The 13km section of the Royal Canal between Hazelhatch and Sallins is a very accessible and enjoyable stretch for walkers, runners and cyclists alike. It can easily reached by taking the short train journey to Hazelhatch Railway Station from Heuston Station in Dublin and then it is possible to get the train back to either Hazelhatch or Heuston from Sallins, both stations only a few minutes walk off the canal. Both Hazelhatch and Sallins also have car parks at the stations if you are travelling by car.
Hazelhatch is located just a little bit outside Celbridge on the Dublin and Kildare border and the canal can be accessed at the narrow Hazelhatch Bridge.
McEvoys pub is also located beside the bridge and is a good place to have a pint to close out an evening or as a place to stop as you pass by on a longer trek.
Hazelhatch is home to a good number of boats, many of them live-aboard’s and includes some Heritage Boats like the former Grand Canal Company boats 36M, 42M, 56M and 58M as well as the older Horse Boat No. 1 now known as Misneach.
The canal path from Hazelhatch to Sallins is entirely traveled on the south bank of the canal and is of good surface quality for the majority of the route but it is necessary to be mindful of cars for a good part of it also.
About 1.5km west of Hazelhatch you come to Aylmer Bridge named for the Aylmer family of Donadea Demense. The bridge also marks the start of the boundary wall of the Lyons Estate in the area of Lyons Hill which runs alongside the canal for several kilometres.
1km on from Aylmer Bridge is the double chambered 13th Lock. The 13th Lock lies close to a cemetery just below it on the south leading to the suggestion that the 13th Lock is haunted. There are also stories that the 13th Lock on the Royal is haunted. I have never found out for certain to which one Arthur Griffith’s poem refers.
Above the 13th Lock lies the Lock Yard including the Pantry. Part of the Cliff at Lyons, it is an ideal place to stop for a snack or take away cake and coffee. The Lock Yard was originally the site of a mill which was built by Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry who was noted as a canal enthusiast and also served as the Chairman of the Grand Canal Company. The mill was later run by the Shackleton family, related to Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton until it burned down in 1903. Botanical artist Lydia Shackleton, the Royal Botanical Garden Dublin’s first artist in residence lived here for several years. After the Cloncurry title became extinct in 1929 the Lyons Estate fell into disrepair and was bought and restored by Ryanair founder Tony Ryan from the mid 1990’s on.
Just a little over a kilometre on from the 14th Lock we come to Henry Bridge named for a family from nearby Straffan. Henry Bridge is located in the village of Ardclough, resting place of Arthur Guinness. A small shop is located just north of the bridge past Ardclough GAA club for anyone looking for supplies and the burial place of Arthur Guinness can be visited by travelling south of the bridge for a few minutes. A little further west of the bridge we pass the original Ardclough National School that was build in 1839.
We continue along the narrow road on the south bank for another 2.5km when we reach Ponsonby Bridge. When passing under the bridge you can see that it has been widened on both sides for the road traffic it carries and as a result the original faces of the bridge have been lost.
When we emerge on the other side of the bridge we have lost the smooth path and road we have enjoyed from Hazelhatch to this point and enter a more grassy section. Most of the remainder of the distance to Sallins is soft ground. The majority of it is fine for walking and cycling with a hybrid or a mountain bike but a few small sections tend to remain muddy throughout the year.
It is a further 2.5km to Devonshire Bridge. This stretch tends to be a lot quieter than the section around Hazelhatch and the Lyons Estate and offers a real rural feel even though we are still well within the commuter belt of Dublin. The railway is not far to the north of the canal and trains can often be heard but unlike the Royal Canal, they are rarely seen.
The 14th Lock follows shortly after passing under Devonshire Bridge. The original Lock Keeper’s Cottage has been restored and extended as a private residence.
It is just over half a kilometre then to the 15th Lock and the remains of it’s Lock Keeper’s Cottage.
Leaving Dublin, it is noticeable that the Grand Canal follows very long straight lines south west. Not long after passing the 15th Lock the canal takes an obvious turn to the west as it leads towards Sallins. 2km from the lock we are greeted by the Railway Bridge that passes over the canal bringing trains into Sallins from Dublin.
