Paddling the length of the Shannon, Ireland (solo) - July 2001
Monday, 16th July 2001
One Hell Of An Expedition Written By Adam Brewster This is an unedited log of my trip, thoughts and experiences typed up on my return from my original notes. It’s longer than I expected, and I hope anyone else reading it finds it of interest. As a Level 3 kayak coach and Level 2 trainee canoe coach, I would not suggest other paddlers paddle in some of the weather conditions that I did and I realise that doing such a paddle solo could also be unwise and so would not encourage others to follow my actions… If this does not deter you, please train beforehand and thoroughly test your equipment and ability to self-rescue a fully capsized and laden boat, and consider parts of this river as being like the sea. (Vast, unpredictable and lonely) Day 1, Mon 16th July (Map 26) Parked and launched from behind a pub in Dowra, on river left below the bridge. Hot and sunny. Several shallow rapids needed wading, set off at 12.50 having hunted for the binoculars (in the buoyancy aid pocket all the time). Reached Lough Allan 2.15, strong head breeze/wind from the south; had felt a slight swell under the boat just prior to entering the Lough. Had a brief break before continuing, swell 1ft between trough and peak, head wind with no swell some of the time. This is a big piece of water. Started bright and sunny but clouding over, sometimes quite black. 4.10 break near Stoney River Bridge OSi 981187, cooling off; started in shorts, put on dry trousers. Passed only one cruiser at a distance heading the other way. Two wind farms on the hills to the West, 10 or more turbines on each hill. 5.20 Gubarusheen Jetty, camp up and cup of tea by 6.00. The wind dropped for the last 2k and I got the tarpaulin up just before rain started; I had been looking forward to looking out over the Lough from the end of the concrete jetty while I drank my tea. Rain stopped. While on the river I saw only 1 dragonfly, no other wildlife, not even a duck. Passed 3 lads fishing and a farmer filling a bowser from the Lough, any other people were just specs on the shore. Only 14k today but had a strong head wind almost all the time on the Lough. Water is quite brackish and difficult to judge depth; saw waves breaking over a shallow gravel/stoney bar reaching a long way out into the Lough at one point, but managed to paddle over it. I’m often several hundred meters from the shore as I paddle past bays. My back aches a bit and had a mild cramp in my arm at one point. My milk was confiscated at the ferry port (foot & mouth precautions) bought new milk at Dowra and despite moving it to a safe spot several times after opening it for tea making, I knocked it over! Bought more from a B&B across the road from the jetty and in conversation that followed, discovered I had paddled past Lough Allen Adventure Centre run by Kevin Currid, whom I had tried to contact some weeks ago, after finding him mentioned on the web. Decided to walk to his place 3 or 4 miles; picked up by local lady who saw me carrying a map case and guessed where I was heading. Met Kevin, friendly and helpful, he confirmed that the river below Bellantra bridge and the sluice was clear to paddle (bank clearance work done recently) after portaging the sluice, as an alternative to the canal at Drumshanbo. Another camp location was also suggested if I had not already set up. He showed me around the Centre and gave me a lift back to the jetty. Boat bed by 10.30ish. Brilliant stars at 12.30 when I got up to tighten guy ropes, very windy. Day 2, Tue 17th July Very sedate start, just cereals and tea for breakfast, shall snack on the way. There was sun on the hills W at 8.00, on the water at 10.00, calm, no rain, but later wind rising and falling in my favour. Used sail, saw a Cormorant, made good time to the sluice 10.40. Barney, a local farmer was very concerned that I had paddled the Lough due to experiences he had had when caught in severe waves, unable to land without smashing his boat on a rocky shore, waves 20ft high! Portaged, snack and on water again by 11.45. Snagged heel on very sharp rocks while reloading (disadvantage of sandals). Saw a Heron and Kingfisher within minutes, several small riffles had to be negotiated. Men still working on bank clearance but route clear; reached Map 33, Battlebridge by 1.30, stopped at Beirnes pub on the right after the bridge for orange juice and sandwiches, back on by 2.10. Navigation rejoins the river just downstream. Wind from all directions sometimes strong, had sail up some of the time, arrived Carrick on Shannon at 3.55. Cruiser company did not grant permission to camp on grassy area that looked most secure. I had to pitch camp across the river