All Along The Banks of the Royal Canal

On Saturday, I took a stroll along the Royal Canal Way with the Camino Prep / Training meetup group. We started in Maynooth and made for Dublin, which is 28 kms in total. The Royal Canal Way is a 144-kilometre (89-mile) trail that follows the towpath of the canal from Spencer Dock in Dublin’s docklands to Cloondara in County Longford. It is typically completed in four to five days, however we decided to take in the final day. It is designated as a National Waymarked Trail by the National Trails Office and is managed by Waterways Ireland. In 2015 Dublin City Council began extending the walking and cycling route along the Royal Canal Ashtown to Sheriff Street Upper in Dublin, and that is where we finished. The Royal Canal Way connects with other trails at Mullingar, and more excitingly, will eventually form the eastern end of the Dublin-Galway Greenway. The Royal Canal was originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford. The canal fell into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation, thanks to Waterways Ireland.

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The Royal Canal

 

We started the day early by taking the train to Maynooth, 30 kms outside of Dublin City Centre. The train line follows the trail so we could see fellow walkers out for a stroll as we flew past them. Rain was forecast so I brought rain gear but as it was sunny in the morning, I was hoping it would stay. After a 40 minute trip on the train, we arrived just after half 9 and it wasn’t long before we saw the start of the trail.

There were 5 of us this day, and we hoped to arrive in Dublin before 4pm. The trail is mostly on gravel, or concrete pathways however there are sections with very little signage and the trail is non-existent. We passed through Leixlip in Co Kildare, before entering Dublin at Clonsilla, Castleknock, Ashtown and then Blanchardstown. Dublin City Council have done great work by creating a greenway from Castleknock to Ashtown and there were plenty of walkers and cyclists out while the sun was shining. However, as rain was predicted, it did rain heavily on two occasions. The rain gear was out pronto and served me well. But within minutes, the sun was out. It was a changeable day.

The closer we came to Dublin, the more built up it became and the more houses we saw. Drumcondra is the last town you pass through before arriving at Lock One on the canal. There were houses on both sides of the canal, along with a bustling street. As the sun was out, there were kids jumping into the canal to cool down. We then passed Croke Park standing tall above us. Many a battle have I seen in there!. And there it was, Lock One…the first gate and we had arrived at the end of our walk. It was a tough one, even though the trail was completely flat.

There were many highlights. We passed Brendan Behan’s statue in Drumcondra. Behan wrote the great “Auld Triangle”. In it he wrote “and the auld triangle went jingle jangle,
all along the banks of the Royal Canal”. Here is a great version of that song sang by Luke Kelly and the Dubliners.  We spotted many families of swans, and the odd duck too.  The Canal also actually flows OVER the M50, which is Ireland’s busiest motorway…I’ve never seen anything like it,

We have walked only a small section of the Canal, and in the coming weeks I hope to walk some more..possibly from Maynooth westward. It’s a great trail but it does get confusing in places, as you come closer to Dublin. Keep an eye on this blog for more on this great trail.

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Another Weekend Walk..

Last weekend, myself and some from the Free Camino Prep meet-up group met up and walked a section of the Grand Canal Way. We decided to meet outside of Dublin in a little town called Hazelhatch. The great thing about this trail is not only is it way-marked but it is serviced well by Irish Rail, so myself and my brother caught an early train to Portlaoise from Heuston Station in Dublin. We were practically the only people in the carriage so this was a novelty considering it is exactly the opposite during the week! We arrived in Hazelhatch Station, just outside of Celbridge just after 10am and waited for the remainder of the walkers. By half ten, we were 9, including the both of us, and we decided to make a start. We had 600 metres to reach the start of the trail so it wasn’t far. The Grand Canal Way actually starts in Lucan in Dublin but I chose this 12 km section as it is the easiest to get to and it is the most scenic. It isn’t difficult either, in fact, it is all flat and didn’t cause any of us any bother.

The route is well maintained and it passes many towns if you want to stop for a snack or a coffee. The Grand Canal itself is used to this day by boats and barges making use of the 117km river. We saw plenty of kayakers flying up and down the canal as we walked westward. The trail passes the Lyons Estate with it’s boutique hotel and cafe. €183 will get you a room for a night! After the 12km, we arrived at the town of Sallins. We grabbed a coffee and made way to the train station for the next train Dublin-bound.

