Sunday 8 June 2014

Walking along the Grand Canal – Hazelhatch to Allenwood–Part 1

[This is part 1 of 2, Hazelhatch to Sallins because it just got too long. ]

I spent Saturday testing my readiness for my plan to cross the country on foot later in the summer. I have most of the kit I think I’ll need for the full trip and I was all packed and ready friday night. Good boots, some emergency medical supplies ( just in case of blisters!), lightweight rain gear, change of clothes, fully charged phone and camera batteries, re-charging kit, a towel ( always know where your towel is), a hat and some odds and ends. Since my plan will involve staying in B&B’s and the like I’m not going to be packing much more on the real trip so this was intended to see how it all came together.

The target was the ~35km route out along the Grand Canal from Hazelhatch to Eddie’s house which is about 5km past Allenwood. Luckily for me Eddie’s place is right beside the canal and has a healthy stock of beer.

I left home at 8:30 with an ETA of between 4:00 and 5:00 PM. I’ve been pretty consistently averaging 4-5km/h on most similar walks so one of my real objectives was to see if that held true for this section. I’d studied the maps in detail and had a very good idea of where the Crand Canal Way switched banks. The canal is often walkable on both sides but there are plenty of parts where the path seems to be OK but ends suddenly in an impassable obstacle so keeping to the right track is important in order to avoid having to turn back and double up on 3-4 km. Waterways Ireland have done a very good job with the signage on all sections between here (Celbridge) and the start of the canals but I was heading out into new terrain this time. OpenStreetMaps.Org has the Grand Canal Way fully marked so I had that ready just in case the sign posts weren’t up to the task.

Hazelhatch is about 2km up the road from my house so I got onto the Grand Canal at just after 9:00AM.

First lesson learned – make a check list and check it before leaving. At this stage I realised I’d forgotten my headphones and USB battery power bank. In the end enough of the tech survived but it was a close run thing.

The weather forecast was 50:50 – it was going to be warm enough and windless but there was a good chance of showers with some being described as “thundery”. As it turned out the weather was perfect – I got caught in two short and relatively light showers and my ultra-lightweight rain jacket was more than enough.

As I was heading off I decided to take some pictures of the plant & animal life along the way. I think I got a pretty good spread of the various plants but I was moving too fast to catch many creatures, I did get some which you will see later but only a handful. There are far too many plants to post individually but it was a glorious day to photograph the various plants. I was really surprised by the number of yellow Irises but otherwise the canal side plays host to almost all of the plants that I remember from my childhood growing up in west Waterford, just missing a few of the things that need a bit more salty air.

Apart from the St Joseph’s Lilly and one very domesticated Iris I didn’t notice any significant intrusion of domesticated plants. I was also surprised by the absence of Fuschia. perhaps that’s more of a thing further south.

Anyway with that out of the way on to the walk itself.

Looking back at Hazelhatch.

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Every so often there’s a “wide bit”, presumably to allow boats to turn around, or pull out of the way of other traffic. Not much traffic today mind you.

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Heading west along the south side of the Canal the first landmark is Aylmer’s Bridge. The route a mix of well packed gravel and grass, very easy going. The first shot is looking west, second is looking back the way I just came.

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It’s a very short walk to the 13th Lock, Lyons Estate and the award winning La Serre Restaurant. Sadly it was closed when I arrived, award winning food for breakfast would have been superb but then again I’d probably have skipped the rest of the day and just hung around here, it’s quite lovely.

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The route follows the southern side of the canal from here to Henry Bridge at Ardclough. This is all fully paved and very accessible. I reckon it would even be OK for wheelchairs to be honest. Once again the first shot is looking west, second is looking back the way I just came.

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Ardclough is immediately off to the right over Henry Bridge, the GAA pitch is just behind the northern canal bank. This is one of those spots where the Grand Canal Way signage is definitely the one to trust. Stick to the southern path is my advice as some of the northern bank seems impassable at the Ardclough end. This isn’t confusing heading west but if you are heading east from Ponsonby Bridge the northern path is walkable for a few hundred meters but I think you’d have to turn back.