in small park with a few beer cans about, tarpaulin up by 5.00 and kit stowed away as safely as possible, changed and left to pick up the car. Thumbing lifts is not easy but finally I got success with 2 good lifts, second driver a young Italian lady who dropped me at Dowra and invited me to visit and see a ‘Sweat House’ and Well on her property and join the family for a meal. The house was very remote 6 miles from Shannon Pot, accessed by a little used farm track over a very dubious cattle grid. Hills in the background became hidden by a fine rain shortly after my arrival. The Sweat House was about 100 yards from the house, set in a bank/hillside. The doorway was about 20inch high by 18 wide; inside a beehive shaped chamber 4ft high, could seat about 4 people squatting. A fire would be lit inside and the smoke inhaled while rocks surrounding the fire were heated up prior to water being poured onto them to produce steam like a sauna. I declined the invitation to drink from the well which was surrounded by Rowan trees and Holly and was completely open for any creatures to access; I would have liked to taste it but considered the chance of stomach upset affecting my holiday. Drove back to Carrick, arrived at 11.00 rang home and returned to camp which was intact, except for 1 tent peg uprooted by the wind (found next morning at full extent of guy rope but not in the direction expected). Bed by 12.00 Day 3 Wed 18th July 8.30 had breakfast but camp not packed up yet, leaving some gear in the car, have to find a suitable parking space to leave it and fill water containers. Leave Carrick at 10.00; looks like I’m in for a very strong gusty headwind. 1/2k after Carrick put up sail 1/2k high speed barely able to hold it on course, mast bending, and using paddle as rudder levering hard on the gunnel. Had to drop sail rapidly as the course of the river changed and I couldn’t. The very strong cross wind forced me sideways into the reeds and progressively bouncing me over the top of them, even without the sail. Struggled out of the reeds, some very hard paddling for next 1k, took 1 1/2 hours to reach Cornacorroo OSi 956965. Quite a few cruisers going both ways, I reached Jamestown Canal at 12.15 for short breather and then continued down this sheltered water, due to trees both sides, change in direction and narrower channel. Pulled over to let cruiser past and forgot 9ft mast was still up, nearly fouled the trees. Caught up with several cruisers that passed; as they had to wait at the lock; shared it with 4 cruisers and had 1h lunch in hot sunshine (put on sun cream) while the lock keeper had his break, left lock at 2.00. Sun remained all day with strong wind from all directions, some sailing but even that can be hard work. Thought I had lost my way near Drumod, I could not see the channel to the S, it looked like a dead end. The conifer plantation on the map reassured me, and I continued to the S finding a large opening in the reeds that had been at such an angle the reeds had looked continuous. The Shannon navigation charts are fine for cruisers who follow marker posts but show nothing of shoreline and features beyond; OSi maps are far better. A cruiser crossed my path heading to Dromad and as I passed over his wake 100ft behind it, I caught a flash of light reflected off a trawled fishing line at neck height within inches, a few very rapid backwards strokes were needed to avoid it. Arrived at Roosky at 4.15, the bridge has a section that can be raised to allow the larger cruisers to pass beneath. I went to the chandlery on the right after the bridge and asked if there was a quiet spot to make camp; I was directed to a small slip-way just after the workshop behind which was a grassy area sheltered by it. Camp set up and changed into comfortable clothes. Set of to hitchhike to Carrick at 5.30, received a lift to Drumod and told how few people now give lifts these days, I carried my paddle in the hope that it would give a clue as to my reason for needing a lift and attract more interested drivers. Photographed a decorative water feature near the town Centre that used a piece of ‘Bog Oak’ and Oak carvings of Herons to very good effect. Thumbing is chancy so asked in shop about buses, by good luck the next bus always seems to arrive 45 minutes late, I’m told! It arrived exactly as predicted, one of only 4 daily that travel between Dublin and Sligo via Carrick. Drove car back to Roosky and dressed, for dinner at the Shannon Key West Hotel (Prime Sirloin Steak; you can’t be expected to eat camp food all the time!). The hotel had a quiet lounge in which to drink coffee whilst perusing maps. I guess bed by 11.00. Day 4, Thurs 19th July 8.00 eaten breakfast, cool with some grey cloud in blue