Days 3 - 4 …
Currently I'm sitting at Ballinea Harbour in Co. Westmeath. It's where we camped last night (the end of day 4), and with a nights sleep I'm finding it easier to appreciate this little green area/car park.
Day 3 saw us start roughly 6km before Enfield. The campsite we left that morning was pretty great. It was at a bend in the river, where the bank got a bit wider, and the other side of the bank was all forestry.
As soon as we started moving the rain started drizzling, and continued until we made it to Enfield. There we stoped for coffee and to stock up on food as there didn't look to be any town between Enfield and Mullingar, 50km away. Also, a lovely lady in the pharmacy gave me some free plasters for the back of my heel where my boot had been rubbing. The world needs more soft spoken pharmacy ladies with spare plasters and baby wipes. Or just better prepared walkers.
Leaving Enfield the trail along the canal was great, and we felt that we were finally getting into the swing of this walking business again.
Day 3 ended up being a long one. The canal is in the process of being "redeveloped" into a cycle way (which is a better idea than walking it) - but the redevelopment is unfinished. Currently it's almost a road: the bank has been flattened and widened, and very coarse rock lumps have been poured along it in a road shape. It has however, not been rolled flat and paved/tarmac-ed. The first few Kilometres we were able to ignore and push through. But walking on such an uneven and ugly surface was physically and mentally wearing (the sides of the path are mounded mud).
After a while of this trudging, we met a couple of Waterways Ireland guys driving along the same side of the canal. They did not bring good news. The redevelopment continued well passed where we'd planned to camp that night (Hill of Down area), with one stretch officially closed. At least they were helpful: "But, sure if you hop the fence there were it says closed, there'd be no one to tell you to stop really."
So we pressed on. We walked passed Killucan area and it finally turned back into a normal road. With nowhere that looked capable, we continued to Thomastown harbour (which wasn't really on any map, but it was one of the nicest harbours/locks on the canal for camping). There's a pub there (Nanny Quinns) that's open Thursday - Sunday (we were there on Wednesday sadly), with well kept lawn area and picnic benches, and plenty of dog walkers that assured us that no one would mind us camping there.
Our feet were worse for wear after pushing ourselves further than we planned (we're still working on the "tough soles" part). Sadly, this section isn't usable for walkers or cyclists, as it's just too unfinished. It will eventually be a really great cycleway (when they get the funding to finish it).
Day 4: Thomastown Harbour - Ballinea Harbour
Having walked further than we planned the day before, we weren't all that sure where we wanted to go. We walked a short distance to Mary Lynch's Pub, and considered waiting the almost 2hrs for it to open so that we could get some coffee. Who knew coffee would be our most important fuel. We eventually admitted that maybe this was going too far for coffee, and hopefully we would find somewhere small this side of Mullingar.
The walk towards Mullingar was uneventful and rather uninteresting. There was a farmer who filled our water bottles while giving recommendations on where to get more water, and the canal then sunk into a manmade ravine/valley for quite a long section.
Our indecision on where to stop (and wanting a half decent campsite) meant that we reached Mullingar, and continued on - after securing a rather large late coffee. The walk out of Mullingar was nicer than the one entering. There's the possibility to turn off the canal and walk down to see some local lakes, if you're willing to add an extra 8 km round trip to your walk that day. However, the same lakes are part of The Westmeath Way, so we've left them for a later date.
As I said at the start, our campsite for the end of day 4 was Ballinea Harbour. It consists of a bench with an overgrown grass area, and a small carpark. The bench is cold but long. There's a small shop just down the main road on the right that has coffee and cakes if you need it. Which we did.