Grand Canal

Edenderry Branch to Tullamore (and other musings)

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 and have a .gpx.

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 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.

A swan with 2 of her cygnets at Downshire Bridge, her mate and 4 more cygnets were waiting on the other side.

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.

Open stop gates as seen from Rathmore Bridge

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.

Approaching Cartland Bridge

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.

The long and wet grass west of Trimblestown Bridge

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.

Mile Marker between Edenderry and Daingean

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.

Rhode Bridge with Grand Canal Way signpost. Thankfully the entire section today is run on the north bank of the Canal so now worries about having to think where you need to cross.

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.

Where road and trail part after Toberdaly Bridge.

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.

Bord Na Móna Light Railway Lifting Bridge north of Mount Lucas

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.

Farmers gate after Killeen Bridge. The trail takes you past Daingean golf club and into the village itself.

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.

Remains of the abandoned storehouse in Daingean.

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.

Back on solid ground.

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.

Bord Na Móna Bridge

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.

Chenevix Bridge from the east before the Kilbeggan Branch

After passing under Chenevix my eyes immediately fall upon Bye Trader Heritage Boat 107B looking more than a little forlorn. I know this boat was regularly moving up and down the canal as a floating exhibition space after being restored by Offaly Branch Members of the IWAI 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 work it takes to keep them alive.

Heritage Boat 107B

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.

Campbell’s Bridge behind the dam for the abandoned Kilbeggan Branch.

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.

Looking down the 21st Lock

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.

Remains of the 21st Lock Keepers Cottage.

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.

22nd Lock and Cappyroe Bridge

The 23rd Lock follows on shortly after the 22nd Lock. The 23rd Level is the home of the Offaly Rowing club who have a good 3km stretch to the 24th Lock to train on.

Members of the Offaly Rowing Club training on the 23rd Level

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.

Digby Bridge plaque at the 25th Lock.

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.

Tarmac surface from the 25th Locker

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.

Boland Lock Keepers Cottage

Just beyond the house and lock Heritage Boat 112B – Terrapin is on display. Click on the link below the image for more info on her.

112B Terrapin

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.

Bury Bridge with Tullamore Harbour behind it.

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.

Looking back east on Kilbeggan Road Bridge, my finish line today.

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!

Grand Canal

A Guide to Staying on the Right Side of the Grand Canal

Like the Royal Canal, following the Grand Canal is a pleasurable experience be it walking, running or cycling but knowing which side of the canal you should be on at any given time can be a tricky one. The last thing you need when you have some distance in your legs is to find out you’ve hit a dead end or worse still on the Grand Canal taken the wrong branch and ending up in Naas when you thought you were on your way to Robertstown.

This post is a quick reference guide for those who want to follow the Main Line Branch from the Sea Locks at the Liffey to Shannon Harbour.

Note: To date this guide only goes as far as Downshire Bridge where the Edenderry Branch splits from the Main Line. I will update this post as I complete the rest of the route and hopefully I will add in the Naas Branch and the Barrow Way as separate posts in the future.

This post will also give an indication of the surface types you can expect as you travel. I ran the first 65km of this route over two dry August days so the trail parts were for the most part dry and the grass well maintained however I can imagine that a lot of the route could be a quagmire in winter months and would recommend you keep this in mind. A runner or walker who doesn’t mind getting muddy should have no concerns covering the route and a cyclist on a mountain bike would have no issues, personally I wouldn’t recommend taking a road bike on the route.

The Grand Canal has a few twists and turns but for the most part it runs East to West so regardless of its turns I will indicate if you should be on the North or South Banks based on the overall direction of the canal.

So let us begin at Grand Canal Dock:

Grand Canal Docks sign facing the Liffey between the Dodder and the Sea Locks

Leaving the Sea Lock we follow the Canal around Grand Canal Dock on the North Bank. A few buildings will separate you from the canal briefly as you cross Pearse Street, go under the railway line and come back out at Grand Canal Street at the C1 Lock. From there you follow the Circular Line up past Locks C1 to C7 as far as Robert Emmet Bridge at Clanbrassil Street. This is a distance of approximately 4.2km.

