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Walking Watery Ways

Walking Watery Ways.

Alison Alderton explores some walks through the Emerald Isle’s stunning countryside.

After all the over-indulgence during the festive season, heading off for a pleasant walk is likely to be in the forefront of most people’s minds. Not only do the Irish waterways provide some beautiful cruising grounds, they also offer access to many miles of uninterrupted walks through some stunning countryside, all of which can be enjoyed anytime of year.

Serious walkers may wish to consider longer distance paths and Ireland’s canals offer some of the best national waymarked trails. The Grand Canal Way, runs for 117km along the entire length of the canal’s main line from Dublin to Shannon Harbour where it joins the Shannon Navigation. It is well maintained, signposted and offers ample opportunities for diversions allowing loops of varying sizes to be created.


The Grand Canal Way a National Way Marked Trail
The Royal Canal Way stretches for 144km from Dublin to Clondara and is currently being upgraded in part to form a Greenway, a multi-use route catering for cyclists and walkers alike. Those on the water really have the best of both worlds, being able to easily hop on and off their vessel to enjoy a stroll at any point or by mooring where other hinterland trails converge or cross the waterway.


Canalside path for walkers and cyclists

Generally walks along river navigations cross more rugged terrain but some of these are now being developed into more user friendly pathways. The Barrow Way is a 114km route along a mixture of surviving towpath, tracks and riverside roads, following the course of the picturesque River Barrow from Lowtown in County Kildare to the village of St. Mullins in County Carlow. Waterways Ireland recently revealed plans to adapt the existing grassy tracks of the towpath with a more durable hard surface which have been met with a mixed reaction. Many believe this may harm the natural environment of the River Barrow and are currently campaigning to keep the grassy pathways in tact.
For something more strenuous head for the mountains where there are walks along babbling brooks, infant rivers and streams. The Slieve Bloom Mountains sit close to the geographical centre of Ireland and along with the Massif Central in France are the oldest mountains in Europe. There are plenty of waymarked trails all colour-coded to reflect their relative level of ease. One of the most popular is the Silver River Eco Trail; an easy 7km route taking in some of the finest rock exposures to be found in the region, it follows the course of the Silver River which after joining the River Brosna feeds the mighty River Shannon.

In the Slieve Bloom Mountains
Encircling Lough Neagh, the 190km Loughshore Trail also known as Route 94 of The National Cycle Network consists of country lanes over mainly flat terrain and incorporates 25 major sites of interest including nature reserves, marinas and archaeological features. On the southern shores of the lake is Oxford Island ( which following artificial lowering of the lake in the 1850s is now a peninsula. Also a national nature reserve this is a haven for wintering wildfowl such as whopper swans and has four miles of footpaths, five bird-watching hides as well as woodlands, ponds and wildflower meadows.

Bird Hide at Oxford Island PHOTO: Lough Neagh Partnership
Country parks offer excellent walking opportunities and many of these are accessible directly from the water. Some even have their own harbours and moorings such as the Lough Key Forest Park on the Boyle Waters, the Portumna Forest Park on the banks of the Shannon’s largest lake Lough Derg, and the Castle Archdale Country Park on Lower Lough Erne. For the more adventurous boater wishing to combine a cruise with a walk offering an insight into the country’s historical heritage, try mooring on the isolated pontoon off Warren Point on Lough Ree and taking a dinghy ashore to access the lost township of Rindoon where there are two looped trails. Considered to be one of the finest archaeological sites in Ireland, it is littered with ruins all of which have been untouched since being abandoned some 500 years ago and include a church, hospital and the enormous hulk of Rindoon Castle.

Walking at Lough Neagh PHOTO: Lough Neagh Partnership
As well as the inland waterways, there are miles of unspoilt coastline with cliff paths and coastal trails resulting in the walker being spoilt for choice on this beautiful island of contrasts.

Lakeside walk at Warren Point

Finally a word of caution – whilst appealing, walking along any water frontage should be undertaken with care particularly during the winter period, slippery surfaces combined with icy water can result in accidents, being vigilant is paramount.

For more information on waterside walks visit the following:

Fáilte Ireland Walking Site

Irish Trails

Lough Neagh

Walk Northern Ireland

Way Marked Ways of Ireland

National Parks & Wildlife Service

Waterways Ireland

This article was first published in Towpath Talk, the UK’s number one read for all waterways users (Jan 2015) and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

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