sky little or no wind, it clouded over later becoming warm and humid. Decided to shuttle the car to Lanesborough this morning using a local taxi to follow there and bring me back (cost 18 Irish £). My heel has got quite sore from Day 2 and makes thumbing even less of an option. Finally on the water by 11.00 and 20 minutes later portaged over Roosky weir (right hand side near the fish pass), there was too little water to shoot it and the fish pass is too narrow. Nice little back water that avoids the lock (about 1 1/2 hour paddling to Map 40). Got to Temonbarry weir by 1.30 for a quick inspection, I decided it was too much trouble to portage and not shootable due to footpath and railings above it, and exposed rocks below in places (it may be possible that the farthest left-hand arch of the bridge before the weir could lead to better access, I didn’t paddle back to look). Shared the lock with several cruisers and, like the lock keeper, I stopped for lunch. I put the sail up after locking through but wind too gentle to be effective. Saw several Great Crested Grebe, occasionally Swans and Herons. Wind picked up from SW, there was no shelter on either side of the river using the reed beds as the wind funneled along the river towards me. Watched the smoke from Lanesborough power station chimney as an indicator for strength and direction; it burns peat for fuel and makes a lot of smoke. The red and white chimney can be seen for miles. Pulled into a little stone harbour on the right before the bridge at 4.30, dragged the boat up the bank and used two trees to stretch my throw-line between to support the tarpaulin over the boat. I seem to be surrounded by house flies and used mosi’ repellent on myself and the tarpaulin which did the trick, sorted by 5.30. Basic showers (need tokens from local shops or cruiser bases) and toilets under the bridge, these shut at 9.00! There were a lot of cruisers in both directions today, crewed by Germans, Irish and Swiss also one speedboat that slowed down for me (I signalled for him to speed up again; if I can’t cope with his wash I shouldn’t be here). A couple of Germans were heading up stream from Temonberry to Roosky in a collapsible two-seater kayak (the name of make escapes me) Kliper! I thought it looked uncomfortable and hard work. I’d spoken to an Irishman with a sea kayak on his car in Roosky this morning; he and a friend are hoping to paddle from there to Limerick next week. He arrived at Lanesborough at about 7.30 to see how I had got on and had just been for a short paddle himself on Lough Ree; around Inchcleraun Island. We discussed the route I intended to use down Lough Ree weather permitting and wished each other luck on our trips. Some of the cruiser crews said the Lough had been a bit rough during the day, at times with waves 3ft high. Had mixed grill and pot of tea, walked around and bed by 10.30. Day 5, Fri 20th July 7.15 had breakfast, chimney smoke indicates wind now from S or SE, not good. Radio forecast says strengthening. No blue sky, chilly; It’s been short sleeves and shorts most of the time but I’m dressing up today. Spotting with rain as I got on the water at 8.45. 10.30 have a break at a sheep loading bay OSi 987626. I guess stone walls around this bay are to enclose sheep while a few at a time are loaded onto some sort of boat to carry them to a nearby island. Already today I’ve seen a Heron, Kingfisher and on more open water several Cormorants and a flock of Coots. 1st 2k water flat calm then a swell of 6-9 inches at 3-4ft spacing. Sitting here having fruit, Jordans crunchy bars and orange juice; I can see waves with white tops 1/2 k ahead, I’ll be turning SE and it’ll be head on. I continued, its not possible to hug the shore as rocks often lie just beneath the surface and the bays are not worth weaving in and out of for that reason, 200yds is about as close as I go. Took a break near Cow Island and sheltered under scrubby trees, having tipped boat over to save bailing the rain out. Just getting back on when I spotted a Wave Hopper heading my way; I went back to the trees and waited for him to reach me. He was Irish, had borrowed the boat from Dublin and was paddling from Roosky to Hudson Bay (I can’t find it on the map). He said he had a load in his boat but had never test rolled it; sooner him than me! He paddled off a lot faster than I could go and disappeared across Elfeet Bay as I took another brief break at Rinrooey Point. Reached Collum Point Harbour at 1.30 it’s been very hard going, heavy rain, strong head wind, large swell and waves. Tied the boat up in the harbour, relatively sheltered from the wind but not the rain; then changed into warm dry clothes in a nearby toilet block (not up to standard!). I