Monday 5 May 2014

In through the Out Ways–Part 1, the Northern Line.

Or Walking from Celbridge to the Sea, by two separate routes, using both the Royal and Grand canals. 

As part of my warm up to crossing the country on foot I needed to see how well I could navigate the walking paths along our canals, because I’m going to be using them for most of the long hike from Dublin to the west. I started yesterday on the Northern route, taking the Royal Canal from Louisa Bridge in Leixlip all the way in to Spencer Dock by the Samuel Beckett Bridge across the Liffey. From my front door the trip is approximately 28km, the canal route itself is probably only around 22km.

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All told I logged just over 32km over the day, with some wandering around the centre of Dublin once I’d made it to the end of the canal.

It’s a good walk, with very well maintained walkways along the whole length with two exceptions. Between the 12th lock (Castleknock / Blanchardstown) and the 10th Lock (Ashtown) the walkways are currently off limits, kind of, so I took a detour down the N3 for a bit at that point. There is also about 500m of the canal that is off limits in an industrial dead zone between Sheriff St. Lifting Bridge and Newcomen Bridge on the North Strand Road. The best way around this is to walk along Seville Place to get from Spencer Dock to The North Strand and then head up to the canal to start the canal walk proper. Most of the canal walk literature suggests starting (or ending) at Newcomen bridge, and the 1st Lock, which is not a bad idea as you will get to walk most of the canal and all of the locks however there are two problems with starting there and I would actually suggest that people start/finish on Binn’s Bridge on Drumcondra Road. You lose about 1.5km of the canal route but you avoid an unpleasant spot around Charleville Mall, just after Newcomen Bridge and you also avoid a forced detour shortly after that at Portland Place. If you do choose to go that route you will have to detour off the canal between Drumcondra Rd. and Croke Park, I suggest going north up Drumcondra Rd. or Jones’ Rd and taking Fitzroy Ave. or Clonliffe Rd. to get around that problem area. I’ve walked it recently and you’re not missing anything by avoiding it.

The online resources for this are pretty good up to a point.

Waterways Ireland / Irish Trails - http://www.irishtrails.ie/Trail/Royal-Canal-Way/28/

Discover Ireland - http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/the-royal-canal-way/10467

They correctly state that there is a walkway the whole length apart from that piece at the end between North Strand and Sheriff St. but nothing warned me about the upgrade works at Castleknock to Ashtown ( the new “Grand Canal Greenway”) and the barrier and collapsed walkway at Portland Place are not well advertised.  Their online maps are very low resolution, I assume that the printed stuff from Irish Waterways is better. Open Street Maps ( http://www.openstreetmap.org) had both the Grand and Royal Canal trails correctly marked too which was useful for those occasions when it switches from one bank to the other.

For the Grand Canal there are no real issues at all. The paths are there for the entire route from Hazelhatch to Grand Canal Dock. They are clearly marked and well maintained. From Lucan bridge it is almost entirely urban and it is paved for almost all of the route. The one minor blip is right at the end, you cannot actually walk along the canal into Grand Canal Dock but you can get very close, and I am splitting hairs on that one.

The basic good news though is that both canals have fully functional paths from their respective starting points out to Leixlip/Celbridge with the one temporary issue of that section of the Royal between Ashtown and Castleknock.

Part 1 – The Northern Route.

Yesterday’s Trip started at 8:00AM in Celbridge. I thought that walking over to Louisa Bridge to start off would be a good idea. In the end it probably added too much to the walk but it gave me a chance to wander around The Wonderful Barn which I only recently discovered was open for walkers. Crazy building, pre-dates the canals by about 50 years, 1740’s or thereabouts.

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From there it was up to Louisa Bridge. First stop is the “Roman" Baths which are actually not roman much to my disappointment, probably Regency era and the Leixlip Aqueduct over the Rye and the train line.

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The aqueduct was needed to carry the canal over this, the Rye. You can see Intel’s Fab24 (34?) in the background. It’s a long way down, over 30m. Some serious engineering under all those trees, and in the distance.

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20 minutes down the tow path and we hit the other side of Leixlip, Confey Station and Cope Bridge. Took a quick snap of what appears to be some fiber-optic cables kind of running alongside the track. Can’t say that 21st century infrastructure is half as scenic as 18th Century infrastructure to be honest.

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10 minutes further along I came across some boats moored at Confey Slipway and one of many swans I met during the day.

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After another 15 minutes I got to Collins Bridge which leads down into Lucan, with a speeding train. Well sort of, the light was bad and I decided to try the shot quite late. I needed to have at least one shot that included a moving train anyway.

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About a kilometre further on we get to the Pakenham Bridge and a horse just chilling out.

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Less than 5 minutes later on came across the official start of the Deep Sinking. This was a very awkward and difficult cut that had to be made because of political shenanigans that pushed the canal route south in order to be able to have a dock in front of Carton Estate. This was the same meddling that led to the Leixlip Aqueduct having to be built. It’s a very nice part of the walk though and the very attractive new railway bridge for the revitalized Navan train line is a wonderful bit of modern civil engineering.

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Another 10 minutes of strolling brought me to Clonsilla and looking at the Callaghan Bridge.

