This is a writeout of a trip that I did last summer. I did this in my sea kayak (mainly cause I was pushed for time and it allowed my to do it in 2 days). Next time I plan to do in my open canoe and give myself a little more time. Any questions give me a shout.
Longford Canoe Trail: Lough Ree Islands and Royal Canal Loop
Route OS Map 40&41 | Loop via Clondra, Lough Ree Islands & Inny River & Royal Canal Distance 70kms (2 days) Portages 1 portage – 2km long – exiting Inny River at “Shrule Bridge” and joining Royal Canal at “Archies Bridge” Hazards Grade 1 water. Note: Care to be taken on Lough Ree which can be dangerous with high winds Start Burkes Lock, Clondra, Co. Longford Finish Richmond Harbour, Clondra, Co. Longford Camping Saints Island (near Newtown Cashel)
This excellent looped route takes in three of Ireland’s greatest waterways including the Shannon River, Lough Ree and the recently reopened Royal canal. The Shannon River flows into Lough Ree at Lanesborough and this gentle flowing river makes for a wonderful start to this memorial and very enjoyable journey. The vastness of Lough Ree and its large variety of islands and lakeshore landscapes makes it renowned as an “inner sea”. This makes for hugely pleasurable paddling and opens up great opportunities for camping and stops along this route. The return leg on the Royal canal allows for great opportunity to explore a hugely important and historic waterway. This trip could be easily expanded to a 3 days journey (2 overnights) allowing for more time to discover the inner islands and the historic ruins of Rindoon Castle.
The canoe loop is a minimum 2 day journey so preparation should be make for at least 1 overnight camp. It is essential that the paddler checks the inner lakes forecast (http://www.met.ie/forecasts/inland-lakes.asp) prior to travel and observe any weather warnings. Paddling in any more than a force 3 or 4 wind is not recommended unless the paddlers are very experienced and it should be remembered that conditions can change rapidly or overnight. A north easterly wind is the ideal wind direction as it provides the paddler with a helpful rear wind on the journey across Lough Ree. Note: Lough Ree can easily have 2 to 3 foot waves at as little as force 3 winds.
The following photo shows the type of equipment that is recommended:
Right to left: Sea Kayak (or similar Kayak with plenty of storage space), spray deck, buoyancy aid, portage wheels, booties, dry cag, dry bag(s), paddle, dry clothes and towel, tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, torch, radio (to check weather), camping stool, billy cans, gas burner, matches, and food and water (at least 5 litres per person for 2 day trip), and OS maps
Day 1: Clondra to Saints Island
Day 1 started a little later than expected at about 1pm. Thankfully, since I was doing this trip in late July the days are long so I figured that I’d have daylight until at least 9.30pm if the trip took longer than expected.
The helpful lock keeper at Burkes Lock in Clondra (at the Camlin cut) helped me put the boat in the water just below the lock. I found that water levels (on the Shannon) to be quite low and this might prevent some difficulties to some due to the height of the docking jetties.
Heading out of the lock, I started my route heading south following the contours of the Shannon. The river takes a strange turn almost north westward for a while which looks to have been due to some manmade cut I guessed to assist in navigation. From this stretch, one can see the locally regarded Knappogue House B&B which is a very pretty building looking over the Shannon and Slieve Bawn. The part of the route is a beautiful stretch with a nice wide river and rush covered banks allowing for pleasant journey only interrupted by the various wildlife such as herons, ducks, cormorants, etc. All the while travelling, you have the gently sloping hills of Slieve Bawn as your travel companion – always just over your right shoulder.
The stretch again turns due south and the route is made interesting with the proximity of a small rural road on the eastern shore containing a number of small houses looking out over the Shannon.
Leaving this last stretch of civilisation was satisfying as I fixed my sights on the smoke billowing towers of the Lanesborough power plant. Another 2kms onwards and I passed a stretch (called Cloonbearla I think) where the river is lined with the most amazing conifer trees. Apparently, as the local legend goes, a local priest planted a conifer tree every time he heard a confession where the sinner had committed adultery. As I passed hundreds of meters of large banks of trees, I couldn’t help wonder how much sinning must have taken place in this area. A cruiser full of German tourists passed by and I bet the wondered why I had such a smile on my face.
Onwards again, I passed thru the arches of a Bord na Mona bridge and set my sights on the towers of the power station again and ploughed on nicely, getting into my paddling stride and really enjoying the wind at my back that had now developed nicely. With every gust I wondered if Lough Ree would be too rough to cross. It was my first time to cross Lough Ree in a kayak and I had heard many horrifying boating tales of large waves. I decided to plough on regardless and check the conditions when I stopped in Laneborough.
