Tuesday 24 June 2014

London!

Had an excellent, but all too brief trip over to London last weekend to meet up with Daithi and Nicola, check out their new house (lovely!), go to the TwitterUK office opening party, do some walking and try to build some Raspberry-Pi stuff.

Got some pictures along the way.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Grand Canal Walk– Maps and Stats

This is really just a post to keep a record of some of the nerdier stuff about the walk in one place.

The basic route was simple – follow the canal, nothing simpler, 35km almost entirely flat.

HazelHatch-Ballybrack

You have to zoom in to see the errors. I assumed I would continue on the north bank at Digby Bridge to Landenstown Bridge. That was actually the better route but it’s not the marked Grand Canal Way or at least both sides are marked on the ground.

I also made a mistake at Bonynge Bridge, although if I’d paid attention to OpenStreetMaps I’d have known that the south bank was the right one. I didn’t go wrong on the ground because I had cell phone coverage but I really should have had the printed map for this one.

The bigger problem is the section of the R402 after Shee Bridge that I correctly followed but it really is not a good route. Far better to head left over the Shee Bridge and then cut onto the canal bank and follow the L5026 ( I think ) up to the Hamilton Bridge.

Anyway the thing I need to do is very carefully revisit the routes, get my hands on official Grand Canal Way maps and make sure I avoid any road with an R in it. For a start I need to download, print and laminate all the maps on this page.

The differences between OpenStreetMaps.org, Google Maps and Bing Maps are quite interesting. OpenStreetMaps has much better detail, and is the only one that notes the terrain, walking paths and canal Locks. Google Maps has far superior mapping of the shape of the canal ( so you can see the Locks by the shape they make) but is hopelessly missing many feature names at the level I need/want. Bing Maps is better for “Where am I know” and “what is that road” but like Google has no idea about Bridge names and only occasionally identifies the Locks when there is a named house nearby. For this sort of trip, stick with OpenStreetMaps.org would be my advice.

I downloaded a really clever iPhone App called Walkmeter before I started and turned it on to see what sort of stats it would give and it’s pretty good. I’m amazed at how consistent my average pave is given the huge variability in pace at any one point. I was also very impressed with just how consistent my “fastest comfortable” pace was – there is practically a hard stop at 6kmh / 10min per km. I went faster at a few points but those were only because I deliberately speeded up to see what it felt like but if I’m ambling along it’s 6kmh pretty much all the time over the entire trip. The spikes where I’m much slower are where I was taking photographs, or having a break for lunch.

Hazelhatch-Ballybrack-Walkmeter

The phone did pretty well but ran out of Juice at Roberstown which is why this ends about 8km early.

The other thing that ran out of juice was my camera. Well it didn’t actually but it was warning me it was low on power from Sallins so I took far fewer pictures in the latter half of the trip than I would have because I thought I’d forgotten the spare battery. In fact it lasted the entire trip and its pretty clear that two batteries is more than enough to power even an insane level of taking photographs over a typical days walking so I don’t need to find a way to recharge the Nikon batteries on the full trip, That’s a relief because the charger is AC and proprietary and although I think I could build a USB powered  substitute I’m glad I don’t have to.

So I need a good solution for a backup power supply. A high capacity USB battery power pack like this one is required. That should allow me to keep all the electronics happy for a couple of days.

All the other kit worked as hoped – lightweight Berghaus backpack, packable Regatta rain jacket, boots and socks. My old reliable Levi’s are not really ideal for this sort of thing, and would be hopeless in real rain so I have to look at solutions for more rain-resistant jeans or some sort of rain resistant over trouser. Preferably the former.

The boots (Merrell Moab GoreTex) and socks (Wigwam Hiking Outdoor, 100% synthetic cos I’m allergic to wool) really proved themselves, I reckon I could have easily covered twice the distance without getting any blisters. The rest of me would have been a lot less happy mind you but it’s great to be certain I’m not going to be fighting with sore feet all the time.

And finally – I have to promise myself to never, ever go out on a hike without putting on sunblock. There wasn’t much direct sunshine yesterday but I still managed to get slightly sun burned. If it had actually been mostly sunny I’d have been fried. Not smart.

Walking along the Grand Canal – Hazelhatch to Allenwood–Part 2

[ This is the new bit, Sallins to Allenwood, well to Ballycrack but who’s ever heard of that.. ]

After leaving Sallins the canal first heads south for a bit and then as it turns back to the north you come across a very distinctive landmark at the junction where the Naas Branch spur line heads south to Naas. This bunch of trees is Saddler’s island, which is a fairly unusual feature as it is an island in the canal. The railway line can also be seen passing over the Naas Branch line on the left of the island in the first picture. The Grand Canal itself turns north briefly here and then as it turns west again it is carried over the very impressive Leinster Aqueduct.