took the opportunity to visit a wood carvers workshop advertised on a ‘You are here map’ by the harbour, it was only 300yds away. Kevin Casey and his father have been commissioned to sculpt many pieces, large and small from Bog Oak and Yew found during the course of peat cutting for the power stations. (including the one I photo’ed in Dromod). I would have liked to have felt the sculptures but my hands never dried enough. The wood had been preserved in the peat since 2000 to 3000 BC. I felt a little guilty that I bought nothing; perhaps I may visit another year on a more leisurely trip. Still raining and tree tops swaying, there were three other small craft in the harbour but have seen no one. Decide to press on change back into wet, wet gear and head for Inchturk Island 3.30. Only covered another 2k to Island of Lismagawley Meadow 100ft diameter, I’m wet and knackered; I thought I was further on but these conditions make judging distance hard and visibility is poor. The Island is very over grown and rocky. I pulled the boat sideways up the lee side leaving just enough room to walk between boat and water. Slung rope between two convenient trees, tucked tarpaulin down one side of the boat, over the rope and over the water tying the guys to rocks in the water 5.30. Built a small fire with difficulty considering the damp material available and brewed tea and cooked meat balls and pasta eaten with a tin of asparagus spears as today’s luxury. Sod’s law the winds dropped and the remaining evening is bright and sunny; I took advantage of the improved visibility and fought through the undergrowth to the other side of the island to confirm my location and landmarks to head for in the morning. There were no cruisers near me today but I can see them far away now. As I write this now sitting in my sleeping bag, in my boat I realise that my legs aren’t hot and sweaty, I’ve spilt a whole mug of coffee and the sleeping bag has soaked it up. Wrung it out best I can but still sodden. 10.30 Day 6, Sat 21st July Overcast and the wind has picked up against me again. Breakfast done by 8.00 and away by 9.15, it took 1/2 hour to Long Island. Waves from the SSW. By 10.30 passed Inchturk Island on W side short break on N shore of Inchmore Island till 11.00 in the company of three horses whose curiosity was aroused by my unexpected arrival; then I continued down the E side. (Map 47) Large rocks just beneath the surface are a possible hazard to be avoided which means avoiding hugging the shore, they can sometimes be spotted by the waves changing character as they pass over them. I saw a large pleasure ferry disappear from view around Hareisland Island on which there were signs saying bird sanctuary, long before I reached there at 12.30; I guess it did round trips from Athlone. There was still no reprieve from the wind and after more hard paddling reached Lough Ree Sailing Club, the 2nd oldest sailing club in the world; after the one in Cork. The club house was closed but I was offered tea and biscuits by one of the members and his wife; they looked at the anemometer and confirmed I had paddled Lough Ree against wind of between force 4 to 5. Arrived at Jolly Mariner Marina just after the road bridge and set up camp by 4.30,weather now sunny, warm and sheltered from the wind or its died down. Bought fresh milk and fruit at a shop nearby and hung sleeping bag up to dry out the coffee spill. Went to bus and rail station but no buses to Lanesborough so took a Taxi to collect the car (28 Irish £ ). I passed through Rosscommon while a Celtic Football match was on, there were cars parked at the sides of the road for 1 1/2 to 2 miles in every direction to and from, many side by side; a big turnout. The Irish love supporting their teams and flying or wearing the appropriate colours so there were many sellers of flags hats and so on. Irish roads often have a hard shoulder on both sides, that seems to be used if you feel a driver behind wishes to pass, or if you are pulling onto a road as traffic is passing. (I haven’t checked the Irish Highway Code but that seems to be how it’s used). It offers the opportunity for mass parking in areas that have no adequate car parks. After returning to Athlone with the car; I went to inspect Athlone weir. I could see one clear shoot for kayaks (20ft or so from river left) but I would prefer to go sideways, at an angle with a fully laden open canoe and there seemed no area clear enough at the foot of the weir to allow that. I’m told kayaks also shoot through a gate on river right down a steeper slope into deeper water, but a side ways approach was not possible there either. I opted for Locking through in the morning and continued my stroll around the town. Plenty of eating