Still canal waters form liquid roads across seventy-five miles of Co. Kildare. Rich in reminders of when the canals were a transport artery and a corridor of social contact the canal network is now one of the county's most valued assets, appreciated for its contribution both to the natural environment and the built heritage of the county. Although artificial in construction the canals complemented rather than dominated nature and their waters and banks sustain plant life, fish, birds and mammals in a habitat of attractive diversity.
An attractive feature of the canal bank long distance walking routes is that they can be enjoyed by people of virtually all ages and levels of fitness. With no hills and many landmarks there is little risk of becoming tired or lost. As the towpaths parallel the waterway they are self-guiding and do not demand the fitness required for long distance walk routes in remote and mountainous areas. That said, a degree of preparation is important for comfort and enjoyment.
These pages describe the best route along the canal bank for walkers. It should be noted the underfoot conditions along any given stretch can be variable ranging form a narrow grassy track to a surfaced public road. In this text we have indicated significant changes in the towpath characteristics but remember that factors such as weather or canal engineering works can change a normally accessible grassy bank into a difficult muddy stretch. Footwear appropriate to the time of year is important.
There are some seventy miles of canal channel wholly within Co.Kildare. These pages describe three major sections: the Royal Canal; the Grand Canal (main line); and the Barrow Line. It divides the latter two into shorter sections of about eight to thirteen miles in length which will help with walk planning. A walking pace of about three miles per hour (five kilometres per hour) is a good planning average.
The towpaths can be tackled in all but the severest of weather. Do remember that sections on the bog ramparts have little shelter so in bad weather conditions warm clothing is a must. Do take along a flask and sandwiches because some of the more remote stretches have little in the way of shops. Finally keep a close eye on children near water such as the lock chambers and also on the public road sections of the route.
Public transport services close to the canals in the county are variable. The Royal Canal towns of Leixlip, Maynooth and Kilcock are well served by city bus, long-distance bus and commuter rail making it quite possible to make a Leixlip/Kilcock walk without having to retrace your steps.
A commuter rail service parallel to the Grand Canal from Celbridge/Hazelhatch to Sallins/Naas stations allows a lengthy section of towpath to be tackled. Beware that commuter services do not run on Sundays.
West of Sallins public transport options are sparse but Allenwood Cross, Edenderry, Monasterevin and Athy have bus connections while Athy is also served by rail. A careful study of the transport company timetables will be necessary to get the best out of your walk the entire network is open to you as this solves the problem of the linear nature of the routes.
The history and modern geography of the canal system has been well documented by a number of fine guides and books . The Guide to the Grand Canal of Ireland by Ruth Delaney, published by the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland and the similar format Guide to the Royal Canal of Ireland published by the Office of Public Works and the IWAI are essential references for anybody walking the canal banks. Although intended primarily for those navigating by water they are equally valuable for the walker.
A range of other recent books on the history of the canal system can be found in most libraries and bookshops. For commentary on Kildare's landmarks we recommend Guide to Kildare & West Wicklow edited by Con Costello, published by the Leinster Leader Ltd., Naas, Co Kildare.
The walking routes described here are complemented on the ground by signs erected at most bridge crossings indicating 'The Grand Canal Way' and the 'Royal Canal Way'. Take note that in a few exceptional cases we have for reasons of safety or convenience recommended in the text a route slightly different from that indicated by the signs. Small black posts with a walking figure which you may encounter were erected to indicate the separate Kildare Way walking trail which takes in bogland, open country and woods as well as some canal sections.
The waterway network in Co Kildare can be related to the road system and town locations by studying the Irish Ordnance Survey's Sheet 16 map which is printed at a scale of 1:126,720. Irish National Grid references: Leixlip (Cope Bridge), O 01 36; Lowtown Junction, N 78 25; Athy S 68
Special thanks to County Kildare VEC for the use of the
For more information contact:
County Kildare Vocational Education Committee, VEC Office,
Newbridge Road, Naas, Co Kildare, Rep of Ireland.