034-DSC_0155035-DSC_0157

You can see just how high above the Liffey the canal is in the first shot here. The Liffey is more or less heading north at this point.

036-DSC_0159037-DSC_0160

This part of the walk along the northern towpath is particularly lovely. Some amazing houses, and I finally got a good picture of one of the many Grey Herons that live along the canal. I think I saw ten or eleven during the day, they aren’t particularly shy but they are smart enough to fly up and away from people when they think you’ve come close enough. This one was torn between the fish he was tracking and flying away so I had time to get a half decent shot. I think Barretstown is on the left along here somewhere too.

038-DSC_0163039-DSC_0167

A kilometer or two later the path forces you to cross up over Digby Bridge at the L2004 because the 16th lock is tucked right up against the bridge. This is an absolutely beautiful little spot that is fantastically well maintained and I stopped here for a spot of lunch.

041-DSC_0172IMG_3624

This shot from the top of the bridge shows the sort of gunge that is inescapable around the locks during summer. Looks like a pint of Guinness in mid pour if you squint a bit.

043-DSC_0174

And here’s a slightly bizarre 180 deg panorama of the view west from the lock gate itself.

IMG_3620

The Grand Canal way is signposted as returning to the southern bank at the Bridge. This is a safe route but it joins up with the L6002 for few hundred meters just before the next bridge and the northern towpath is completely clear, level path and mown grass so that is probably a better option. The northern path makes for a very pleasant 1km walk and there is some parking on the left by Digby Bridge for anyone who wants to have a short walk along the canal in a really beautiful spot.

Back on the Grand Canal Way the next landmark is Landerstown Bridge where the path crosses over to the north side of the canal once again. The 17th lock is again right up against the bridge here.

044-DSC_0176046-DSC_0178

045-DSC_0177048-DSC_0182

The Grand Canal Way here continues along with the L6002, this time along the north bank of the canal for about 800m. This is a relatively busy local road but there’s plenty of space in the verges and the traffic is not really a problem. The L6002 then heads off to the north and we’re back on a pleasant gravelled canal tow path. At this point the heavens opened for a few minutes so I quickly pulled on my rain jacket and took a snap with the phone because the raindrops on the canal were very pretty. The 18th lock is also just at this point where we get off the public road.

IMG_3632IMG_3634

This part has a definite feel of being on a walk in the woods however I kept hearing the sound of squalling tyres and the distinct descending note “ring-ding-ding-ding” sound of cars racing around a track which was quite bizarre. Having now checked I can now confirm that Mondello Park is just over those trees to the south of this spot. Shay ( @shaybyrne ) was following me on Twitter and said this was one of his old haunts, he grew up around this area, and used to ride his BMX around here when he was a kid. Nice spot to come from I have to say.

IMG_3636

Half a kilometre or so further west is Cock Bridge, although the carved name plate says Burgh Bridge so I assume some name change has happened over the years. This is a bit of a weird one as there is no easy access between the road (the R409 to Naas) and the canal so I had no real choice here but to stick to the Northern Bank of the canal.

050-DSC_0184052-DSC_0187

A further kilometer or two the path comes to the Bonynge Bridge and the sign post clearly and correctly tells you to go up onto the road but it deosn’t quite tell you that you should then hang left and continue on on the southern bank. This is particularly confusing as there is another spur line, the Blackwood Feeder Line, that heads off from the north side of the canal just after Bonynge Bridge so if you took the northern path you’d end up heading off north into the Bog of Allen. Definitely cross over the bridge hear and take the southern path.

053-DSC_0191055-DSC_0193

The tow path is well maintained gravel and grass here but quickly became a bit more like a relatively lightly used path through some meadowlands. It’s glorious, don’t get me wrong, but since it was a bit wet following the showers I was a bit damp after I passed this bit. This is also quite an impressive section as the whole canal is raised by about 5-10 meters above the surrounding area for much of this run.

057-DSC_0197058-DSC_0198

This is the final run in to Robertstown and finally the insect life had woken up. Nothing was biting me thankfully but I spent a rather frustrating 15 minutes trying to get a half decent shot of a blue dragonfly and while I was chasing those damn hyperactive little buggers around like an eejit I got a shot of a Small White and a very hairy caterpillar.