It is just over 1km from the railway bridge into Sallins. The canal path narrows here and as it is sheltered it can get quiet mucky for a few hundred metres along this stretch.
Like Hazelhatch, Sallins is the home to a good many boats and you can even see plenty of post boxes for each of the live aboard’s along the jetty on the east side of Sallins Bridge.
Sallins is where we finish today. The small town just outside Naas has a good selection of take-away’s just off the canal, a Supervalu and even though we are on the 15th level the 13th Lock Gastro and Brew Pub is a great spot to stop for a bite and a few drinks. For those who would like to see the canal as it should be seen it is possible to book a cruise on a barge in Sallins on the blue and white barge in the picture above.
For those who don’t fancy the walk back to Hazelhatch, Sallins Railway Station is only a 3 minute walk off the canal.
Leaving Sallins on the north bank of the Grand Canal we pass a Waterways Ireland service block and like the eastern side of Sallins Bridge there is always a good number of boats found tied up across from the old Odlums mill. It is a 12km journey to Robertstown.
Not long after we leave Sallins we pass by the remains of an old dry dock on the opposite bank. If you look closely you can see the wall at the entrance of the now filled in dock which is also beside the access point to the tow path for the Naas Branch of the canal.
Beyond the dry dock we come to the triangular Soldier’s Island and the junction with the Naas Branch. Past the island we pass under the new bridge that carries the Sallin’s Ring Road over the canal before we reach the Leinster Aqueduct which carries the canal over the River Liffey.
Not far beyond the Leinster Aqueduct we find a rather unique circular stone overflow. The Guide to the Grand Canal refers to it as “the big pot, the little pot, the boolawn and the skillet”. The workings of the overflow are explained by The Helpful Engineer. It is an interesting albeit overgrown feature of the Grand Canal. It would be great to see the overgrowth cut back to see the actual workings of this unusual piece of engineering. The overflow itself would have spilled into a stream behind it that then flows down into the Liffey
As we round the next corner we come to Digby Bridge and the 16th Lock. This bridge is one of two to bear the name Digby along the Grand Canal. Another can be found just east of Tullamore at the 25th Lock.
The canal path turns to grass again when we cross over the road but staying on the north bank of the canal. It is little over 1km to Landenstown Bridge and the 17th Lock. On the opposite side of the canal is the gate into Landenstown Estate which is boasts a Palladian country house and large farm in much need of renovation. Landenstown House was built for the Digby family around 1740. The Digby family who apart from being land owners in Kildare, at one stage also owned the Aran Islands. The house and grounds were owned and farmed by a German man from the 1940’s until the early 2000’s. Yeomanstown Stud purchased the vast property in 2017.
After Landenstown Bridge we have just over 1km of road to travel along before we join up again with a grass path as the canal takes a turn away from the road towards the 18th Lock.
It is 1.5km from the 18th Lock to the Burgh Bridge. It is usually around this stretch that you will hear hear the engines of the cars racing around nearby Mondello Park which lies just 1km south of the Bridge. Burgh Bridge boasts several rope grooves that would have been carved into the stone over the years by horses pulling barges past the bridge, a great reminder of the working past of the canal. It is worth looking out for rope grooves on many canal bridges.
It is nearly two 2km on the grass bank to Bonynge or Healy’s Bridge. At Healy’s Bridge it is best to come up and cross over to the other side to finish out the last stretch to Robertstown. Standing on top of the bridge you can see where the Blackwater Feeder once entered the canal to the right of the main line towards Robertstown. It once connected an artificial reservoir, Ballinafagh Lake to the canal but was closed in 1952 and is now partly filled in. The lake is now protected as a Special Area of Conservation.
We are now on the final 2km approach to our destination at Robertstown. On reaching Robertstown you are greeted by what was the Grand Canal Hotel. A splendid hotel in the early life of the canal the hotel later became an RIC Barracks and also served as a community centre. Currently unused one can only hope it will find new life and not fall into dereliction much like the similar looking Grand Canal Hotel in Shannon Harbour.