places and many lively pubs even before the local victorious football supporters arrived, amid jubilant horn blowing as they passed through, car after car after car. I found a more secure and up to date marina with good showers down river of the rail bridge which is visible from the Jolly Mariner Marina. It has a small grassed area just behind a wall making it hard to see from the river, it also has it own security staff. My heel, heeling but tender; however, my hands have become quite sore with blisters on blisters especially the right hand. Ruddering off the gunnels (mainly due to wind conditions) has roughened the paddle shaft. Canadian or Indian strokes using blade rotation are not a good choice for long trips with a rough paddle shaft so I’m back to basic plunge stroke and lift; which keeps hands static to the shaft. (perhaps linseed oil would have been a better finish on the paddle than varnish, which cracked, chipped and broke-up under the punishment). Bed by 10.30 however at 2.30 am some joker 20yds away decided to play the same music over and over and over ……. On his car tape deck. I’d met him earlier, Jack a friendly character!!! with a tent, car but no boat, just a captain’s cap and endless enthusiasm to talk!! Day 7, Sun 22nd July On the water by 9.30, gave Jack a loud morning call with the air horn and went on my way, the water taps at camp were not running this morning so I refilled at the other marina. Everyone going at a leisurely pace this morning, so didn’t leave Athlone lock until 10.30. Strong head and cross winds again from SW and W. It was very difficult to find any shelter from the wind on either side of the reed lined river. The land on either side is very flat as the river is now passing the peat cutting / bog area where fuel is dug for the power stations and is crisscrossed by rail lines for its transport. I’ve seen thousands of black shiny Whirligig beetles scuttling to and fro’ across the water near the reeds, each one reacting to its neighbors ripples in a never-ending dance. (Do they ever sleep at night ?) Reached Clonmacnoise by 2.00, tied up by the jetties out of the way of any incoming cruisers and visited the ancient church ruins. There is a guided tour or you do it yourself, depending on what time you have. It has been well presented, with plenty of descriptions of the various features both inside and out. One feature is a stone archway which I presume used to have a door. The way it is carved enables the arch to be used as a confessional; the confessor whispers into one side of the arch while the priest listens across the other side, hearing quite plainly, while being back to back with the confessor. This enabled a local leper colony to confess without breathing near or being seen by the priest taking confession. Pilgrims of years ago followed a road built on a ridge if raised land called an Esker; this was a feature left by a glacier. Melt water formed a river under the glacier that over a great period of time deposited vast amounts of rocks and debris in the resulting ice tunnel carrying the river. Today the road and ridge contours can be clearly seen on the OSi map. Also on site is a tourist information Centre, and café / restaurant. I tried to get a lift to Athlone to collect the car from passing tourists and coach drivers; finally with success from a Priest who dropped me there at the car on his way home. Drove back to Clonmacnoise, asked permission to park the car for a couple of days and back on the water by 6.00. Still windy and sky threatening heavy rain for somebody; it didn’t land on me, heading for Shannon Bridge (Showers here). I arrived at 7.45 and after unloading my boat in a field just after the moored cruisers, offered several Irish children from two of them, the chance to paddle it. It was an unexpected addition to their holiday activity and seven of them used it in different crew combinations. They all had buoyancy aids and I took three of the youngest out myself. Both families offered me tea and currant bread. Made my camp and had curry and chips at a nearby café and perused my maps 9.45. Back to camp and listened to a Corncrake nearby that continued well after dark. Fell asleep. Day 8, Mon 23rd July Breakfasted, decamped, shopped, rung home and taxi ordered to pick car up from Clonmacnoise 10.15. On the water late 11.45 but car in a more convenient place here for next shuttle. Lunch at N end of Minus Island (now on Map 53) 1.30; the church spire of Banagher is visible in the distance. Had Chilli Con Carne, cold, one of the Wayfarer meals in a bag pre cooked (recommended). Off again at 2.00 and reached Banagher bridge by about 3.30, once again knackered by continued onslaught of head wind and no shelter; decided to