I really enjoyed this walk but it lacked any ascent or descent for that matter. If you want an easy walk with good scenery, I would recommend this trail. But as practice for a Camino, I would give it a miss. It can be walked from start to finish in 5/6 days and many people carry tents if they were to walk it as a whole.

Tomorrow, a number of the group walk from Dun Laoghaire to Killiney Hill and back. I will write when we complete that. Follow me on instagram (@clearskiescamino) for some photos as the day progresses.

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Astorga becomes Logrono….

I’m not naturally unpredictable but after a few days thinking, I have thrown a curveball at my plans for September. Alas, I have decided to shift the starting point of September Camino to La Rioja and Logrono. Logrono is a lovely city and like Astorga, there is plenty to see and do. I will have ten days of walking and I hope to reach Sahagun by the tenth day. From there, I will take a train to Santiago where I will meet my good friend, St. James. I have walked through the provinces of La Rioja and Castilla y Leon on a number of occasions and have really enjoyed my times there. So much so that I will postpone my walking through Galicia for another time. My flight to Madrid on the 4th of September still stands, and from there I catch an ALSA bus to Logrono. I’m half-tempted to walk to Navarette once I arrive but for the time being, I have reserved a bunk-bed in Albergue Albas

I get to pass through favourite towns of mine – Belorado (with it’s highly recommended Cuatro Cantones albergue), Azofra, Burgos, Boadilla del Camino, and Villalcázar de Sirga. The meseta has only been good to me when I walked through it, so I look forward to September. Many dislike this stretch, so much so that they catch a bus to Leon or Astorga. I’m not sure why. I suppose living so close to the Camino allows me to make these sudden changes and I’m grateful for that. I do apologise to any of my readers who were looking forward to my posts from Galicia but I will make it up to you.

Buen Camino amigos!

Ps – My post on my recent walk around the Bog of Frogs last Saturday has been posted on Camino Society Ireland’s new website.

Howth Bog of Frogs Coastal Looped Walk

I seem to be getting into the swing of things now! My third walk in as many weeks and there are more planned in the near future. The more the better, many people say. This walk was not organised through the Camino Prep Meet-Up group however, but by the Camino Society of Ireland. I walk the same route tomorrow with the Meet-Up gang so I know what to expect!

Anyway, at the end of March, I received word via Facebook that there was to be a Camino Society of Ireland monthly hill walk, and the Bog of Frogs was to be the first of many. I jumped at the chance of meeting others who have Camino experience so I penciled that date in my calendar and looked forward to it. Howth is about 5 km from my home and it’s been a while since I have walked this trail. The IrishTrails website states that this trail is “Hard” and is 12 km in length. The Camino Society advised that it should take 3-4 hours to complete and to bring warm clothing, rain-gear, water and a packed lunch. So, nothing out of the ordinary there.

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I brought my brother along with me, as he was eager to try out walks on more difficult terrain. I’m hoping that one day he will join me on one of the Camino routes in Spain. Time will only tell, I guess. He’s a much quicker walker than me but I keep telling him that I choose to walk slow (ahem!). We both arrived in Howth close to 11am and waited for the remainder of the walkers to arrive. It wasn’t long before the organiser and full group of walkers had arrived outside Howth Dart Station. After the usual safety announcements, we were on our way.

Howth is a bustling village and as we walked past the Harbour, coaches filled with tourists were arriving. There is plenty to see and do here including Lambay Island, Ireland’s Eye, Howth Castle, The National Transport Museum, the Martello Tower and the Baily Lighthouse. There is a nice slow climb on leaving the Harbour and once you reach Kilrock car park, you are greeted with a steep climb on stone steps to the Nose of Howth and onto the cliff-tops. We chose to walk the Coastal Looped walk. This looped walk is the longest of four and is marked with purple waymarks. It is very difficult to get lost as you walk along the cliff-top. On walking the cliffs, there are stunning views of Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye. What really struck me was the sight and scent from the bright yellow gorse that is more widespread as you make your way along the coast. Within the first hour, the Baily Lighthouse comes into view on your left. We decide to stop for lunch at this point. The rest is welcome. We are two thirds of the way through the trail at this stage and I am enjoying it immensely. It’s great to talk with people who are passionate with the Camino, like myself. Many have walked the Camino Frances, but many have also walked the Camino de Norte, the Via de la Plata, and the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo. Some are returning to Spain next week while some are walking later on in the year, like myself.