You will generally find several boats in Robertstown Harbour and there are several pubs, shops and a cafe in the village to stock up or get a feed. Robertstown Community Amenities Association are currently in the process of trying to restore Heritage Boat 52M. An outboard engine was fitted during the summer of 2019 and the barge made its own way down the canal to Shannon Harbour for an inspection to take place. I finish this section at Binn’s Bridge.
I am taking a break today from the Royal Canal to instead look at the short branch off the Grand Canal to Naas town. Since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic I have been confined to Maynooth and areas on the Royal Canal which I have already covered but when restrictions eased briefly I saw it as the perfect time to take a look at a branch of the Royal’s southerly competitor.
From where the canal branches off the Main Line of the Grand Canal at Soldier’s Island it is less than 3.5km to the Harbour in Naas itself. However for the assistance of those who wish to follow this route it is best that we start a little further back at Sallins Bridge where it is necessary to come off the Grand Canal and through a warren of estates to join the Naas Branch on the south bank of the Grand Canal rather than follow the Main Line out on the north bank.
If you come to Sallins along the Grand Canal towpath from Dublin you come into the village on the south bank along Church Avenue. To get to the Naas Branch you must come up to the bridge level and take a left down to the entrance of Oberstown Court on your right (before the road rises over the railway). Follow the road the whole way down Oberstown Court to Sallins Wharf following it around until you come to a large green space. Cross over the green space in front of the Sallins Pier houses to the line of trees by the canal. If you follow these line of trees down you will find a break through which you can access the towpath that will lead you to the Naas Branch.
As you pass through the trees you are passing over the remains of a filled in Dry Dock of the Grand Canal Company. Little seems to be known about this dry dock and what little information I can find is best described on the Irish Waterways History website here.
Following the canal around to the left you will see the split with the main line and the triangular shaped Soldier’s Island. The Naas Branch was originally independently built by The County of Kildare Canal Company and was overseen by engineer William Chapman who was renowned for his use of Skew Bridges. The Naas Branch had three but these were later modified to give more headroom. Started in 1786/7 it was originally envisioned that the branch would go down to Kilcullen and possibly even as far as Baltinglass however the company did not survive long and was acquired by the Grand Canal Company by 1807/8. The Grand Canal Company extended the line as far as Corbally by 1810 and that is as far as it ever got.
At the start of the branch we immediately pass under the Great Southern and Western Railway Bridge as we head south towards Oberstown Bridge and the first lock N1. There are a total of 5 Locks on the Naas Branch rising all the way up from the main line to Naas Harbour. Leaving the towpath, we cross over Oberstown Bridge and join the road that will bring us almost the whole way into Naas.
The Naas Branch was one of the first sections of the Irish Canal systems to see a completed restoration. New lock gates were made for the Naas Branch in Watling Street in the mid 1980’s where the Royal Canal Amenity Group had already been making new gates for many of the locks on the Royal Canal. This restoration work was undertaken by volunteer work parties of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, the Office of Public Works along with FÁS trainees and was completed in May 1987.
A little further down the canal we first pass under the M7 Motorway before passing under the Millennium Park Link Road. We then come to the second lock N2 at the Old Odlum’s Mill which closed in 1989 after nearly 200 years in operation. The Mill structures span both sides of the canal. The mill opened as the Leinster Mills in 1790 only a year after the branch itself opened. An article from the Leinster Leader about the closure of the Mill can be found here. Both the Mill and the Mill House were listed for sale in 2019.
It is 800 m from the Mill to the third lock, Burgh’s Lock N3 and a short distance further we come to Tandy’s Bridge.
Staying on the western bank we come up to the fourth lock N4 and across on the east bank we can see the remains of the old Naas Gas Works. It is clear that the canal had a profound effect on the industrial development of Naas with such sites as this and the Mill built along its banks not to mention the market trade the canal would have brought to the town.
We then come to the fifth and last lock N5 on the branch about 600m short of the harbour itself.
Between Lock N5 and the harbour is Abbey Bridge also known as Finlay Bridge which we rise up and cross over to the east bank to bring us into the Naas Harbour.
