Displaying items by tag: Boyle
Exploring the Shannon by boat with a Carrickcraft three-day cruiser hire was not the first choice for David O'Brien and family's September weekend getaway. But North Roscommon gave a lot more than expected
With the summer ebbing away, my family were in need of a short holiday, but we had grown so tired of no–care airlines that even the prospect of the Aircoach was beginning to make it more like a chore than a well-earned break. There must be some other way to spend quality family time without the queues, we thought.
What's more, I was determined to show my family, comprising of my wife Lisa and children Isabel (15) and Thomas (13), that Ireland could offer much more than the usual format of the so-called 'city break'.
I suggested some local options. "How about a River Shannon cruise?"
It was a question that, quite honestly, did get a mixed reaction at the kitchen table. But with an open mind and a sense of adventure it was something they all thought (eventually) would be worthwhile giving a shot.
Plotting the course
The navigable River Shannon runs for 400km but if you've got just three days, where does a novice start?
It might be the essence of leisurely cruising to drift along, going where the river might take you, but that could not be this weekend's plan. In order to satisfy my teenage crew, I felt this had to be exactly the opposite: a 72–hour whistle stop tour packing in as much fun as we could along the way.
But could a 20km stretch in North Roscommon really measure up to a weekend in London, for example?
The county is landlocked, yet there are plenty of lakes to make up for the lack of any coastline. Loughs Key, Allen and Ree are all situated in the county. But more than that, one of the more notable features of Roscommon is the fact it is the home of well-known actor Chris O'Dowd, who grew up in Boyle. He's also a family favourite, as it happens.
Experience had taught me it's the simple things that mean the most, so I was sure that if I spent a little time in planning it could go a long way. I decided there were some basic requirements for a successful trip that would provide fun for the family and some nice memories.
First of all, we'd want our weekend to have minimum travel time to the destination. There should be activities for my family to do together, and the chance to learn something new.
There should also be easy access to dining options. They say cooking on board is a Shannon cruise pleasure but we decided against it – it's meant to be a holiday, after all.
And I knew well that if we ended up stranded on the river bank looking at one bag of crisps, with a long walk at dusk to the nearest town, then it would be a short–lived cruise at that.
Carrickcraft is a leading Irish Shannon cruise hire firm that has a base in Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim. I booked a three-day cruise with a start and finish in Carrick, on board a self-drive Kilkenny Class (4 + 2 Berth) for three nights priced at €765.
In search of 'The Moone Boy Burger'
On the map, Carrick looked like a central enough location, and not too remote. But early research into what we might do when on the water wasn't easy. Certainly, there were guides but not much in terms of joined-up thinking for waterborne tourists.
There were navigation charts. There were route planners. There were restaurant guides. There were activity guides. But what I needed was the nice easy spoonful of an entire travel plan that tied in journey times with berthage, activities with restaurants.
For instance, I spotted that some of the nicest sounding restaurants in Georgina Campbell's invaluable Inland Waterways Restaurant Guide were not always accessible by boat. I just coudn't work out how we could get to a restaurant at dusk and back in the dead of night. Taxis in this neck of the woods can be as rare as river kingfishers. And dark country roads are not pedestrian-friendly.
To make a success of our short break, I had to join the dots between time, food and river, so I ended up making up my own itinerary – an idiot's guide, if you will, to cruising on the River Shannon: the 72–hour edition!
My research time was well spent, though, because within an hour or so I had sketched out a voyage that might involve wildlife, history, literary links, Hollywood stars, gourmet food, navigational tips and exercises, bike trails, high-wire tree-top adventures, castles and islands. But most of all, we would be captains of our own ship of adventure as we steamed up and down the River Shannon, in search of 'The Moone Boy Burger'.
Did we expect to find such weekend adventure and welcomes, just an hour-and-a-half from home? No, we certainly didn't.
Here's how our trip worked out:
Friday – Downstream to Jamestown
12 noon – It's half-day Friday! Collected kids from school and headed straight for the N4. From Dun Laoghaire it's two hours (169.2 km) via the M4 and N4 to Carrick-on-Shannon.
2pm – Check-in at the Carrickcraft base, and meeting our cruiser for the weekend. (Top tip: Park your car near the jetty for handy loading/unloading.)
2.30pm – Before we set sail, it's straight to restaurant #1: lunch at the Oarsman!
4.30pm – We get an instructional tour of our Kilkenny Class cruiser and a helpful driving test from our Carrickcraft guide, Padraig. And there's a bit to know: If you're reversing, steer left if you want to go right. Gottit?
5pm – We depart Carrick-on-Shannon and head downstream under the bridge to Jamestown, because restaurant #2 has been booked for at least a fortnight.
6pm – 'Watch out for the strong flow on the river at the end of the navigation.' Whoa, they're not joking! No room at the inn at Jamestown Quay thanks to a couple of what looks like long term harbour hoggers but we find a spot round the corner and berth up for the night on the nearby Jamestown Canal at Ardanaffrin Bridge. Glad of the company of one other cruiser, it feels lovely but a tad isolated.
6.20pm – It's Shank's Mare to the village. Just need to remember where we parked the boat for the return journey in the dark! No street lights round here...
6.30pm – It's anicent Ireland time as we pass through the town gates. No wonder Roscommon marketeers use the phrase 'the beating heart of Ireland's past' to describe the place.
