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Thread: Journey through Ireland Part 1 - Lough Erne and the Erne Shannon waterway

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Amersfoort, Netherlands

    Default Journey through Ireland Part 1 - Lough Erne and the Erne Shannon waterway

    We had the idea that we wanted to make a long trip this summer but not too far from home.
    We have already paddled long rivers like the Allier and the Loire a few times and started to look further afield. I have always wanted to visit Ireland and paddle the Shannon but Geoff thought going all that way for an 8 - 10 day trip on the Shannon was not that appealing.
    We started to look at maps of Ireland and Geoff came up with an idea that we could start in Coleraine, paddle up the Bann, Loch Neagh and then via the Blackwater river and Ulster canal into Loch Erne and then continue thru to southern Ireland. Then we discovered that 60 km of the Ulster canal is now derelict although in the future it may be renovated.
    Belleek is not strictly as North as Coleraine, but from here we plotted out a water route, winding our way thru lochs, canals and rivers down to where the River Barrow becomes tidal, close to Waterford on the south coast.
    The trip can really be divided into a number or routes and the total length is just over 500km.

    1. Lower and Upper Loch Erne
    2. Shannon-Erne waterway
    3. Shannon
    4. Grand Canal
    5. Barrow Mainline canal
    6. Barrow River

    With regard to logistics, we took our Ally canoe. We flew to Belfast, hired a rental care to bring us to Belleek with the boat and luggage and then returned the car to Belfast, and got back to Belleek with bus and taxi. At the finish, we took a bus to Kilkenny, picked up a rental car with drop off at Dublin airport and flew home.

    Now follows a day to day account of the trip.

    Day 1 – Belleek – Castle Archdale – 25 km
    Dulruth Fishing Lodge, just outside Belleek was our starting point.

    Putting the folding canoe together in the garden at Dulruth Fishing Lodge

    Lower Loch Erne can be very windy and we were grateful that it was only BF 3-4 east wind on our first day. It was hard work for the first few hours plugging into the wind. On reaching Boa Island, we went under the bridge and paddled behind the island. This was more sheltered.

    Bridge by Boa Island

    The Loch Erne canoe trail (which we paddled back-to-front) runs from Belturbet to Kesh. At Kesh you can rough camp, but we choose to paddle further to one of the four actual campsites, Castle Archdale, that we stayed on during the trip. The Loch Erne canoe trail is described the other way around because there is a small current on the river between Lower and Upper Loch Erne. We paddled it upstream but the current was minimal.
    Our first night on the trail was pretty wet.

    Castle Archdale campsite

    Day 2 Castle Archdale – Enniskillin – 25 km

    It was pretty grey and still raining this morning but the wind had died completely. It was easy paddling to Enniskillin. The lough was like glass.

    By the time we reached Enniskillin castle the sun was shining.

    We had chosen to spend 2 nights in Enniskillin in order to visit the town. As there is no official camping, we arranged a very comfortable attic flat, next to the water for our stay.

    Our accommodation – attic flat at this executive house with private jetty on the outstkirts of Enniskillin

    Day 3 Enniskillin - Enniskillin

    In the visitor centre we met Claire, one of the skippers of a traditional Irish rowing boat, a currach which was built as a community project by people from the area in 2014. We were invited to row with them in the evening to Devenish Island, one of the finest monastic sites of Northern Ireland with ruins of the monastery from the 6th century and a round tower from the 12th century.

    Day 4 Enniskillin – Trannish Island 25 km

    Share Discovery Village organisation owns a fenced camping field together with composting toilets on Upper Loch Erne. We arranged to stay here for the night for the price of £ 2 per person (I see now on their website that the price has now been upped to £ 4 since our stay). It was a relatively sunny day with not too much wind. We hardly saw any other boat traffic and we had the campsite to ourselves.

    Upper Lough Erne

    Totem pole guides us to the landing bay at Trannish Island

    Day 5 Trannish Island – Crom Estate Campsite – 10 km
    A lazy paddling day with good weather as we made our way to the Crom estate and got there around lunchtime. We spent the afternoon with a pleasant walk around the estate. This National Trust property has a small campsite for 10 tents. There were 2 other tents so we thought the estate would be quiet in the evening. Walking around we found a group of DOE kids who were “wild camping” close to the castle ruins.

