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Thursday, 27 April 2017

PicoMicroYacht goes to Ireland – The Grand Canal

The plan was for PicoMicoYacht to voyage across Ireland from Dublin to Limerick, firstly on the Grand Canal and then down the mighty River Shannon, through Lough Derg.

The night before I set off, I met up for a drink with an ex colleague Niall, a Dubliner who had worked in London and moved back to Dublin to set up a department in one of the large hospitals (Ian 'Elvis' Robertson was on this world travels - see previous blog). We had halves, because he was driving and I was about to set off. Conversation went like this:

Niall: What’s it like setting off?

Me: Well I am having to avoid starting in the centre of Dublin because I have been warned off going through the rough areas on the canal on my own with all my gear – a pity because I will miss out on the views – so I am setting off from the outskirts….’

Niall: Yes I have heard..

Me: Actually I am more worried now about the weed.

(at this point Niall looks quizzical for about a second to two)

Me: (laughing) no not that type of weed…

It turned out that Niall had a great grandfather who was a lock keeper in the stretch of river I would be rowing, living at Allenwood, near the end of my first day.

I duly set off and immediately reached a double lock. This is two locks arranged contiguously. I got into the first one but the weed seemed to block the next one up, so I had to portage PicoMicroYacht. I was right about the weed.

I had a new strategy to take a bicycle with me, the plan being to cycle back to my base each day and fetch the car.

It partially worked, but I misjudged what was achievable, and the seven locks and fifteen miles on the first day, with two portages and a bike ride at the end was a little too much and on the subsequent days I had to reduce my distances.

The bridges were quaint and include remains of light lifting bridges, works of art in their own way.

Initially, many of the houses along the canal had large dogs who would come out to take a look.

Eventually I caught up with the weed cutter and gatherer boats who have a busy time on the canal.

The days flew by along the canal as I admired the beauty of the landscape and tried to keep rowing.

It was relaxing rowing mile after mile most of the time in a world of my own. Very few boats were seen and I had only one incident of having to get out of the way.

This motor cruiser looked more stressed as they negotiated the bridge.

For the fisherman it was I who was disturbing the peace.

Halfway along near Tullamore I saw the tell-tail signs of a rowing club.

It turned out to be the Offaly Rowing club and I passed their boats in training.

Along the way there were picturesque ruins of houses, stirring thoughts of long-lost histories and people of who might have lived by the river in distant times.

After five days I had reached the end of the Canal and was at Shannon Harbour, which had a faded glory look.  The distance so far was about 70 miles.

The peacefulness of the Grand Canal is captured in a poem by Michael Hensey (1950-2005).

Grand Canal, Tullamore

I used to love to sit by the old lock gate
and hear the tumbling waters roar
in carefree dreamy boyhood days
in dear sweet Tullamore

The summer air held a magic rare
with charm the soul to enthral
in restful eves along the spangled leaves
on the green, grassy banks of the grand canal.

From the book 'Stars on Still Water' by Michael Hensey.

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