A Weekend in the Midlands – A five day trip through the midland waterways

Jacquie Ryan

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The Shannon is ideal for those with children on board.  I spent a week on a boat with two this summer aged ten and thirteen, just as they are coming into the dreaded teenage years where everything is ‘boring’. We can only do our best to keep them entertained!

Jacquie Ryan
Jacquie Ryan

 

We took a trip from Terryglass in County Tipperary right up to the Hudson Bay Hotel just outside Athlone in County Roscommon, stopping over in Portumna, Banaghor, and Athlone Town.

Terryglass is a great location if you have younger children on board, there is a lovely park and some great walks. There is always activity during the summer and there is a ski school there for teenagers who want to learn. For those of us who are of a more mature vintage there are two pubs ‘Paddys’ and ‘The Derg Inn’. Both premises serve good food, Paddys is slightly cheaper while, The Derg Inn, won an award this year for the best pub food in the country.

From the boat the walk to the village is about a mile, in this area there are many rural roads ideal for walks and cycles. There are shower and toilet facilities; you will need to have a waterways card to avail of the services. There cards are available in both pubs for €6:35, you can also use this card for electricity at the marina, this is great if the weather is bad as you can put on a movie and use comforts such as TV or even the microwave.

Jacquie Ryan
Bikes on Board byJacquie Ryan

Following our night in Terryglass we went to Portumna. There are two places to stop, Portumna Castle Park or up by the swinging bridge. The castle park and gardens are about a mile from the town at the top of the marina you have a choice. If you go left you will head down towards the park and the golf club, you cannot drive on this road. It is safe for a walk with children and even better for a family cycle. If you go right you are heading towards the castle and the town. There is no electricity at Portumna and the shore toilets are often out of order, so be prepared!

The Castle is not very large but you can view it for €1.50 and it is well worth the charge. During the summer months you may also like to visit the famine museum in the center of the town. There is a park as you enter the main road for children to play. In the town also hosts Aldi and Supervalue great for stocking up of supplies. There are numerous pubs, such as An Caislean and The Ferry Inn.  An Caislean always have live music on Friday and Saturday nights, in the town, The Ferry in is closer for those staying by the bridge also boasts live music. An everyone knows a proper boater needs a Guinness at night!

John Picken (Flickr)
John Picken (Flickr)

The following day we walked to the ‘beach’ this is a unique experience as it is a pool at the side of the lake. The sand is replaced with peat, so better than any sea weed bath for your skin. Following our stint on the beach we headed back on board and moved towards Portumna Bridge, the only swing bridge of its kind left in the world.

From here we headed towards Meelik lock. Before going through the lock we moored up on a floating jetty. We put life jackets on the children so they could jump in off the jetty for a swim. This was a brilliant experience and let them cool down. It is important that children and adults wear life jackets or personal flotation devices when swimming in the river or lake as the water remains quiet cold, which can cause muscle cramp.

Going through the lock everyone gets a job. Everyone has a rope to hold, while the gates close behind you and the water rises. After the lock you will have about an hour to Banaghor. There are a lot of twists and turns on this stretch of water, but plenty of beauty to be soaked up.

Jacquie Ryan
Captain Max on approach to Banaghor by Jacquie Ryan

Banaghor is a middle sized town in the midlands. There is also a large Supervalu here, for supplies. There is a top line store that has a chandlery attached, they are very reasonable and one of the area’s best kept secret. There is a park for children right beside the public marina. The town is lively and has a good social scene, the only problem the lack of eating destinations however there is a takeaway called Angelo’s. It is definitely worth a stop off. Angelo’s won the Best Irish Italian Chip Shop Award last year. There is no electricity in the public harbour; however there are new toilets and shower facilities. There are 2 private hire boat companies where you can moor boat overnight. It cost €10 to use these places and extra €5 for electricity.

The following day we traveled to Athlone, this is a long trip and not advisable when children are on board unless you plan to stop. We stopped off at Clonmaicnoise. Here there is a small museum and the site where the pope said mass on his last visit to Ireland. Care is needed here as there is a strong pull in the water, so swimming would not be advised. After our stop off we took the long trip to Athlone approximately 3 hours.

Jacquie Ryan
Clonmcnoise by Jacquie Ryan

This is an area you need to go slow as the levels are low, for us it was a time to take out the charged up DVD players and board games. For those happy to sit back and admire the views there is a lot of flat land to see.

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Animals cooling off with water on the banks of the shannon

 

On entering Athlone you head into the second lock of the trip. Along the wall after the lock there is free public mooring. It is not recommended to moor here over night as there are a lot of pubs in the vicinity. Above the bridge to the left opposite the cathedral there is a private mooring area owned by the country council. This is gated and has a man during the day. Athlone has many shops and a large shopping centre built a few years ago. For children there is a cinema, leisureplex, horse-riding and other activities. For us it was a case of bowling and pizza, but just outside the town there are some lovely eateries in Glasson, where you can also moor a boat. Following a trip to the shops the following day we decided to head out on Lough Ree. It is advisable to stay off Lough Ree in strong winds.

We pulled into Hudson Bay Hotel stop off; from here you can see the Hudson point the centre of Ireland. There is no electricity on site so if you don’t have a generator on board you will need to run your engine. The weather was sunny and lough Ree was flat calm, so we off loaded the Kayak and took it out onto the water, this provided hours of fun the junior crew. We went to the outer wall where it was possible to swim with life jackets; there are weeds in the area which can be a little slimy and off putting. There is a golf club behind the hotel for those who play. The hotel is also equipped with a swimming pool, fully fitted gym and spa facilities. It is about a five kilometer cycle back to Athlone. The following morning it was a little dull, so we headed into the hotel where all the crew can enjoy the use of the leisure facilities for a €6 per person per day. This provides hours of entertainment for the whole crew.

That evening we headed back to Athlone, before heading home, the following day. It was a fun packed weekend with something for all the family along the shores of the Shannon.

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Jacquie Ryan