Crossing Robert Emmet Bridge to the South bank we now have a long stretch of paths from here up to the Main Line Junction at Suir Road (where the LUAS now goes along the original path of the Main Line). The path then continues all the way out to the 12th Lock at Lucan. This is a total distance of 13.8km including the Grand Canal Way Green route from the 3rd Lock to the 12th Lock. A bit of caution is needed at the start of this section as you will have to cross over several busy roads.

The 12th Lock at Lucan Road Bridge

At the 12th Lock we must cross Lucan Road Bridge back onto the North Bank and we encounter our first bit of trail. This section of trail can be mucky in winter but was totally fine for me on a dry August day. This section of grassy trail extends for 4.6km out to Hazelhatch where you might get to see some of the original Grand Canal Company M boats tied up.

The path heading west from Hazelhatch Bridge

At Hazelhatch you cross over the bridge (mind the traffic lights) and are back on the South Bank where you are welcomed by a a solid path for 6.4km taking you by Lyons Estate as far as Ponsonby Bridge.

The trail heading west from Ponsonby Bridge

It is possible to go under Ponsonby Bridge but as you emerge on the other side you are back onto a trail path, still on the South Bank of the canal. This continues for 6.2km the whole way to Sallins however you should note the roughest section of the trail is between the Railway Bridge and Sallins town and I would imagine this sheltered section becomes a tough, muddier trail after a few days of rain regardless of the time of year.

View from Sallins Bridge looking west.

When you reach Sallins Bridge you must cross again over to the North Bank. It’s a busy bridge so it’s worth using the pedestrian lights on your left as you approach the bridge. (Staying on the South Bank will lead you via a warren of housing estates to the Naas Branch which I will cover another day).

The North Bank has a road to take you out west of Sallins to the Leinster Aqueduct and the road lasts for some 800m past the Aqueduct giving a distance of 2.6km of solid ground.

Path over the Leinster Aqueduct before it turns into trail.

You stay on the North Bank when you meet the trail and it takes you along for 2.4km as far as the 17th Lock at Landenstown Bridge.

17th Lock from Landenstown Bridge

Staying on the North Bank at the 17th Lock you join a busy road for 1.2km. After this distance the road and the canal part ways and you are back on a grassy trail.

This grassy trail continues on the North Bank for 3.2km as far as Bonygne or Healy’s Bridge.

Bonynge or Healy’s Bridge looking west.

You must come up onto the road and cross the bridge back over to the South Bank and the grassy trail continues for 2.2km as far as Binn’s Bridge in Robertstown.

Old Grand Canal Hotel as you enter Robertstown

Finally, crossing over Binn’s Bridge back onto the North Bank you follow the road for 1.4 km and the 19th Lock at Lowtown.

Binn’s Bridge, Robertstown

When you reach the 19th Lock at Lowtown you are at the end of the Summit Level. Just after the Lock is Fenton Bridge which if you cross will bring you onto the Barrow Way but for our purposes we stay on the solid path on the North Side of the Canal and continue on towards Allenwood.

19th Lock with Fenton Bridge in the background.

As we continue west we pass the Barrow Way navigation as it splits with the Main Line and heads south towards Athy. The path on the North Bank remains good all the way up to Bond Bridge in Allenwood, a distance of 1.8km.

Bond Bridge Looking East

After passing under Bond Bridge and remaining on the North Bank we come to a grassy trail for the short distance up the Shee Bridge. It is only 1.4km between the bridges. At Shee Bridge we must cross over to the South Bank. The main road to Rathagan goes over this narrow bridge and we must go along the road for 200m before we enter a grassy stretch of 650m along the canal bank.

Shee Bridge west of Allenwood which we must cross to the South Bank.