camp up shower and rest. The public showers as you leave the marina on foot are adequate but I expect the more expensive showers inside the Silver Line Cruiser’s building are better. The two Irish families I meet last night are moored nearby. The children found a public swimming pool in the river, beyond the bridge river left (a pontoon enclosed area safe from cruisers, with a lifeguard) They enjoyed a swim in the cold clean water but soon chilled in the strong wind when they emerged. I had a very nice greeting from them and the offer of dinner, which I declined; due only to the fact that I had already decided to eat at the Shannon Hotel; and looked forward to Corn on the cob, Chicken fillet Curry and rice. Eating in a good hotel gives the opportunity to sit in a comfortable lounge with coffee / drink and again study maps for route options to suit the expected weather.
Which route offers the most shelter with least distance from reachable shore if the weather turns really bad?
Will higher ground funnel the wind or provide shelter?
The river offers little choice but Lough Derg (day after tomorrow) needs decisions. Just gone 9.00 when I head back to boat and bed by 9.45. The children are still exploring and running up and down the jetty as I dropped to sleep. Day 9, Tues 4th July Packed away, already had a big breakfast at the Shannon Hotel and on the water by 9.15. Most of the two families were still asleep on the cruisers as I slipped away; I had no doubt they with their engines would pass me during the day. Head on breeze all day but sunny. Shorts and short sleeves plus sun cream. After 6k pulled up against some cruisers at the Quay prior to Meelick Weir and lock and was invited aboard for tea and cake by another two Irish families, which was much appreciated. Paddled to the weir which has a walkway over it; at one point a raised arch in the walkway allows access for canoes to shoot a jet down at that point. I should have sat further back and shipped quite a lot of water because I didn’t. Sitting amidships would have been fine if the boat had not been loaded as much. This short backwater had a few rocks to negotiate and soon rejoined the navigation. I came across a Mute Swan that gave me several croaky quacks rather than hisses (thought Mute Swans could not utter more than a hiss). Passed Ballymacgan Island at 12.30 and reached Portumna swing bridge at about 2.30; I could paddle straight under and continued to the head of Lough Derg, feeling the wind strengthen as I entered. I headed NW across Portmuna Bay to the sheltered harbour South of the town and after unloading, hauled the boat up the harbour wall and onto a grassy area (showers nearby). Got in conversation with a crewman of a passenger ferry from Killaloe (S end of Lough Derg); he said power gives way to sail except when it a passenger ferry, which then has priority. Enjoyed a few tales of boating on Derg then set up camp and got taxi to pick up the car 5.00. Previous taxi driver not over talkative but this one never stopped; mainly moaning about various injustices, political and social in Ireland. Drove back in time to catchthe cruisers from the previous two nights going through the swing bridge; they invited me for dinner and as they made their way to the harbour I shopped for a bottle of wine to take with me. Had a walk into town with the children and older cousin followed by a very nice meal with great company and a game of cards. Started to spit with rain at 11.00 when I settled down for the night and a party started on a nearby boat in the harbour, with folk music and singing until 2.30 or beyond. Day 10, 24th July Up at 8.00 discovered milk was off and had forgotten to get fresh so I had a Mixedfruit pudding from a bag (very tasty but a little stodgy). On the water by 9.30, brilliant weather with little or no breeze. I said my goodbyes to my Irish hosts of the night before, all had risen to say farewell; they were not continuing further south and we exchanged addresses. Meeting such people added a vital ingredient to make it an even more memorable holiday. The water was calm with only a slight swell that could have been from a cruiser passing long ago. Reached Gortmore Point by 10.20 and Killanoe Point by 10.50. When I reached Skehanagh Quay it was so small (one small cruiser size) that I thought it must be further on; this confused me as to where I was; the islands blend in with the shore line and I had to note the shape of surrounding hills to confirm position. Being close to the start of the next map made it a little more difficult. (Map 69). I paused every 2 or 3k to look around and have a breather. Reached Dromineer Quay at 2.30 and had pub meal followed by a short nap on the grassy quay side, in the