At this point I was three hours into my walk but only about an hour and a half along the canal itself. There really is a real “woodland walk” feel to the path along this part, mostly due to the deep cut but it’s very pleasant whatever the reason, and remarkably quiet. The first shot mostly shows the new pedestrian walkway, the bridge itself is an original classic single arch so there is a very annoying level crossing for the train just off to the right.

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Over the next 20 minutes of my trip the canal curved around with the path navigating the wall high above the waterlevel and weaving under and over four bridges. These were, in sequence, the Keenan Bridge, the new Porterstown Bridge that is not very pretty from underneath which is why I took such a bad shot of it, the Diswellstown Bridge and finally the Kirkpatrick Bridge at Carpenterstown Rd.

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Along this route I got a shot of the rock they had to blast the Deep Sinking out of, yep this is all still in the Deep and that was carved out using pick axes and gunpowder.

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Not far after Carpenterstown we get to the 12th Lock. A rather superb docking area, with a very welcome pub, also called the 12th Lock, that I decided was going to be perfect for breakfast. Since it was just hitting noon at this point it was more brunch than breakfast but it was delicious and gave me a perfectly timed hour’s rest. It’s pretty impressive that this is the first lock that I came across, almost 10km of canal route without a lock.

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This was also where I had my first forced detour. The Royal Canal Greenway works are still on-going, or seem to be and I was faced with a “Make your own way to the 10th Lock” sign. This is to make the route safer for cyclists apparently, the old path was too hard or something. So I missed out taking the second aqueduct of my walk, and also missed out on Dunsink and the now retired Ranelagh Bridge. I will have to go back to fill in those blanks.

In any case I had to detour so taking a deep breath I found a pedestrian route over the M50 and then onto the N3 that 30 minutes or so later brought me to the 10th Lock at Ashtown and the Longford Bridge with its cable stayed footbridge. At this point the walkways are clearly designed for “urban” walkers and cyclists. Which is fair enough, we’re definitely in the city at this stage.

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The route from Ashtown to Broombridge is actually quite pleasant now but there’s quite a bit of industrial wasteland along the way. I passed the 9th and 8th Locks over the next 20 minutes with the Reilly bridge over the Ratoath Rd. in the background of the 8th Lock.

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This brought me to one of the famous Irish historical landmarks that I’ve never actually been to, although I’ve taken the train past this spot hundreds of times. Broom Bridge, and the Plaque to William Rowan Hamilton and his revelation about quaternions.

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Six minutes later I was at the 7th Lock and came across a wonderful group having a talk about Canal Walks and getting people interested in them. Apparently they have a new book coming out, which I will have to track down. The main railway line crosses over to the north here making this quite an interesting spot, and a very good location for a talk about the canals.

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There’s a fairly long gap to the next set of locks at Phibsboro, passing over a Railway Tunnel that I was totally unaware of along the way. As you walk along you get a nice view of the O’Connell Monument ( the Round tower) at Glasnevin in the distance on the way. It’s quite a pleasant walk, lots of bird life and I assume lots of other wildlife. And then you get to the amazingly intricate 6th and 5th Lock complex at Phibsboro. Pretty mad, but it makes for a great water polo venue. When I got there yesterday, everyone was out for Phizzfest.

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It was now coming up on 2PM and I really needed to get to the end, my feet were definitely feeling the pressure at this stage. I also gave up photographing the bridges at this point, maybe next time.

5 minutes down the road and I was at the 4th Lock along with a swan who appears to have taken quite a shine to that broom.

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The 3rd Lock was only another 5 minutes down hill, shortly followed by this very cool call to arms for fans of the canal.

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So at the 2nd Lock, six minutes or so later, I found Mr Behan and his pigeon, and a seagull who decided to crash my set up. This section from the 6th lock down is actually a really idyllic linear urban park, well worth a trip for anyone even if you have no interest in pounding along the whole canal and easily covered in 15 minutes in either direction.

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From here it’s not possible to stick with the canal all the way along by Portland Place because of the barrier. I’ve left out all the mucking about on Drumcondra Rd, and detouring around by Croke Park that I had to do but about 25 minutes later, after ducking under the stadium, I finally got to the North Strand and the 1st Lock at Newcomen Bridge with the Lockkeeper’s cottage out of shot to the right.

This is the end of the line for the formal canal side walk. To get to the river you have to detour via the North Strand and Seville Place. The canal walk part itself had taken me five and a half hours, with that hour long interlude for brunch. Pretty happy with that.

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If you do choose to head on down to the river via Seville Place you will eventually come back to the Sheriff St. Lifting Bridge and Spencer Dock.

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And that would be the Samuel Beckett Bridge there on the right in the background.

All in all it was a 28km / 7 hour walk (from home to the Liffey). Not particularly “fast” but it has served to set a benchmark for what I can cover over this sort of terrain. I’ve also learned that for a cross country trip this would be unsustainable for me, I’m going to have to aim for 20-25km max per day. If I could have stopped at Phibsboro I think I’d have had the distance perfectly measured.

This was just part one, with all the action yesterday. I followed this up with the mirror image trip in on the Southern route, via the Grand Canal today, and it really was a mirror image trip in many ways. That post will follow, hopefully soon.

I’m pretty sure nobody has read this far but if you have, the title has a lot to do with the fact that I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin while walking these canal ways. Absolutely awesome music to use as a soundtrack for this sort of trip.

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