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Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Enfield to Thomastown

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.

Signs pointing west on the south bank of the canal at 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.

Enfield Harbour as seen from the south bank.

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.

Blackwater Aqueduct looking east.

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.

Approaching Kilmore Bridge

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.

Fence along the railway as you approach the ramp up to the old Moyvalley Bridge

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.

Furey’s Pub at Moyvalley

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.

Boats moored up by Furey’s at Moyvalley.

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.

Horse Boat 34B at RCAG Boathouse early in 2019

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.

Ribbontail Bridge and stop gates

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.

Start of the Mass Path to Longwood

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.

Longwood Harbour with Ribbontail Paddlers Club House

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.

Boyne Aqueduct facing west.

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.

Blackshade Bridge

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.

Looking west from Blackshade Bridge with Molerick Bog on the left

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.

Moran’s Pub and Shop, Hill of Down

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.

Killyon Bridge, Hill of Down

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.

Ballasport Bridge

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 near Hyde Park

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.

Rope Groove’s from horse drawn boats on the edge of D’Arcy’s Bridge

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. Rope grooves can often be found on the corners of older canal bridges where they would have been carved in over time by the horses pulling the boats.

Remains of Floats No. 15 and No. 16 near D’Arcy’s Bridge

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.

A recently repainted Killucan Project Barge in Thomastown 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.

Coming into Thomastown with Nanny Quinn’s 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.

Nanny Quinn’s, Thomastown

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 in Part 7 below..

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 7: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Part 9: Coolnahay to Ballynacargy Bridge

Part 10: Ballynacargy to Abbeyshrule

Part 11: Abbeyshrule to Ballybrannigan

Part 12: Ballybrannigan to the 41st Lock

Part 13: 41st Lock to Richmond Harbour

Part 14: The Lough Owel Feeder

Part 15: The Longford Branch

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone

Categories
Royal Canal

Cycling on the Royal Canal: Thomastown to Mullingar Harbour

Being honest, Thomastown is as close as you can get to being in the middle of nowhere, which is part of its charm. However unless you are able to drive here to start your day, it is an unlikely place for you to start. For me I think it is a good idea to start in Enfield and cycle to Thomastown like I discussed in Part 6, stop in Nanny Quinn’s for some lunch and then continue on towards Mullingar where you can catch a train back to Enfield. It is a distance of 42km from Enfield to Mullingar. That all said there is ample parking at Thomastown if you do have a car so for this post I am going to discuss cycling the relatively short 17 kilometres from Thomastown to Mullingar where you can stop for some food before cycling back to the start.

Ample parking at Thomastown Harbour

As mentioned in my last post Thomastown marks the end of the 32 kilometre Long Level and marks the start of a flight of 8 locks in just under 3 kilometres. It is a quick climb up to the Summit Level but means once you reach the top you have no more climbing to do and also means you have an nice descent at the end of your day if you choose to come back. We start by crossing Thomastown Bridge onto the south bank at the 18th Lock. The 18th Lock is the shortest lock on the Royal Canal at 22.9 metres long. Waterways Ireland have a depot on the north bank of the lock.

18th Lock at Thomastown looking west

It is only 500 metres to the 19th Lock.

Entering the 19th Lock Chamber

400 metres after the that we come to the 20th Lock. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage suggests that the 42 Mile Marker is at the 20th Lock but unfortunately the survey was taken some time ago and I have never seen an sign of it. All the same it is worth keeping an eye out for.

Grooves for wooden stop boards at the 20th Lock

Continuing to climb quickly we come to the 21st Lock another 500 metres up the Greenway.

Looking across the 21st Lock to the Lock Keeper’s Cottage

It is worth noting that the section between the 18th Lock and the 22nd Lock is an open road and you should be mindful of traffic as you use the section.

22nd Lock and Riverstown Bridge

At the 22nd Lock we come to Riverstown Bridge and the road towards Killucan. The 22nd Lock also has a Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the south bank. Now a single private residence, if you look closely you can see it would originally have been two semi-detached workers cottages which makes it stand out from most the other remaining cottages along the canal.

Cottages on the 22nd Level

If you take a left at the 22nd Lock leaving the canal for a few moments you will find Cunningham’s Pub and shop just the canal side of the railway. The shop is great for a fresh ice cream and has seating outside suitable for taking a break. Their facebook page can be found here.

Cunningham’s Pub and Shop at Riverstown

Riverstown was also the site of Killucan Railway Station which closed in November 1947. A Victorian post box can still be found in the wall of the station painted An Post green.

Victorian Post Box at Riverstown Station.

The Railway Sheds in Riverstown played an important role in the restoration of the Royal Canal with a good number of new lock gates made there. You can read about this in Chapter 15: Under New Management of Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789-2009 where Dr. Ian Bath discusses the amount of work involved in restoring the waterway.

Riverstown Railway Sheds where many lock gates were made

If you are taking the train from Dublin to Sligo you often stop at the railway sheds as it one of the few points west of Maynooth where there are double tracks allowing two trains to pass each other.

Train passing Killucan (Riverstown) Signal Box

Returning to the canal we must cross over Riverstown Bridge to the north bank to carry on to the 23rd Lock which greets us just around the corner.

23rd Lock

A further 500 metres west we come to the 24th Lock and the remains of a Lock Keeper’s Cottage on the south bank.

Looking across the 24th Lock with remaining wall of Lock Keeper’s Cottage in the background

Then we have the shortest distance to travel between two locks on the Royal Canal as we travel 200 metres up to the 25th Lock and the start of the Summit Level. It is necessary to deviate slightly from the canal here heading right at the lock and up to Footy’s Bridge before continuing back on the north bank.