Just off the harbour you can also see the start of the Corbally Branch that while disused is still in water as it provides the feeder for the Naas Branch. See below link to carry on your journey to Corbally Harbour.
Although long closed to navigation by boats the stretch of the Grand Canal from Naas Harbour to Corbally Harbour offers the walker and runner a fine route of just over 8km on which to travel, almost all of which is expansive countryside, ideal for those looking to escape the urban landscape of Naas.
The Corbally extension has been closed to navigation since the building of the Newbridge Road at canal level in 1954, the line remains in water as a the water source for the Naas Branch comes into the system at Corbally Harbour and flows the whole way down the the main line at Soldier’s Island.
Built between 1808 and 1810, the Grand Canal Company contracted the Civil Engineering firm of Henry, Mullins & McMahon to construct the extension as well as restoring and adapting some of the Naas Branch after the collapse of the County of Kildare Canal Company. This would be the first job for the firm that also went on to finish the Royal Canal from Coolnahay to Richmond Harbour as well as building the Ballinasloe and Mountmellick Branches of the Grand Canal. While John Killaly did survey a route through Kilcullen and Baltinglas, plans to extend the line beyond Corbally were abandoned.
Passing the Naas Community Library as you leave the Naas Harbour on the south bank you follow the path through Sarto Park to a tree lined trail on the bank and on to Ploopluck Bridge.
Continuing west and skirting behind several housing estates you then pass under the more modern Caragh Road Bridge which carries traffic high over the canal.
It is only a short distance from the Caragh Road Bridge to Jigginstown Bridge (may also be known as Terry Bridge) which now acts as pedestrian access to Naas Sports Centre on the opposite side of the canal.
It is necessary to leave the canal at the bridge and move up to the main Newbridge Road and the ruins of Jigginstown House. When this road was built over the canal in the 1950’s it was decided to use a culvert instead of a bridge, therefore sealing the fate of the line as closed to navigation.
We leave the canal as we cross the road and travel on down Jigginstown Green. The canal passes behind several house before we rejoin it about 500m later at Limerick Bridge.
Staying on the south bank of the canal we proceed on west as the canal takes a turn south, now walking on a grassy trail and leaving behind the urban neighbourhoods of Naas. I did this section in mid-summer after a prolonged dry spell so the surface was ideal for me but many have warned me that this area can be overgrown and wet in winter so a good pair of trail runners or boots is advised. It is nearly a 2km stretch before we reach the next landmark of Connaught Bridge.
When you get to Connaught Bridge you must first pass under it before coming up to cross over it and descend down on the other side to what has now become the west bank of the canal. From here on in, we will meet several gates along the path. It is important to be mindful to close the gates behind us as we pass through them as there are free roaming cattle in the fields along the canal. That being the case it is also important to be mindful of where you step!
It is 2km from Connaught Bridge along the trail before your come to a canal spillway just before the The Cowhouse at Williow Cottage. From here you are briefly back on a hard surface to Hoare Bridge.
It is easier to come up to the road level and back down on the other side at Hoare’s Bridge rather than squeeze through the overgrowth under the bridge. We have a good surface for a short while as we pass along some houses and driveways but before long we are back on the grassy and on a wet day, muddy trail towards Corbally Harbour.
1km further on from Hoare’s bridge you come to the remains of Mooney’s Bridge. A low level flat accommodation bridge has been built alongside the humpback Mooney’s bridge to allow farmers access to both sides of the canal. Sadly a good part of the wall of Mooney’s Bridge has fallen away on one side.
From Mooney’s Bridge it is less than 1km to the end of the line at Corbally Harbour and the water source for the Naas Branch. The harbour itself is slightly overgrown but the harbour walls are still visible as are the remains of the harbour stores on the opposite bank.
The Corbally Extension is a hidden gem of a route well worth exploring when out by Naas on the Grand Canal. Unfortunately it must be said that it does finish in an area with little around it so it advisable to bring a picnic with you on your walk as you will need to make the return trip to Naas back the way you came.
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: This post only goes as far as Downshire Bridge where the Edenderry Branch splits from the Main Line. There is a link at the bottom of the page which links to a post covering Edenderry to Tullamore and another that looks at the Naas Branch.. I will add additional posts as I complete the rest of the route and hopefully I will add in 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.
