracks as they provide a barrier between the path and the incline down towards the canal until they level off with each other. On the other side of the bank you will see the stepped landscaping and tree planting that was done in the approach to Enfield Harbour. This work was undertaken by the Enfield Branch of the Royal Canal Amenity Group along with the Enfield Community Council.
The harbour area includes a car park, picnic area, mooring and slipway facilities as well as toilets and showers accessible by those with a Waterways Ireland access card. At the end of the harbour we pass under the R148 which was the old N4 ring road around Enfield before the M4 was built.
It is a 3.5 kilometre stretch from Enfield Bridge to the Blackwater Aqueduct. Just before we reach the aqueduct itself we can see the a solid stone chamber in the canal which can be used for stop gates to prevent the loss of water if there is ever a breach on the long level of the canal. The Blackwater Aqueduct carries the canal over the Enfield Blackwater which joins the River Boyne near Donore south of Trim and should not be confused with the Kells Blackwater which joins the River Boyne in Navan.
As previously mentioned it is hard to grasp the size of the aqueduct when you are crossing over it but unfortunately it is extremely difficult to get down to take a photo from the river. Considerable work was done to restore the aqueduct when the canal was being restored in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The aqueduct had to be pinned together to keep it together and a good discussion about it can be seen on RTÉ’s TV series Waterways: The Royal Canal.
As we cross over the aqueduct we once again leave County Meath for County Kildare and soon we come to Kilmore Bridge. It used to be necessary to cross over the bridge and continue the journey on the north bank however recent work on the Greenway has meant that we can now pass under Kilmore Bridge and carry on west on the south bank.
A long fence has been put in between Kilmore Bridge and Moyvalley separating the Greenway from the railway which runs alongside it but this wide surface is a great relief from the old often overgrown trail path on the north bank.
As you approach Moyvalley you pass under the road bridge built in the 1970’s before rising up on a newly built ramp to the top of the original Moyvalley Bridge. Moyvalley had a train station from 1848 until 1963. When you cross over Moyvalley Bridge you are welcomed by one of my favourite watering holes on the Royal Canal, Furey’s Pub.
I find it hard to resist stopping off here any time I pass though it must be noted that they only do food Monday to Saturday so if you are passing on a Sunday, grab a pint but don’t be expecting any food. Furey’s facebook page can be found here.
In 1807 a Canal Hotel was opened in Moyvalley and a brief description of it and it’s history as a hotel, a spa, a barracks and as an outhouse can be found here before the building was eventually demolished to make way for the new road and bridge in the 1970’s. Boats can regularly been seen tied up at Moyvalley. I noted that heritage Horse Boat 34B was tied up here the last time I passed in spring 2020.
Carrying on west on the north bank and just before we leave County Kildare behind for the last time we come to the Ribbontail Footbridge. The bridge was built to for mass goers to cross the canal and take a mass path to the church in Longwood. The mass path has been recently resurfaced and gives the walker or cyclist the option of going into Longwood village to pick up a few supplies. There is also a set of stop gates located at the bridge which can be closed to help stem the loss of water should there be a breach on the Long Level.
Carrying on for another 2 kilometres we come to Longwood Harbour which is home to Ribbontail Paddler’s Club. The club have canoe polo goals erected over the canal much like we saw in Kilcock and they have restored the old canal workers cottage at the harbour to use as their clubhouse. It should be noted that the harbour is a good bit west of the village itself and so if you want to stop there it is best to take the mass path at Ribbontail Bridge.
Immediately after the harbour we come to two aqueducts. The first is a Road Aqueduct carrying the canal over the road below. You can also see the railway bridge just a few yards over from the aqueduct. Only a stones throw from there you then cross over the Boyne Aqueduct again with the later railway bridge just a little further south. The aqueduct has 3 arches with the river passing under the middle arch.
You truly get a feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere here with just the canal and the railway to keep you company. It is 2 kilometres before we reach the next landmark, Blakeshade Bridge. It is necessary to come up to the road level at the bridge and may be worth dismounting to cross before carrying on down the other side.
Across the canal on the south bank after Blackshade Bridge is Molerick Bog which is a designated Natural Heritage Area. It is only one of four remaining raised bogs to be found in Ireland.
After another 2.5 kilometres we come to the small village of Hill of Down. The village once had a train station which opened in December 1847 and closed one month shy of it’s 100th anniversary in November 1947. The village has a post office, small shop and Moran’s Pub on the south bank which can be reached by crossing over Killyon Bridge. It is possible to carry on west under Killyon Bridge but on a bike it is best to come up onto the road and carry on down the other side, just be mindful that it is the main Trim to Kinnegad road.
Leaving Hill of Down we continue west on the north bank towards Ballasport Bridge. This section of the Greenway was built over the winter of 2016 into 2017. Ballasport Bridge carries a minor rural road over it but requires us to ascend up the bridge and cross it to the south bank to continue on our journey west. 2.5 kilometre west of Ballasport Bridge we leave County Meath behind us as we enter Westmeath.
The canal from here to D’Arcy’s Bridge can feel like a long stretch as you are out in open country side with only a few farmer’s houses and grazing animals along the way. Even the railway takes a leave of absence on this section as it takes a more direct route ignoring the twists and turns of the waterway. It is just under 6 kilometres between the two bridges.
D’Arcy’s Bridge is located just outside Hyde Park country house which was built not long before the canal came to this part of Westmeath. Hyde Park was the family home of the D’Arcy Family descended from Sir John D’Arcy and his second wife Joan de Burgh who was the widow of Thomas Fitzgerald, 2nd Earl of Kildare who’s descendants would go on to be the Duke’s of Leinster discussed previously.
We cross over D’Arcy’s Bridge to the north bank once again and if you look to the south bank you can see the remains of the last two trading boats of the Royal Canal, Floats No. 15 and 16. Both of these boats would have been horse drawn and last belonged to an independent trader by the name of James Leech. They are a good reminder of the commercial past of the Royal Canal.
It is just over 1 kilometre from here to our destination at Thomastown Harbour. After the sad sight of Floats No. 15 and 16 it is great to be greeted by the sight of Float No. 3 better known as the Killucan Project Barge in the harbour.
The harbour has a car park on the north bank and marks the end of the Long Level which we have been on since the 17th Lock before Enfield. If we cross over Thomastown Bridge we can go over to Nanny Quinn’s Pub on the south bank.
Nanny Quinn’s a great spot for a bite to eat and a drink but is often busy so it is generally best to ring ahead and make a booking if you want to have a sit down here. Nanny Quinn’s facebook page can be found here.
From here you can either enjoy your lunch and cycle back to Enfield or if you are feeling brave you can start to climb the flight of locks towards Mullingar which is what I will do next time.