Ardclough is a very small village, doesn’t even have a pub but you could probably get some refreshment at the GAA club if you were stopping here for a bit. This is lovely part of the canal, with a few very nice houses on both sides. The route still follows the southern side of the canal but this is now a real public road ( the L6017) and while the traffic is light and the locals all take it very easy it’s important to remember that it is a road. After a few hundred meters you come across Old Ardclough, with the beautiful old Schoolhouse perched right on the canal bank. That is why the picture is so badly framed, I’d have to have been in the middle of the canal to get it right.

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The route continues along the L6017, comfortable to walk on with plenty of verge to jump on to in case someone does come driving along a bit too fast. I only met one car on it this time and this hardly counts as a public road, unlike some I met later.

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The L6017 ends at Ponsonby Bridge. Head left (south) up here to get to Kill along the R406 or take a right to the north and it will get you on to the road to Straffan and the K-Club.

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The path stays on the southern side of the canal and again reverts to hard packed gravel and then to grass after Ponsonby Bridge. It’s still very easy walking, although you might want to check it out before bringing a bike along unless it’s some class of mountain bike.

There’s a great piece of  canal engineering here called The Three Aqueducts where the canal is carried over the Painestown river.

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The towpath has been recently mown so this part was really like a leisurely stroll in a very quiet park.

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Next up is Devonshire Bridge. I was a bit confused by the odd sounds that I kept hearing as I came up to the bridge and then realised that Killeen Golf club is just over the bridge on the left.

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The path sticks to the southern side of the canal here and the 14th Lock is just after the bridge. Someone had obviously just used the lock as it was pristinely clear, something that you don’t see in summer time with all the pollen/dust and seeds blowing about.

 

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As you pass along beside Killen Golf course you quickly come to the 15th Lock, which has a very large mooring basin that’s not obvious in these pictures. You can see in the first picture though that I was rapidly gaining on the barge that had recently cleared the 14th lock and left the upper gates open. I didn’t have to spend 15-20 minutes at each lock so I was gaining on them and would eventually pass them in Sallins.

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There’s a fair amount of canal engineering here too. There’s a complex set of feeders, into and overflow weirs out of, the canal here fed by the Morell river ( I assume but possibly one of its tributary streams) and this is all quickly followed by an amazing aqueduct over the Morell itself. Aqueducts are very interesting from an engineering stand point as the load is constant but a lot heavier than a normal bridge, I assume this is part of the reason for using lots of small arch ‘spans’ here.

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The path continues on, still on the southern bank as I reached the point where the canal takes it’s first really noticeable turn to the north on the approach to Sallins. The path is a lot rougher here, the grass hasn’t been cut recently but it’s still an easy enough walk provided you’re not afraid to plough through some grassy tufts. This was also where I came across the first evidence of fauna – some predator had eggs for breakfast. I believe this is the colour they call “Duck Egg Blue”, it comes across pretty well here but there is a bit of s glow to them that a photograph just doesn’t capture fully.

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Sallins Railway Bridge is a few hundred meters along and looms over the path as it cuts into a fairly shaded and wooded section. This was quite muddy and is one of the few places along the route where you definitely need boots, or good waterproof shoes at least. The path is quite well travelled by mountain bikes and they have cut it up significantly in a few spots.

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After about 400m or so you turn a corner and Sallins appears between the trees. There’s a lot of work going on for the new harbour development here which should be a great resource for opening up the use of the canal once it’s complete. I had planned to stop here for lunch but I’d made good time and since it was only 11:30 at this point I decided to continue on the the west. There’s a pretty decent selection of pubs and cafes here if you are walking along and the train station makes this a great end point for anyone walking out on a short day hike from Lucan or Celbridge as there are regular trains back to Hazelhatch, Adamstown and Heuston Station from here.

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As you cross Sallins Bridge the Grand Canal Way is marked and you are told to change over to the northern bank. The OpenStreetMaps map is a bit ambiguous at this point but you have to take the Northern side, the southern path is clearly blocked here and there is little chance of taking the wrong path I think. If you are approaching from the west you might miss the sign as people seem to park around it but the northern tow path runs out fairly rapidly so you wouldn’t end up back tracking too much if you did take the wrong route. 

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End of part 1 – I’ll put up part 2 later in the week.

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