6.40pm – We're at the Arch Bar for pre-dinner pool and pints.
7.10pm – Leitirm's gourmet capital is found in The Cottage, a modestly named and presented restaurant. Inside, a giant portrait of the owner's father sitting astride a giant ox is an early clue that there's more than cottage pie on offer here...
10.30pm – Taxi! No Uber or Hailo here. It turns out to be a bit of a wait for Jamestown's only cabbie, CK (Tel: 086 0772020). It's a €7 fare well spent, though, as we avoid walking on some pitch-black switch back roads (no paths, no street lights).
11pm – Goodnight!
Saturday – Upstream to Lough Key Forest Park and Boyle
8am – Good morning! After some early morning reconnaisance on foot, we like the idea of a short detour to explore Jamestown Canal.
8.40am – It's like stepping back in time. Solitude.
8.50am Immersed in this Victorian feat of engineering, it's left to Thomas to ask: "Dad, how are we gonna turn around?"
8.55am We manage a six–point turn. The E22 is pretty manoeuvrable. Phew! And in the process, we catch the unmistakable glimpse of a kingfisher flying alongside us.
9am – Turning back on ourselves, we head upriver on our journey to Lough Key Forest Park.
9.15am – This shower will pass! The heavens open and we're glad we've got umbrellas on the flybridge.
9.30am – Breakfast as we cruise: rasher sandwiches and a hot cup of tea served on deck. Can you beat it?
10am – Pitstop at Carrick to, ahem, check the car's locked!
10.05am – (Car now locked.)
10.30am – There's a knack to this navigation thing, but it's a game for all the family as we plot our course upriver. We remember to keep the red buoys to our left and the green on our right upstream. Downstream it's the opposite, green on left and red on right.
11am – Into Lough Eidin. This beautiful lake hit the headlines in 2000 when President Mary McAleese applied for planning persmission to build a lakeside house, outbuildings and a jetty here. We can see why, it's a tranquil place...just don’t scour the books looking for it by that name because it's more locally known as 'Drumharlow Lake' and it's a top fishing spot.
11.20am – Into the Boyle River.
11.40am – Cootehall. What an enchanting bend in the river that invites further exploration of John McGahern's hometown, but the quay has already got boats on it. Another jetty is in a state of collapse. Sadly, we sail on.
11.50am – Oakport Lough.
12 noon – We pass Knockvicar and Tara Marina and continue on the winding Boyle river.
12.30pm – Clarendon Lock, with its picturesque weir, is a very pretty Shannon setting.
12.35pm – Call from Seamus in Bike Trails: "Are ye still coming?" "See ya in 40 minutes, Seamus."
12.50pm – We spot The Moorings restaurant and a handy adjacent marina. Could this be a lakeside dining detour tonight?
1pm – Making our way across the lough, we pass several small islands, then it's a 90 degree left for our overnight berth. It's like we've sailed into a scene from Lord of the Rings with forests, islands, castles and turrets on every headland!
1.10pm – Mooring at Lough Key Forest Park Marina.
1.45pm – We saddle up with Seamus and we're on our way on an 8km bike trail.
3pm – What a ride! Tummies rumbling, we're ready for a snack at the Woodland Cafe.
4pm – Time for an afternoon nap on board for some, a spot of fishing for others. And is there time for Zipit? Certainly.
6.45pm – We take the Ranger Service for the 3km shuttle into Boyle. We're the only passengers.
6.55pm – Our bus driver points out Chris O'Dowd's family home. We're closing in on Moone Boy now!
7pm – We arrive in Boyle and pick up supplies at Londis on the hill. Oops, forgot the carrier bag! But the shop owner offers to drive us back to the boat. It's typical of the warm welcome here.
7.05pm – We head to Clarke's Bar and Restaurant in search of the 'Moone Boy Burger'.
9.45pm – Waiting for the return shuttlebus at King House.
10pm – We arrive back at Lough Key Marina. Still the only passengers.
10.05pm – Back on board E22. Why can't we get this heating to work?
10.06pm – Brrr! Night, night!
Sunday - Downstream to Carrick–on–Shannon (and Dun Laoghaire)
8am – A spot of early morning fishin'?
9am – Feeding the ducks as we wait for the onsite cafe to open.
10am – Breakfast toasties in hand, we're heading for downstream for home.
10.05am – Across Lough Key in autumn sunshine.
11.40am – Back in Cootehall – and now there's a free quayside berth! Take it!
12 noon – We hop ashore to explore. The door is locked at McHenry's. Everyone's at Mass....
12.10pm – Back aboard cruiser E22.
12.2pm – Enter Lough Eldin. A pair of swans take flight and fly alongside us for seemingly ages. Even enough time to grab the camera. It edges out yesterday's kingfisher as the wildlife highlight of the trip.
13.30pm – Return to Carrick-on-Shannon Marina, leaving E22 as we found her.
4pm – We arrive home in Dublin. Time for homework and school in the morning...
What's the verdict?
Writing in the Sunday Times recently, columnist India Knight described how a friend holidayed just 40 minutes from where she lived. She concluded that the things we love doing are often familiar – and close to home. This Shannon trip proved this was also the case for us. From kingfisher spotting to tree-top advenure, this was an intrpeid voyage by our standards. We never expected to find such good times along the river, and we thoroughly enjoyed our three days afloat.
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