Day 5: Ballinea Harbour (West Meath) - Abbeyshrule (Longford)
The closer we got to the Longford boarder, the more excited we got: the "redevelopment" of the canal into a cycleway ended at the end of West Meath.
This would also be the day we reached Coolnahay - a place we had heard of from the few canal-knowledgable locals we had talked to. It's not anywhere big, but it was definitely the most well-kept and prettiest canal harbour we came across. It was a really nice place to relax for an hour and watch the one person go by, and some of the flowers twitch in the breeze. The highlight was the loud welcome call we received from two donkeys overlooking the lock house. Would recommend.
At first, our end point for the day was Ballynacarrigy, a town that looked to be of a decent size according to google maps, and therefore a source of food and or coffee. However ... I wonder how many times I'm going to have to write that we walked further than we planned? Because, as you can see from the top, Ballynacarrigy is not where we stopped. Be it the weather or the angle that we walked into the town at, it just felt odd and grey. Every building in sight was grey, or paint so washed away it was becoming grey. We stopped for a while and sat at the park they had at the canal. Surely we should like this place, they clearly took care of their section of the canal. But there was no one in this large town. It was just empty and grey.
We found a small shop and decided to ask if there was anywhere we could get coffee (or other warm things). The other tenant of the shop (he didn't work there, but he clearly wasn't there shopping either) asked where we had come from, and on hearing we were walking, told us to carry on to Abbeyshrule, where there was The Rustic Inn, and hot food. I wish I could remember his name. He wrote us a note to give to the Inn's owner, telling him to give us a pint and a shower. We never availed of the note, but it was an unexpected and appreciated gift.
With his prompting we continued on. Being firmly in Longford, we happily stomped through bogland and sat on grass covered bridges. Towards the end we met my (Ellie's) sisters and dad, who were taking a detour on their way to Galway. And with them they brought Indian takeaway. We all sat at a table at the canal and ate too much of the best Indian I've ever had. Never mind me, but all of Ireland need to go back to that Indian takeaway in the middle of nowhere and eat their amazing delicious concoctions. I ate until I felt slightly sick, then quite sick, then managed to eat another half a nan bread.
Our campsite for the night was a small lock a short food-coma stumble from Abbeyshrule. It was nice because no one could get to our tent without crossing the lock, insuring pretty decent privacy.
Day 6: Abbeyshrule - Middle of a Bog, Longford.
Day 6 was Carl's birthday. He's old now, and doesn't want to talk about it. So I guess I'll write more about where we walked instead.
After a slow start to the morning, we managed to get our feet moving a Km or so before meeting Alan and Rory. Alan was a man in his late sixties working in his garden. Rory was his dog. After asking us where we're going and why, he invited us in for a cup of tea (coffee) and we continued to talk about any random thing that passed for conversation. He told us how he's been thinking for a while to cycle the same canal from Dublin on a High Nelly. I really hope he gets to.
The only town we passed near was Ballymahon. Avoiding the couple of Km's walk in and out, we stopped by a much closer petrol station/coffee shop. Once inside, I didn't know what was the most birthday-ish thing I could buy for a person still outside - a cupcake, or an ice-cream, or a really big chocolate bar? I failed at explaining to the girl behind the counter this internal dilemma, spluttering something about birthdays and choices, and as I left she wished me luck with "the birthday thing".
The bog in Longford was really great to walk through. Plenty of soft ground to muddle through and some more comfy grass covered bridges. If we had pushed, we could have made it to the end on Day 6. But we had pushed on previous days, and we wanted to enjoy walking in such a solitary place. Our campsite was in the middle of nowhere, near an interpretation centre. We didn't know what that was, so we left it alone. We were able to pitch our tent early and lounge around. I had kept two flat-pack chocolate puddings for desert.
I would definitely recommend this section.
Day 7: Empty Bog - Cloondara, the river Shannon.
After a slow repack of the tent the next morning, the final stretch was a short one, and we arrived into Cloondara somewhere near the 1:30pm mark. The harbour at Cloondara was the busiest we'd seen in terms of actual functioning boats with people in them. While a small village it was busy, and we secured coffee within 20 minutes. If we had arrived the night before I felt that it would have been easy to camp on a secluded part of the green they had beside the harbour.
Carl's parents live a short drive (but too long a walk) from Cloondara, and after our recaffeination we sat outside and waited for them to arrive while watching boats be moved from the Shannon to the canal harbour.
And that's the end of our first trail, and our first week of walking.
Would we recommend The Royal Canal Way to other walkers? No, not really. Sections of it were certainly nice, but such a high percentage of it was on roads or tarmac based lanes (and those still-to-be-finished sections). The parts of the canal within Dublin city were quite nice, with some nice sections in Kildare. The redevelopment of Meath and Westmeath makes much of there impassible or unenjoyable. Longford and the bog was great underfoot, with Coolnahay getting a special mention for how pretty it was. The canal is better for going for short walks on to stretch your legs after a long day, not to spend a long day walking on. Most of it will make a really good cycle way with time, although I hope that they don't try to tarmac the bog.