The towers of Laneborough are big landmarks but are deceptive. With every bend in the river I thought I was there only to find another bend and another long stretch. The banks on either side of the river at this point have high reeds so it makes it difficult to get a perception of distance. I could hear a rumbling of engines behind me for a long time and assumed that a cruiser was coming up from behind. But I realised that noises were coming from peat cut and transport machinery that was feeding peat into the power station.
I arrived in Lanesborough and pulled in just after the bridge (2.30pm). So in all it took me around 1.5hours to get from Clondra to this point. I was very happy with this progress and meant that I had covered a good 10km stretch in 1.5 hours. My plan was to travel another 25-30km in the rest of the day so another 4 or 5 hours to my camp site. I stopped for about 30 mins for a light lunch. To save me from routing out my food from the bottom of my well packed kayak, I walked up a short walk to a well stocked Centra store and got one of the nice ladies at the deli counter to make my a well deserved sandwich.
So back in my kayak by 3pm. I started out from Lanesborough to take the long journey across Lough Ree. After a quick chat with some boaters that had just come across Lough Ree, I was satisfied that the conditions were manageable. As I pulled away from the quay, I dipped my hands into the Shannon waters to find it as hot as a bath from the exhaust waters from the power plant. How the fish must love this and there must be plenty of fish judging by the numbers of fishermen on the bank known locally as the “hot stretch”.
So across Lough Ree I started with some trepidation at the venture in front of me. But I was delighted to find that the wind (force 4 by now) was directly behind me and making a nice set of gentle waves. 10 minutes into my paddling I got into a great rhythm and managed to start surfing the waves and getting to great speeds. I started to wonder why anyone should have concerns about Lough Ree but I quickly realised as a boat came around the marker that I was in a smaller enclosed inner lake area. The open shoreline landscape on the eastern side of this smaller lake looked great. I think it’s called locally as the “north commons” and it is a wonderfully hilly and forested country area. I made a mental note to come back to explore the “commons” on foot one day.
I rounded a bend and was right into the openness and vastness of Lough Ree. It stretched on for miles and I then fully understood why people call it an “inner sea”. The navigation channel goes way out to the right but I decide to stay closer to the eastern shoreline and take full advantage of the wind at my back. I departed the marked navigation channel with some cruisers behind me and as I peeled away I could see from a boat far ahead in the distance that I would meet the navigation channel near the first main island.
With the wind behind me and the waves forming nicely, I got into a great rhythm. I reckoned I must have been doing 5 knots which was a great speed and I was confident that I would reach my island camping spot in good time. As I passed the many islands I could see the remains of ruins and I wondered what it would have been like to actually live on these islands. As I was in a great rhythm I afford myself only quick glance at the passing landscape in between my brief paddling breaks for water. Then onwards I went, fixing my sights on the next island in the distance and getting back into my paddling routine.
I could see in the distance the group of islands known as the “black islands” which for me would make a turning point in eastwards into an inner bay towards my camping area. I was also able to set my sights on Barley Harbour. I wondered if I would have time to stop there or should I just keep on paddling in case I needed time to find a suitable camping spot. In the end, I decided to give Barley Harbour a miss. If I had 3 days to do this trip I would definitely incorporate a loop of Barley Harbour, Lecarrow, Rindoon and some of the Black Islands. However, on this occasion due to family commitments I only had 2 days so sadly I paddled onwards.
Rounding the headland at Pollagh, I started eastward into a magnificently big inner bay of Lough Ree that stretched for miles in front of me. I encountered many fishermen at this area and I assume this must be a great fishing area. In fact, I saw the most amazing fish jump 4 feet clean out of the water at one point. At that stage, I wished I had packed my fishing rod. Naively, I thought I was very close to my intended stopover island (Saints Island) but I was very surprised at how long it took me from rounding the bend into the inner bay to reaching Saints Island. At that stage I was glad I hadn’t stopped in Barley Harbour as I reckoned it was getting near to 7pm and I wanted some good daylight to check out my camping area. So head down, I paddled quickly to reach Saints Island. At was at this point that I got myself totally confused by the very deceptive side bays. I paddled up one bay only to find that it wasn’t Saints Island at all and had to turn 180 degrees and paddle right back down again. Fortunately, the daylight was with me and I managed to reach Saints Island by around 8pm.
I paddled northwards, up along the foreshore of Saints Island until I reached the ruins of an old monastery. This point has good access areas and it is a very easy place to exit from the lake with a heavy kayak. I found this to be an ideal camping spot. Despite being an island this land has road access so is often used by fishermen or campers. I met a local farmer who was extremely friendly and seemed happy that I camped in that area. He told me a story about a derelict house on Saints Island that used to be owned as a holiday home by a British Army officer called Major Bond. The land was distributed under the land commission to a local family who only used the land for pasture. Apparently the Major Bond’s croquet wickets (hoops) kept breaking the cutting machinery!
I set my camp up in a manner that provided “bullock” protection. I found some frisky bullocks had developed quite a bit of interest in my tent. Fortunately they passed away quietly and left me on my own for a peaceful and very restful night.