After lunch and a number of Kit-Kat bars later, we decide to move on, walking further on along the coast. We were told that there was a climb approaching so the break came at a perfect time. A short descent to the beach was followed by a nice climb at Red Rock right up to Carrickbrack Road. Phew! Crossing the Carrickbrack Road leads you to a further ascent but this time it is more gradual. A welcome relief. We reach the summit within 10 minutes and approach Howth Golf Course. I found it quite amusing watching golfers attempt to take tee shots while we cross the course. The owners of the course have made markings for those crossing the course, so you will know where to walk and where not to walk.

After a further half hour of varied terrain, including passing through Deer Park golf course and Binn Eadair GAA club, we were led back to civilisation and Balkill Park estate. Here there is a nice descent to Howth Village and there are plenty of reminders of the tramline that once was a mainstay in this area. The tram served Howth Head until 1959 and there were plans made to reinstate the service in 2016. After just under 3 hours, we arrived back at Howth Dart Station.

Finally, I’d like to thank the Camino Society of Ireland for organising this walk and I hope this is the first of many. Special thanks goes to Bernard for taking charge for the day, to Michael for leading the group and to Jim for taking up the rear and making sure no-one was left behind. I’d also like to thank the 20-or-so walkers that came out and made the day special.

Overall, the day was very enjoyable with plenty of sights, smells and great conversation. The Bog of Frogs is tough in places, but if you are planning on walking the Camino de Santiago, you can’t look further than this route to prepare yourself. We were blessed with fine weather also. I would imagine the trail is difficult to walk in poor conditions. Here’s hoping the weather is the same tomorrow for our walk with the Camino Prep Meet-up group.

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And a video from someone who walked the Bog of Frogs trail:

A Long Flat Walk…

Boom! I’ve gotten my first training walk done and dusted. I am going in the right direction now. I had many a cobweb to shake off after my stay in hospital but it was good to take part in this one and with many great people. As I have mentioned before, I am part of the “Free Camino prep / training” group on Meetup.com. It is a group based in Dublin for those who are preparing for a trip to the Camino or who have been in the past. I really enjoy being around folks who have been or are in the midst of planning. While I was in hospital, the group has grown dramatically and there have been numerous walks around Dublin. The organiser of the group is walking his own Camino in late April and is eager to take on as many practise walks before he goes.

This walk was 15 km in length and started just outside Clontarf Train station. The sun was shining from the off and the whole of Dublin were out either walking, running or cycling. Over the course of the day, we walked northbound along the coast, taking in a detour through the sand dunes of Bull Island and out again at Sutton. After 4 hours, we ended up in the harbour town of Howth, where we had coffee and snacks. This was a perfect flat walk with little or no incline, but that said, it was very enjoyable.

There are events planned for the next two weeks; next Saturday sees us in Glendalough taking on the White Spinc trail, and the following Saturday (22nd) the Camino Society of Ireland are walking the Box of Frogs trail on Howth Head. More of those in the coming weeks.

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Thinking ahead…

September will see me on the Camino Frances for a seventh time. Eek! If you told me back in 2011 I would return to Spain for the following six years, I would look at you with wild disbelief! But yet, here I am and my mind is set on a return; this time walking from the Gaudi town of Astorga to Compostela.

With every year and every upcoming Camino, I spend a little time thinking of how I’d like to approach this trip and how I can make it a little different or unique to the last. Sometimes, these ideas just fade away once I find the first yellow arrow (and cerveza!), but other times I end up sticking to what I had planned. Each of my times on the Camino have been different in some shape or form, which is a good thing I suppose.

 

So, for September, here’s how I hope my time will go:

  • Sarria – There are many books written about the amount of pilgrims on the trail on reaching Sarria, which is the last point where you can start your Camino in order to obtain a compostela. Due to the increased numbers, there is always a strain on accommodation. So, I have decided to pre-book albergues in a number of towns before Santiago. I have never been one to pre-book and if I was walking from, let’s say, St. Jean to Burgos, I wouldn’t do so. But I feel that if I am to enjoy my walk this time around, I may as well reserve. I now will have a little bit of weight taken off my shoulders and I can take my time. Booking.com is a great website to make these reservations. I haven’t made any bookings from Astorga to Sarria as there is no need!
  • Less is more – In September 2016, while walking to Finistere, my pack weighed 7 kg. I reckon I can bring that down a little more. I have bought an Osprey 30 litre pack and am pretty happy with it. The less I bring, the less I have to worry about and my back won’t have any niggling pains! Now if only I could leave the smartphone at home!
  • Brierley’s end stages – So many people religiously follow Brierley’s guidebook, thereby missing the great towns in between. Towns like Cacabelos, El Acebo, Las Herrerias, and Ribadiso are all passed daily by legions of pilgrims. I aim to stay in these towns. It will be a welcome change as I haven’t stayed there before, save for stopping for a cerveza. Oh, and I’m leaving a guidebook at home 🙂 The arrows can guide me.
  • Pacerpoles – For the last few years I’ve walked with either a wooden stick bought before I start, or with a single carbon pole. I’ve always found them a hinderance however as I like to have my hands free to take photos, and reach for water etc. However, this year I will be making the climb to O Cebreiro so I’ve decided to bring along a set of pacerpoles that I bought before Christmas. It will make things a little easier and I won’t have those niggling back pains that I usually have (I hope!).  I have tried them a few times here in Ireland and they are pretty easy to get used to. I reckon they will be a help. Plus, I have been recommended them by a number of camigos! That said, I am usually the one who complains about the click-clacking of poles!
  • Take my time – In years gone by, I have been told by a number of people that I am a “speedster”..whatever that is!? My typical day starts at 6am and I like to check into an albergue before 1pm. That leaves me with the majority of the day to wash, rest, have some food in the evening and get to meet my fellow pilgrims! Sometimes, I don’t realise how fast I walk. In September, I hope to stretch the day out, slow down, start a little later, stop a little more, have numerous coffee breaks. Who knows, this may be the last time I walk the Camino Frances for some time! I’m in no hurry.
  • Visit local churches – It’s very easy to forget that the Camino is a pilgrimage. I’m not particularly religious but I’ve always wanted to set aside 20 minutes a day while on the Camino to drop into a church and say a quick prayer. However, after walking 25kms each day, it is difficult to find the time.
  • Use my knowledge of Spanish a little more – Creo que tengo buen español. Me gustaría hablar más a la gente local, sólo un poco! I guess this comes with confidence. Ordering a cafe con leche is second nature; speaking to someone from Spain is a challenge, but I’m up for it.

So, there is my wish-list for my September Camino. I may stick with the above, but then again, I may choose to do what I have done all along….let the Camino tell me what to do!

2016 becomes 2017

Now that the Christmas festivities are over, it is time to bid farewell to 2016 and look forward to 2017. While I did enjoy my short jaunt on the Camino Fisterra in September, 2016 in general will not be missed. Also while I am writing this post, I hear that Carrie Fisher has just passed away. Sigh, may she rest in peace, along with the many other people who have been taken far too early. How and ever, closer to home, my broken wrist should shortly be healed fully and I hope to move into my new humble abode in the first quarter of the year. I say all this with two fingers crossed behind my back, while keeping hold of my collection of 4-leaf clovers!

But one thing that I’ve been quietly planning since September was a return to Spain and the Camino Frances. I can’t seem to pull myself away from it. My destination has been unclear however. One time, I wanted to walk the meseta, the next I wanted to try the Camino Ingles, and another I had wanted to try the Camino Portuguese from Porto. This is the downfall of only having two weeks to work with. I was really unsure of a starting point until November. But I’ve made up my scattered mind now and have decided to walk from the beautiful city Leon to Santiago de Compostela, 300 km over a period of roughly 14 days. I have chosen April 25th as my start date and have my flights and accommodation in Leon arranged. While I have walked from Leon a number of times, I haven’t walked beyond Sarria since 2011. I have chosen Leon as a starting point as I really enjoy the hills from Astorga to Molinaseca, especially on a warm day. I am also going to see if I can avoid the end stages in Brierley’s guidebook. The towns of Hospital de Orbigo, El Acebo, Cacabelos and Las Herrerías may be small but they are fab places to stay. Other times, I have passed them not giving them a thought.

So now is a great time to create the #caminodesantiago2017 hashtag and write how I’m getting on until April. Kit-wise, I have little to change which is a saving grace! I was also given a little action camera over Christmas which I fully intend to use. I have ordered a little clip that will attach it to my backpack strap so I can take plenty of random videos and photos.

And just to finish this post, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! Feliz Ano Nuevo!

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