The Hawthorn Blog
Liveaboard life and general wanderings on the Irish Inland Waterways.
The Royal Canal - Furey's Pub to Confey RCAG building.
Leaving our mooring beside Furey's pub to pass under an R road busy with traffic, we hoped the next few miles were as pretty as people had been promising. After all, at the end of this day, we would be very much closer to Dublin and fast running out of rural lengths to boat through. The first length was certainly intimate with a very narrow towpath, so narrow that getting machinery down it must be nigh on impossible, on one side, and a densely wooded bank on the other. We were grateful for the woods density for, with the weather being of the kind beloved of ice cream salesmen, our doors were all wind open and it muffled the roar of the M4 motorway running just to the south of us. The downside of all this intimacy, at least from a boater's point of view, is that it's too narrow for dredging kit. The going was slow.
Over the last few days we'd gradually tuned into to how much lighter 'Hawthorn' feels when not dragging the bottom, and way she felt both lighter and happier when getting away from the bottom and properly afloat. Going the other way brings a heaviness of heart and a disappointed sigh, and the hours at sub 2.5 kmph speeds making us wonder if we'll do this again. At least, when out of the woods and in sight, some of the passing trains bring relief: clearly seeing boats along here is enough of a novelty for train drivers, possibly boaters themselves of course, to indulge in some serious whistling. With doubts about the audibility of our lightweight horns and siren, we restrict ourselves to grinning and waving in return. It does make us wonder at just how we'd react if a steam train was to fly past saluting.
Kilcock brought as much stimulation as we ever want on a canal, except it was of rather the wrong kind. As I've often written, we are not in the least bothered about doing our own locks and fully expected to put ourselves through the double chambered 17th. So confident were we that all would be well we didn't even ring them. Except all wasn't well: the racks were locked, and the lock-keeper's phone went directly to an answerphone service. We left a message and waited. It was not an easy wait for padlocks and anti-vandal sleeves on lock mechanisms usually means you're deep in 'bandit country' and we were a little nervous, but soon enough the keeper rang (he'd been on his lunch) to say he would be with us as soon as possible. He also explained that the locks were put on 'because the area is as bad as Mountjoy'. Not what you want to hear mid afternoon with the sun cracking the pavement enough to drag the little darlings from their entertainment screens. The keeper arrived as and when promised but getting all the padlocks off and us down to the next level took nearly an hour. More worrying was that we were now running through Kilcock after school leaving time, and possibly without a lock-keeper as he had to be back at the Dublin depot for five.
I'd be lying if I said we enjoyed the run to Kilcock, and we feared the worst on meeting our first gang of adolescents outside the town. We needn't have, they were chatty, and even took being refused a ride in good cheer when we pointed out they were welcome but they'd have to swim out as the water was too shallow to get the barge on the bank. Deciding that, should trouble arrive, it might be a better thing if I was on the towpath than the boat, I got off at the next bridge and walked down to the lock. Fortunately there was no real need, there wasn't even a hint of trouble, and I arrived at the lock to find the keeper busy readying it for us. The only one with a problem was Jill: she was now on the boat on her own and having to navigate 'Hawthorn' through the aerial chicane of the suspended goals the water polo club have set above the lock. There were people, lots of people, around the lock but you know you're going to be OK when a local starts talking about his own boats and lends a hand. Forty five minutes later Jill was navigating through a second water polo set up below the lock (Kilcock has two separate clubs) and collecting me from the boat free harbour. All that remained was the short run down to lock 15 where we stopped for the night with boating colleagues - that they'd seen us coming and readied the lock for us was a nice touch at the end of what had been a long day. We moored behind their boat, 'Blackthorn' and spent a very happy couple of hours sat on our bow drinking tea before being shown round the other 'thorn': an ex-flying boat tender just reeking of charm.
We intended the following day to be our last eastward move as we only had to get to the RCAG building at Confey. Making this a great way to finish was the presence of company on board, with John, who'd taken his own much deeper barge 'Rambler' through the canal with a film crew last year (and brought it back from the Shannon) joining us, and a friend from Lowtown deciding he too would like to boat through Maynooth, the town he'd spent years living in. Adding to the party atmosphere was the weather, having been calm and hot all week it was now building into what the Irish would soon be describing in the past tense as summer. We'd noted the absence of boats in many of the Royal's harbours and it was a shame to see so no boats in Maynooth's large triangular basin. It's right next to the railway station with a busy town centre just the far side of a park, which might also explain why it's too scary for boat owners and dwellers. The greenery in the middle is a planted island on which the swans nest.
Kilcock's urban environment and the presence of lots of 'Dub' accents around the lock, had made us aware of the approaching capital. By Maynooth, a busy commuter town, towpath walkers had ceased to show any surprise at seeing us and very few bothered with greetings. Clearly we were now in a very different space to the rural midlands we'd set off into from Richmond Harbour. It didn't matter, we were far too busy listening to John's tales of just how difficult getting 'Rambler' through some of the bridge holes had proven, and of the pressure constantly brought to bear by having a film crew with time and motion concerns constantly asking how long the barge was going to be 'stuck' (I have to say that he is a better man than me when it comes to not losing his head). The presence of extra crew made little difference at the two single locks we boated through that day - despite our not requesting help WI somehow managed to be present at both. We were soon passing Leixlip railway station and dealing with the last obstacles between us and Confey: a bridge full of rubbish, a short, shallow, section between the bridge and Ryewater aqueduct, and the aqueduct itself. There was also a hell of a lot more rubbish in the water than there had been further west. We took it gently, with Ted and John pushing off the bank to get us into the thin strip of water spanning the steep valley. It's actually one vast, and incredibly high, embankment with a culvert through it rather than a classical stone bridge styled aqueduct, which is a pity for had it been it would have been comparable to the Llangollen Canal's crossing of the river Dee at Pontcysyllte.
John and Jill ponder some of the rubble shifted to get his boat through Leixlip
All that remained was to arrive at Confey, something we hoped to do backwards to save us having to go on and turn. There is a, sort of, turning point adjacent to Leixlip Confey railway station - if your boat is shorter than 50 feet you should be able to turn, we couldn't. Turning would wait, as would many other things, for we soon arrived at the RCAG building and the gang of friends gathered there over the winter. Our next few days were going to be very social indeed.
Apologies for the apparent misplacement of some photos - the software has been updated and there appears to be a hitch.