sun. I wanted to cross the next bay today while the weather was fine. Pressed on at 4.50 to cross Youghal Bay to the quay that I thought was called Ballvaughan but is Garrykennedy quay, arrived at 5.50 as I expected. It’s very picturesque and to try and give the scale of crossing the bay to it, I took a photo every 15 / 20 minutes or so on the approach. Shortly after my arrival the Tipperary Fire Brigade arrived to carry out an exercise using their huge hydraulic platform. I paddled for six hours today to reach here; a cruiser took only 2 1/2 hours. I camped by the small sailing boat marina not the harbour and had a peaceful nights sleep after a good meal at one of two pubs nearby. Very pleasant watching the sun set across the Lough. Day 11, Thurs 26th July Only a couple of cruiser people rising as I set off at 9.30, left the shelter of the harbour to face a slight head wind as I went W for 3k to Deer Park. As I then headed SSW a swell of 6 to 12 inches soon became 1 to 2 feet waves some bigger, some with white tops. Shorts and short sleeves were changed for dry trousers and dry top in case of a capsize. The E shore had several tiny harbours for fishing dinghies; I took a short break in a small sheltered harbour that had a boat shed like a barn and a slip-way OSi 735825, the entrance was between trees and easily missed as there was no projection from the shore line. (Another 3k and onto Map 58) The conditions subsided at about 12.00. At Derry Quay there was a harbour completely weeded up with Lilies and Reeds, with Hydrangeas on the bank, there was warm sunshine by now and I took yet another break. The quay is just an overgrown Island but supports its own castle (a simple tower) on which three flags were flying. Arrived at Ballina marina slipway at 2.30 E side of the river; Killaloe is the W side, Lough Derg finished. As I came down the narrowing neck of the Lough; I, unknown to me passed a private jetty, on which a cruiser family I had spoken too some days earlier had been waving and shouting to me. Unable to attract my attention they had travelled down the shore to catch me at the marina to ask me how I was getting on and wish me well. Fortunately, I enquired at the marina about the choices I had when I reached the weir and sluice 7k down-stream. I had assumed incorrectly that river traffic went through O’Briensbridge; in fact the sluice is a gate under which the cruisers pass without changing level, It’s the entrance to the headrace. The weir is not a practical portage from what I later saw, but a lock for canoes may be built in years to come I’m informed. To pass through the sluice an advance phone call is necessary to book passage through. (Gerry Reed the lock keeper at Ardnacrusha Tel.0879970131). The manager at the marina dialled for me and passed me the phone, I asked for them to allow me an hour to reach the sluice and arrived at the huge structure at 3.45. Normally they don’t allow traffic to stop in the headrace but I had already passed through the sluice before I told the sluice operator that I intended to camp alongside O’Briensbridge ( There was no way I felt like the additional 7k to the lock today). The operator agreed to me travelling 1 1/2 k down the headrace provided I hauled the canoe up the 15-foot bank. (He could see me from the sluice at the agreed point, a short flight of steps was set in the bank there, but only at the bottom of the bank) I tethered the boat to a couple of tussocks of grass and unloaded; thankfully the grass on the bank was dry otherwise the scramble up would have been much more difficult. By hammering a row of tent pegs in the top of the bank and using a cord to take the tension in tandem from them equally; I was able to haul the boat up with a pulley and line. Camp set up by 4.45. There had been very few cruisers near my course today and none since the marina at Ballina; one very fast speed boat raced past, up the Headrace Canal as I was unloading and could easily upturned the canoe had I not been holding it from the bank. The Headrace Canal is a V shaped channel, from my camp I can see the natural course of the Shannon 100 yds away and a hill to the E looks like Ingleborough in Yorkshire. A few flying ants about. I used the last film on a shot of the sluice and wanted another for tomorrows final leg of the trip; especially the Ardnacrusha Lock. Walked into O’Briensbridge shopped for fruit, milk and film, ate in a pub, phoned home and headed back to camp. Feeling tired and stiff, wrote a few more lines in my log, head down by 8.30. Day 12, Fri 27th July Earlier start today to be at Ardnacrusha by 10.00 as arranged yesterday, didn’t sleep very well, too many aches and pains and thinking about the finish of my trip. Got up in the