056-DSC_0194

059-DSC_0199060-DSC_0202

The meadowland gives way to some trees with Roberstown sitting at the base of one of the few decent hills in the entire county. This is another good spot for a break, with a decent dock and some very inviting looking pubs for the thirsty traveller. I made do with stocking up with some water in the shop, I figured if I had a pint I’d have ended up just phoning Eddie to come collect me.

IMG_3638062-DSC_0208

I decided to keep going. This was just about at the 28km point and I was feeling good, no aches, no blisters and really having a very nice day out in the open. The canal route is a bit confusing here as this is the intersection of The Barrow Way and the Grand Canal Way. All the signs I saw were for The Barrow Way and I got in a bit of a panic as my iPhone was giving up the ghost and I had no signal. The reserve old phone came to the rescue and I was able to figure out that I needed to cross over to the north bank and head along that route. It’s very nicely maintained around here, quite a few benches along the way and after a few hundred meters I came to Lowtown and the junction with the Old Barrow Line of the Grand Canal. This old barge which is tied up just as the Barrow Line turns off  to the south is a bit of a wreck but definitely added to the ambience.

063-DSC_0209

You don’t want to be on the southern bank here as you will be heading for Athy and Kilkenny if you do. Just after the junction is the 19th lock and Fenton Bridge, which is really cute.

 

064-DSC_0212065-DSC_0213

066-DSC_0214067-DSC_0215

Just after Fenton Bridge is the Lowtown mooring which is a very busy spot that is going through a massive upgrade with docking facilities, pump out station, showers and possibly more stuff being built by Waterways Ireland. This really should help make this part of the canal a real attraction for people planning to take the trip along by boat.

068-DSC_0216069-DSC_0217

Finally I came across some animal life. Hmmh. And clearly some local wag was making a point about some long held grudge about the old operators of the canal ways with this graffiti on the walkway over the second spur link down to the Barrow Line.

070-DSC_0218071-DSC_0219

The Aqueduct over the Slate River marks the end of the new works being built by Waterways Ireland. It’s quite funny to see the contrast between 18th century engineering here and the 21st century gadgetry going in to the new harbour upgrade. It’s good though.

073-DSC_0222074-DSC_0224

The route from here to Bond Bridge is peaceful and I realised that I could no longer hear the traffic on the M7 which had been a faint but constant companion for most of the trip from Sallins. Techincally this is all in Allenwood I think, but the place I call Allenwood is just to the right over the bridge on the R415.

076-DSC_0231079-DSC_0241

This Iris had clearly escaped from someone’s garden, it was just a bit too perfect to be wild.

IMG_3642

Another 500m or so I finally got to the last major waypoint on my route – the Shee Bridge. This is apparently called the Skow/Scow Bridge locally, presumably as it is a skew bridge. It’s lethal and there are regular accidents, and as you can see in the second shot there has been another one recently. Apparently the two lads involved in that particular accident were lucky as the were pulled out of the canal by someone who saw the accident happen.

080-DSC_0243082-DSC_0248

I was now definitely on the home stretch but then I realised I had a fairly serious choice to make. The maps all said that the Grand Canal Way continued on along the Northern Bank. However that is the R403 and it is a very fast, very narrow road with hgh dense hedging on one side and an un-walkable verge on the other. On the other side of the canal the R414 looked much less of a problem but I wasn’t sure and I decided to stick with the marked route.

Man that was scary. I wasn’t in any danger as such but it’s a slow blind corner and cars zip along at well over the 80 km/h speed limit. And there is precisely 0 cm of verge that you can walk on. After 500m of jumping into the hedge whenever two cars passed beside me at the same time ( ie regularly) I was very glad to be able to dash back across the road to the canal path itself as it diverged from the public road again.

Lesson learned – Avoid R routes on all planned walks in future.

Anyway I survived and was on the home stretch. The second last landmark I knew I was going to meet is the very first Bord na Mona lifting Bridge. This one is now partially dismantled, the road bed is lying off to the side about a kilometer west of the Shee Bridge.

083-DSC_0252084-DSC_0253

And then 500m later give or take was the end of my trip. Eddie’s house was just over the bridge in the fields to the west. I took a minute to look back east the way I’d come, with the canal looking amazing.

086-DSC_0258088-DSC_0260

And a final shot of the first few hundred meters that will be fresh and unexplored when I come back to do the entire length of the Grand Canal in in July.

089-DSC_0261 

Oh and lest I forget – the beer that was waiting for me when I got to Eddie’s House. There is nothing like a 35km walk on a sunny day to build up a thirst. Muchos gracias @Eddie_Mcgarry for providing the beer and a place to crash after my trip.

IMG_3645