25th Lock with Footy’s Bridge in the distance

Back on the level with our climbing done we have 2 kilometres to the M4 Road Bridge which carries the main dual carriageway from Dublin to Sligo.

M4 Flyover from McNead’s Bridge

We pass under the N4 and come up at McNead’s Bridge beside Mary Lynch’s Pub. The pub and B&B’s facebook page can be found here. We crss back over to the south bank for the rest of the way into Mullingar.

McNead’s Bridge at Mary Lynch’s.

The original McNead’s Bridge is gone and replaced with a rather boxy concrete structure. There is a car park for the Greenway and Blueway just across the road from the pub giving people a good place to start for a walk or paddle down the canal.

View from McNead’s Bridge looking west.

The N4 road keeps us company for a while as we head further west and is the first reminder we have had in quite a while of the bustling traffic of the normal world. A little distance from the pub we would hardly notice passing over a small aqueduct was it not for the pumps that are often in use here bringing up water from the small river below to supply the canal. Its not long before we come to where there was an interesting counterweight lifting bridge at a farm a little further west. This lifting bridge was replaced in the summer of 2020 with a platform that I can only guess needs to be craned out of the way of boats wanting to pass. There are 4 eyelets for hooks to lift the platform. All the more reason to plan boating journeys with Waterways Ireland in advance.

New crossing platform where the lifting bridge used to be.

We are now passing through an area known as The Downs and home to Mullingar Pewter who have visitors centre and coffee shop just off the canal that can be reached from Downs Bridge.

Downs Bridge with stop gates visible on the other side.

We come right alongside the N4 for a short distance before meeting a small footbridge over the canal that now, with the dual carriageway present no longer seems to serve any purpose. From here we take a turn away from the road into open country once again. We head southwest towards Baltrasna Bridge and rejoin the railway which we left back at Mary Lynch’s.

Baltrasna Bridge

Once again we enter a sinking as the canal was cut through the land just west of Mullingar. This sinking is nowhere near as steep though as the one we went through back in Castleknock.

Cutting from Baltrasna Bridge

A little further on we pass under Boardstown Bridge which carries the N52 road high over the canal.

Boardstown Bridge high above the canal.

Not long after we start to come out of the sinking near Saunder’s Bridge on the outskirts of Mullingar town. We can feel the urban environment once again.

Saunder’s Bridge

We come to a small harbour at Piper’s Boreen which the Royal Canal reached in 1806. If you remember it took six years to build the canal from Dublin to Kilcock, it took a further ten years to get it this far on the west side of Mullingar. There is a plaque at the harbour to mark the 200th anniversary of the canal getting here.

Monument at Piper’s Boreen marking the 200th anniversary of the Royal Canal reaching Mullingar

You may notice more pedestrian traffic as you approach Moran’s Bridge as this section is a popular walking and running route for the people of Mulligar. Like McNead’s Bridge, Moran’s Bridge as you come into Mullingar is a boxy concrete structure built to allow boats pass under it.

Moran’s Bridge also marked now as Dublin Road Bridge

When the canal closed in the 1960’s the original Moran’s Bridge was replaced with a culvert too small for most boats but thankfully this mistake was later rectified. We come up at the bridge and have to use a pedestrian crossing to cross the main road. There is a service station on the other side of the road which can be useful to stop for a quick snack.

Start of the ring around Mullingar at Moran’s Bridge

We now start the horse shoe shape trip the canal takes around Mullingar town. As we round the start of the curve we pass over a small aqueduct and mill race before we come to the bridge over the Lough Owel Feeder.

Bridge over the Lough Owel Feeder

With that we arrive in the historical site of Mullingar Harbour. Mullingar Harbour is split into two halves by Scanlon’s Bridge. The east side of the bridge was the commercial harbour where all trade goods were handled and several store houses were present. There is also a dry dock at the entrance to the harbour.

East side of Mullingar Harbour with gates into the dry dock on the other side

The harbour to the west of the bridge was the passanger harbour. There is now a park on the bank of the west side which retains the original harbour wall.

West side of Mullingar Harbour with Scanlon’s Bridge

Several of the Heritage Boat Association vessels wintered in Mullingar Harbour in 2019 into 2020.

Walvis with 92E behind it at Chambers Bridge after making their way from Mullingar Harbour

These include Horse Boats 4E, 92E and Walvis.

Former Royal Canal Storehouse at Mullingar Harbour

It is only a short distance from Scanlon’s Bridge into the centre of Mullingar where there are plenty of options for food and if you head slightly west you will find the train station if you need it. The train station is also a short distance beyond the harbour for those looking for a train back to Enfield, Maynooth or Dublin or on to Longford or Sligo.

Part 1: North Wall to Cross Guns Bridge

Part 2: Cross Guns Bridge to Castleknock

Part 3: Castleknock to Leixlip Confey

Part 4: Leixlip Confey to Maynooth

Part 5: Maynooth to Enfield

Part 6: Enfield to Thomastown

Part 8: Mullingar to Coolnahay

Part 9: Coolnahay to Ballynacargy Bridge

Part 10: Ballynacargy to Abbeyshrule

Part 11: Abbeyshrule to Ballybrannigan

Part 12: Ballybrannigan to the 41st Lock

Part 13: 41st Lock to Richmond Harbour

Part 14: The Lough Owel Feeder

Part 15: The Longford Branch

Annex 1: The Old Rail Trail – Mullingar to Athlone