    Crom castle and boat house

    Castle ruins Crom estate

    In the museum at Crom Estate, photos of how people used to dress for paddling.

    Evening at Crom

    Day 6 Crom Estate – Ballyconnel- 15 km

    Today we left the Loch Erne canoe trail and entered the Erne-Shannon waterway. This began with an upstream paddle on the Woodford river, but again, just as in Enniskillin there was no obvious current. After Coraquil lock, the waterway became more of a canal than a river. We had bought Waterways Ireland Smart cards in Enniskillin and used these to operate the 16 locks on the canal. The cards are also useful for having showers at service blocks along the way and doing the laundry.
    We regretted paddling onto Ballyconnel as the marina site is next to a main road and quite noisy. On the other hand there is a service block with toilets and showers. Some people parked there with a camper bus invited us for drinks so we had quite an enjoyable evening with them before visiting the town for a final drink in a pub.

    Woodford River

    Operating the control panel of the fully automated locks on the Shannon-Erne canal

    Red-white posts mark the waterway.


    Camped at the marina in Ballyconnel

    Day 7 Ballyconnel – Aghoo Lock – 23km

    The Erne Shannon canal is also a Blueway Canoe route and you are allowed to camp at the locks along the route. We had been worried about the amount of motorboat traffic we would encounter but we encountered on average 1 boat each hour. However, in this section, shortly after setting off we met two anti-social boats who practically crushed us into the banks. (this was the only anti-social behaviour in the whole trip). After this incident we were a little worried about encountering more of these types but were delighted to have the canal more or less to ourselves the whole day. The canal crosses a number of small pretty lakes. We had lunch at Houghton Shore which would have been a good place to camp but continued on to Aghoo Lock which was fine but had no facilities.

    Day 8 Aghoo Lock – KeshCarrigan – 16km
    We had to hack against a strong westerly wind all day. We passed 3 small lakes, all very scenic, but is was more hard work than enjoyment. Andrew, who was moored last night at Aghoo with his motor boat, invited us onto his boat for a drink in the evening. He and his wife believe Brexit will stimulate a united Ireland in the future.

    Loading up camera batteries at every opportunity

    Day 9 Keshcarrigan – Leitrim – 10 km

    This was our last day on the Erne-Shannon waterway. In Leitrim, the waterway joins the Shannon. After having made our way upstream thru locks for the last 3 days, we now passed 9 downstream locks in short succession. Operating the locks is with push buttons – no effort required. As the Shannon-Erne waterway was only reopened 25 years ago, it is very canoe friendly. At every lock, there is a special low place on the jetty to get in and out.

    Camping at Leitrim

    Service block at Leitrim

    This one contained a laundry which we could use with our Service card

    Tomorrow we will start paddling on the Shannon – story to be continued in part 2

    Last edited by; 28th-August-2019 at 02:20 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2016


    Well done. As an Ulsterman myself I find any pictures of the old country very appealing.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Bangor, Co Down.


    Wish I'd known you were coming. I'd have helped you with the travel and saved you from hiring a car.

    Love the blog so far. Looking forward to the next installment.
    Big Al.

    Only when the last tree has died
    and the last river been poisoned
    and the last fish been caught
    will we realise we cannot eat money.
    ~Cree Indian Proverb

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Lochwinnoch, Scotland


    I love to see these long paddle trips which are planned from cobbling together lots of different routes and bits of information. I can’t imagine me ever being this organised or having the time for such a long trip but as I’ve said on another blogg today, a man can dream

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Amersfoort, Netherlands


    Quote Originally Posted by MagiKelly View Post
    I love to see these long paddle trips which are planned from cobbling together lots of different routes and bits of information. I can’t imagine me ever being this organised or having the time for such a long trip but as I’ve said on another blogg today, a man can dream
    There are some advantages to getting old - once retired you have the time to plan and make these type of trips!

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