Day 2: Saints Island to Clondra
Day 2 started early but pleasantly with a big bowl of porridge and a fry up. After a small rest to listen to the radio (checking the weather and listening about stock market crashes and wondering how far I could be from all of that), I packed up my tent ensuring that I left no trace of my existence behind. AT 9am, I started out eastwards looking towards Annagh. There is a house that rents lake boats at Annagh and make for a useful way marker for the entry point to the Owencarrah River (spelling?) that becomes the Inny River.
The Inny River itself is a very long river at over 100kms long taking in some of the famous Westmeath lakes such as Lough Derrevagh and Lough Sheelin. There is some really good grade whitewater paddling above Ballymahon but thankfully for the long distance paddler the lower levels of the Inny are calm and gently flowing. I pass what is locally known as “Red Bridge” which marks the end of navigation for boats. But not for kayaks, so I kept on going turning due North. As I continued up the Inny past this point, I wondered how far I would actually get before hitting either a weir or too shallow water for paddling. With every bend I rounded I hoped that I wouldn’t meet a dead end for my paddling. The more I could paddle north the less portage I would have to do. So onwards I went until ontop of the tree line I made out the derelict mill structure that signalled that “Shrule” bridge was just around the corner. The Inny river becomes shallow and moderately fast flowing at the approach to Shrule Bridge. You can see the distinctive old mill towering over the river from some distance away. Coming up to the bridge the water is shallow but very manageable. I exited the river on the right hand side thinking it was more manageable. However I would recommend exiting on the other side as the local land owner did not seem too happy on me using his land although he was very cordial. By this time it was 11.30 so I had been paddling only 2.5 hours to this point.
“Now for the hard part”, I thought, as I put my kayak on the wheels and I started on the 2km portage to the Royal Canal. I got plenty of strange looks from the passing cars. One motorist stopped and we had a brief chat. It turned out that he was also a canoeist from the local area and was curious to see somewhere in the midlands with a sea kayak.
After about a 15 minute leg stretching walk, I was satisfied to reach Archies bridge on the Royal Canal. I put my kayak into the Royal Canal and I wondered if I was the 1st paddler to have tried this loop. The Royal Canal has just open after years of campaigning for its opening. Surely no one prior to 1950 would have had the kayaks that would allow for a round trip such as this. So I confidently paddled my kayak up the Royal canal product as punch that I could actually be a first to do this trip.
My excitement wasn’t dampened by the effort at the 1st lock gate. I met some walkers who were very helpful and even helped me portage my kayak around the Mullawornia Lock. Lock 40 - only 6 more to go! The whole effort of getting the boat out of the water, putting it on wheels, packing back in my wheels and re-entering below the lock (at jetties far too high for kayaks) was probably the most challenging part of the whole journey.
I started off again with great rhythm again and made great progress thru a very long stretch. Passing a small derelict building at Foigha Harbour, I couldn’t help but try to imagine how this reach was once a bustling highway for goods and people and how lively it must have been. Now there wasn’t anyone apart from me, the odd heron, and some walkers. I passed a lovely narrowboat that was one of the finest specimens that I have ever seen captained by some nice English folk. I wished them well on their journey and I hoped that they would have a wonderful journey. Secretly I was disappointed that they were going in the opposite direction to me as I was hoping to steal some easy lock passages courtesy of a passing boat enroute. Sadly for me, this was the only barge that I met all day on the Royal.
I passed Mosstown (beside Keenagh) and admired the great job that Waterways and the local volunteers of the RAGC had done. If I had 3 days, I think that Mosstown harbour would be an ideal place to stop over on the 2nd night. It’s only a short walk to Keenagh (shops and pubs) and there are some nice local walks around the old Mosstown estate (e.g. see the clock tower). Onwards I went, taking each lock in my stride however I must admit that the lock around Killshee church was a challenge due to (a) a busy road to cross and (b) locked gates to the towpath. But in the anticipation of a nice pint in the Richmond Inn to spur me on, I didn’t let this obstacle get in the way. The rest of the journey was nice and straight. The lifting bridge at Benagh was just high enough for me to crouch my way under. The Bord na Mona railing bridge just outside Clondra was high enough to fit just my boat without me in it! This made for an interesting sight when my kayak got stuck in the middle of the canal with me on the bank! Thankfully the wind help return the kayak to me. After this, just one last lock at Rinnmount before a triumphful paddle into Richmond Harbour at 4.30pm.
Some friendly boaters helped me and my tired arms to get my kayak out of the harbour, where I promptly ordered a nice pint from the barman in the Richmond Inn and sat having a good chat with some of the other customers. Clondra is such a friendly place and a great place to start and end such a pleasurable journey.
Two days – 70kms – 3 great waterways.
A great journey - that I would highy recommend.