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 just after Griffith Bridge 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.
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.
Information about many of these boats can be found on the Heritage Boat Association website which I link to were I mention any of the Heritage Boats I come across. For those with a real interest in the history of these boats I highly recommend the Associations Clear Water books series which can be bought from their website here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Harbour if you wanted to stop for a snack. This is where I stopped for now.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When I originally set up this website, the main reason behind it was to provide a place to post a run report for my Fastest Known Time attempt on the Royal Canal. In preparation for that I fell down a rabbit hole of information about the Royal Canal and came out an Irish Inland Waterways enthusiast. So not long after finishing the run I set about writing section-by-section guides to the Royal Canal with the intention of doing the same for the Grand Canal.
I managed to post up two descriptive guides in Autumn 2019 detailing what side of the canal to be on and what type of surface those travelling the Grand Canal Way can expect, the first being Grand Canal Docks to the Edenderry Branch and the other from Edenderry Branch to Tullamore. Unfortunately it took a lot longer than planned to finally cover the last section from Tullamore to Shannon Harbour where the Grand Canal meets the River Shannon. I will soon be posting a far more descriptive piece about this area but for those looking for a quick guide for the last 36km of the Main Line please read on.
We start where I finished in my last post on the north bank of the Grand Canal at Kilbeggan Bridge in the centre of Tullamore. Moving along the path for 400m, passing the old bonded warehouse on the opposite bank, we come to Cox’s Bridge and the 27th Lock.
From here there is a dedicated Greenway with a smooth surface for 3.5km continuing on the north bank as far out as Ballycowan Bridge and the 29th Lock.
We must cross over Ballycowan Bridge to the south bank but the good news is that this is the last time we are required to cross the canal and the we remain on the south bank for the last 31km to the River Shannon.
The surface after crossing Ballycowan Bridge to the south bank remains smooth but is more similar to the dust covering of the Royal Canal Greenway rather than tarmac which has we had for several kilometres either side of Tullamore.
Once you leave Tullamore, you truly enter a wonderful rural green corridor along the canal with few places to stop for supplies. The first opportunity is at Rahan, about 8km west of Tullamore.
It is important to be mindful however, that the Grand Canal Way can be a shared space and a road like surface is likely a sign that it is to allow for local access to houses and farms along the canal so don’t be surprised if you see the occasional car or tractor and be aware that one may come up behind you.
Probably the most accessible rest stop and conveniently located halfway between Tullamore and Shannon Harbour is The Pull Inn in Pollagh. The pub can be reached by crossing over Plunkett Bridge by the church and coming back on yourself on the north bank.
With Pollagh behind the next landmark is the old Bord Na Móna Light Railway Swivel Bridge, 4km on, the railway runs to the now closed West Offaly Power Station at Shannonbridge. These railways criss cross the bogs of Ireland and while the turf burning stations are mostly finished producing energy, many of the railways remain. Just before reaching the swivel bridge the Offaly Way joins the Grand Canal Way coming from Lough Boora Discovery Park to the south.
The surface becomes softer the further west you go, not long after the swivel bridge we come to Derry Bridge where the surface is a decent soft stone, ideal for running or cycling on, but with grass growing in the middle. I would recommend anyone cycling west of this point though to have at least a durable tire and spare tube and a mountain bike would be best.
Not long after Derry Bridge, the surface turns to a grass trail. I undertook my trip on the June Bank Holiday weekend when the ground was dry and was recently cut so it is maintained and pleasant to travel on. The grass continues for several kilometres as we move towards Belmont.
Passing the wonderful built heritage at Belmont we return to a hardened surface for the remaining 6km to the 36th Lock at Shannon Harbour. On the way we descend down the 34th Lock and before long are greeted by the sight of leisure boats moored up before the village. If you look closely you may even come across an original trading boat of the Grand Canal Company, often denoted by a number and the letter ‘M’ (Motor), though occasionally you will also see an ‘E’ (Engineering) or ‘B’ (Bye-trader). These boats make up a large number of the Heritage Boat Fleet.
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.