night and watched the stars for a while; the Milky-Way clearly visible. Breakfasted by 7.20, on the water by 8.00, overcast to start but very hot and sunny later. I promised myself a break if I reached the next bridge within the hour; got there by 8.50. Several large steel frames suspended from gantry’s were just before and after the bridge. I pulled into the bank and spoke to man whose job was to check water levels and monitor possible pollution of streams locally; he said the frames were to support Eel nets at some other time of the year. Parts of the right bank had been natural up to this point but all man-made till the lock now. The water moves faster in the channel when the level is lower and I’m told it can be down a further 10 feet. Another 5k to the lock, there by 9.50; leaving time to look round. The guillotine gate was open and I tethered the boat to a ladder before climbing 20 feet to the top. Gerry appeared at 10.00 and said the expected cruiser could be an hour late; he cheerfully locked me through as the only occupant of the massive lock after I had descended the ladder. There was no turbulence as the water left the lock, just loud rumbling and clanking of machinery; I had to move my hand from rung to rung on the ladder as the water level dropped 60 feet in a chamber 100 ft by 20 ft. The first 12ft had weed and slime on the walls followed by the remainder being covered by some sort of single shelled mussels, I also spotted a 3 inch Ell trying to slither down between the mussels in pursuit of the receding water. The lower guillotine gate was raised and I quickly paddled under the shower of water draining off it, into the next chamber. Gerry checked I was ok and told me I was the first this year of an average of one canoe per year to pass through the lock. The machinery ground into action again and the level descended a further 40 ft. Strangely this chamber had no mussels on its walls. I was quite wet from the spray dropping from the walls and further soaked, going under the last guillotine gate as I left. From above the lock it looks like something from the Dam Busters film; a mass of concrete. From below its quite different; the main generating plant is behind a pleasant building with many white framed windows. Signs warning of sudden turbulence warned me not to approach for a closer look. Sometimes if manpower is available a tour can be arranged; unfortunately not today. I’d shouted my thanks to Gerry and continued to Limerick, it took 40 minutes to lock through. The Down-race from Ardnacrusha is very pleasant with mature trees on both sides; one cruiser passed on its way to the lock. (Map 65) When you reach the rail bridge the following section is tidal and to ensure entry to the new Limerick Marina turn left and continue under three more bridges, then the marina opens to your left 11.45. Ahead you will see a line of red buoys which mark the weir; at some levels of tide shallow draft boats can pass over it. If you had continued straight on at the rail bridge you would have reached this point but may not have been able to cross the weir.(you may also have encountered shallows) continuing on leads to the Shannon estuary. Over-looking the marina and down-stream, is Limerick Castle. A government building also overlooks the marina and as it is the closest point to get a car, I sought permission and luckily this was confirmed by a fellow kayaker working there, who had been paddling on Lough Ree two days ago. I said my plan was to catch a bus to Nenagh 25 miles away then taxi the remaining 8 to Portumna to get my car and drive back to Limerick to pick my kit up. He offered to ring the bus station for bus times and after a few minutes on the phone replaced the receiver and offered to take me, boat and kit to Portumna himself after he finished work at 4.00. I accepted his kind offer not realising until we reached Portumna that he lived and worked in Limerick and the journey had been just for my benefit. (for which he refused to take any payment). It was very hot in Limerick and after strolling around and a coffee; I decided to find somewhere for a massage. Luck was with me again, a taxi driver directed me to an Optician who in-turn directed me to an Aroma Therapist. A very relaxing treatment preceded by a shower on such a hot day and after my exertions over the 12 days. My lift to Portumna seemed to pass quickly; gave my thanks and farewells before loading the car; buying pie and chips and heading for Dublin. Managed to catch the 10.15 High Speed Stenna Catamaran from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead. Home by 4.00 am Saturday. (Took my wife in the canoe on Rutland Water in the afternoon; it’s the first time she has agreed to give it a try!).