Emerging from the grassy section which some know as Allenwoods Millennium Park we rejoin a country road which takes us all the way up to Hamilton Bridge on the South Bank, a distance of 2.4km. At Hamilton Bridge we cross back over to the North Bank again where we will remain for the considerable future distance.

Hamilton Bridge Looking West.

After Hamilton Bridge we are on a mix of road and rough path all the way to the the 20th Lock. There is no risk of mud here but with many potholes it would be easy to see puddles building up and trip hazards for walkers and runners as well as a chance of getting a puncture for cyclists. It is a total distance of 4.2km from Hamilton Bridge to the 20th Lock.

Picture of the surface between Hamilton Bridge and the 20th Lock.

After passing the 20th Lock we are back on a grassy trail for the remainder of the distance to the Edenderry Branch but at least we don’t have to worry about crossing sides again. It is a distance of 6.4km to Downshire Bridge which is a narrow bridge that crosses over the Edenderry Branch adjacent to the main line.

The grassy trail from the 20th Lock to Downshire Bridge

Downshire Bridge is 63.8km from where we started at the Sea Lock. From here it is possible to take a path for 1.6km into Edenderry if you wanted to stop for a snack. This is where I stopped for now and hope to return to carry on the journey on the Main Line soon.

Downshire Bridge looking out towards the Main Line from the Edenderry Branch.

To be continued…

Grand Canal

Looking South and the view is Grand

So ever since I completed my Royal Canal Run I’ve felt like a barge without a rudder, stuck up out of the water and unable to go anywhere.

It would be wrong to say that I didn’t need the rest, a holiday and some time to recover. Aching joints demanded it and I think it took a while for me to realize I needed to increase my food intake to promote recovery.

That said in the last few days I’ve accepted that my recent stress levels haven’t been helped by my lack of having a normal adherence to a plan, to having a goal to strive for.

After achieving two major goals (100 Marathons and The Royal Canal Run) within 3 weeks of each other I really have had nothing to focus on since the end of June.

Financial realities and some other travel commitments next year really mean I have to take my eyes off the big ticket items I want to shoot for so I need to look for something closer to home.

So given I’ve ran the Royal Canal I guess it makes perfect sense to go for the double, look south and go for the Grand Canal.

Some would say the Grand Canal should be that bit easier as it is several miles shorter than the Royal. However the quality of the towpath on the Grand Canal is considerably less than that of the Royal so I expect it may actually be tougher.

I don’t think I will put in the same level of research into running the Grand as I did the Royal. Living by the Royal I was fascinated by its history (and misfortune) and the dogged persistence of those involved in bringing it back from desolation to the thriving Greenway and navigable inland waterway it is now.

There’s no denying that the Grand Canal was the more successful of the pair and with the great fleet of barges that once worked it has a deep and detailed history but for now my focus is going to be on just running it from Camden Lock at the Liffey to where it meets the Shannon just west of Shannon Harbour.

My first task will be to get my distance legs back. Up until today my next planned distance event was to be the Dublin Marathon but I am eager to get started and to also move on from being able to say “I’ve ran 100 marathons” to being able to say “I’ve ran more than 100 marathons”.

So I have signed up for the East of Ireland Marathon in Tirmoghan on the 31st of August to get me motivated. From there I will need to start recceing the route, breaking it down into sections so I can build up a map and find out what I’m letting myself in for. This was one of the more enjoyable parts of the logistics of running the Royal Canal, albeit it was easier as the adjacent train line made it easier to get to and from my start and finish points.

This time I won’t be limiting myself by starting at midnight and trying to run it inside a single day, nor will I tie myself to doing it on the summer solstice and a weekday. It will be my intention to declare a Fastest Known Time route and it will be my intention to record an FKT on the route but this time I will keep things a little simpler.

So let the research begin, let the training plan come together and should anyone fancy a long slow run along the banks of the Grand Canal give me a shout. I hope to bring this altogether over the winter for a run in late spring.

Winter miles bring summer smiles!