Saturday, July 23, 2011

and more Royal Canal

Not too far beyond Coolnahay (in boating time) lies Mullingar, a sizeable Midland town whose populace is unfamiliar with passing boats. The canal loops around the backs, passing under bridges from which people gazed in astonishment and, in some cases, pure bewilderment. Boaters are warned not to spend the night here, but we planned to pause for shopping.

There are two harbours marked on the chart - one before Scanlan's Bridge and one after. It was obvious where to stop. It was lunchtime, the sun was finally shining, and there was an area like a croquet lawn surrounded by high stone walls and a big gate. There was also a service block and we were in need of showers. We can do this on the boat, but it's much easier to use the facilities provided. We had only three units left on the smart card. A shower is two. But I'd seen two fellows making two washes out of two units in Carrick so reckoned we could do the same.

A while later we were clean, fed and in need of shopping. A quick move to the other side of the bridge. There was a gate on our enclosure with a button to get out and smart card to get in but it was padlocked. There was another small enclosure - surrounded by railings - on the other side of the wall with no padlock, but the other side of the bridge was closer to town. Joe went in search of shops and came back pushing a trolley from Dunnes.

A couple of days later we made it as far as Maynooth where we picked up a mac and not because it was raining. We'd approached along the wall of St Patrick's College, Ireland's National Seminary and Pontifical University. I love the sound of a pontifical university. No need to write essays. You can just pontificate all day long. It's unfortunate (and maybe fitting) that the word meaning 'of or befitting a pontiff; papal' also means 'pompously dogmatic' (Concise Oxford Dictionary).

Turning sharply into the harbour Winter Solstice decided she would go in a different direction, first towards a small island, then towards some evil-looking timber spikes. It was just as we were completely blocking the navigation that the only boat we'd passed in days came towards us. It was a hire boat. They were completely nonplussed.

After some severe steering (and words) we managed to wrestle Winter Solstice against the wall. Joe poked about with the boat hook in the general direction of the port prop. He caught on something and tugged. We thought it was a wet suit moment, but no! Here was the eventual result. The raincoat.

It was on our way back that the wet suit was got out, on the outskirts of Mullingar. We limped into Piper's Harbour - I think that's what it's called - the Piper's bit is certainly correct. The log is on the boat so I can't check at the moment. This was the original Mullingar harbour, and is so called because musicians used to play to the passengers coming in from Dublin. We tied up with the help of a passing stranger and Joe did his usual poking around with the boat hook. No luck this time. So here's the result. Spot the difference:


A fertilizer bag around the starboard prop and string and fishing line around the port.

We stopped at Riverstown on the way back where they have a rather splendid signal box.

The platform is still there, albeit somewhat broken up. There's a campaign going to get the station open again. We followed the railway line all the way into Maynooth and became rather fond of the trains, even though they could be startling right next to your head first thing in the morning.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And onto the Royal Canal at last

The Royal Canal is very short of WiFi hotspots, which is no bad thing for the state of mind but not great if you want to update a blog. So this will have to come in a couple of batches and in retrospect. Here we go heading for the first bridge leading from Richmond Harbour at Clondra.

We were a little dopey, I have to say, having gone to bed at 3 am. We'd wandered into the Camlin Bar after a dreary pint in the Richmond Inn where in the bar a fellow was complaining loudly about everything and in the lounge a country and western singer was droning. We were on our way back to the boat, really, and to bed, but thought we'd have a look. There were four accordian players well on in their years and a singer with a guitar. The standard of the accordian players, I have to say, was a bit rusty but it looked fun and welcoming. The rust was because this was only the second session of the year due to the postponement of summer, and they didn't play in between these Wednesday sessions. We ran back to the boat in lashing rain to fetch the instruments.

The first novelty was the automatic lifting bridge between Clondra and Killashee. We hadn't been able to leave Richmond Harbour the evening before because the water patrollers (less well paid than lock keepers but having to do the same job) knock off at five except at the weekend and don't get overtime. The automatic bridge is supposed to rise automatically as you would expect, its sensor clocking your arrival and doing the business. But there's some problem. Birds can set it off apparently. And perhaps dropping leaves. Anyway, we didn't mind and the patrollers were as helpful as you could ever want. Here's the lifting bridge lifted. It's a tight turn to get under the lifting and then the old hump back.

First stop for the night Ballybrannigan. Very pretty, all done up by the local branch of the Royal Canal Amenity Group (RCAG) whose work we enjoyed all the way along the route. They've renovated the old ticket office which sold tickets for people emigrating to new worlds. There's a broken-down canal store too which the small dog was itching to get into to see if there was anything good to eat like pigeon shit or dead rats.

The ticket office is signposted from the main road to Cavan which we'd passed many times on our way up to the boat on Lough Erne. It was one of those signs you felt you'd like to follow, but there were still many miles ahead and you really wanted to get to the boat. We spotted this sign when we walked into Ballymahon for supplies and a glass of something. It's a decent walk and an easy cycle. Skelly's is a great little bar with good wine and a reputation for its food, though we didn't eat there. There's a picture of it in the Canal Guide.

This was happening beside the ticket office: 

There are great flights of locks on the Royal. On the Grand they're more spaced out, and there are ten fewer. It was the day of the thundery rain and the fat drops were coming as thick and fast as the locks. The water patrollers were in great form though and saw us through. One of the lads was employed by Waterways Ireland, the other was an agency worker. The agency workers get paid a lot less than the patrollers although they do the same job. There's trouble brewing here I'd say, and rightly so.

Over the years we've deployed a variety of methods for going up in a lock when there are only the two of us. On the Royal for some reason we found the easiest way was for me to stand on the bow with a rope while Joe did the muscle stuff with racks and gates. A big fender out at the port stern quarter and we were grand. With the lads doing the gates it could have been either of us outside, but I volunteered because I had the better rain gear. Drizabone full length waxed coat, my new Tilly hat (Christmas present) rolled up trousers and plastic Crocs. Invincible!

That was a long day ending in Coolnahay, the harbour of the beautiful flowers, all seen to by the lady of the house and her daughter in the lock keeper's cottage whose name I didn't get but should have. That's another difference between the Royal and the Grand - there are frequent harbours, good harbours, on the Royal. We didn't need our stakes and boarding plank nearly as frequently.

It was just after this we picked up the pigeon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Deer deer

The deer have been eating my runner beans.

Look at this poor thing. All stalk and no leaves. The deer have been coming into the hollow more regularly now that the forestry on our flanks has grown up. Plenty of cover for them and a nice little snack in my kitchen garden. To be fair they haven't done much damage to the vegetables in previous years - they stuck to the young apple trees for that. Slugs have always been the problem, but the slimes didn't even touch the beans in spite of the weather being so damp and mollusc friendly. The horticultural grit I put around the beans on planting out seems to have kept the slugs off, keeping them (the beans) sweet for the wretched deer.

A friend was here for lunch the other day, an agent for a traditional musician who gets sent endless demo CDs and now has a spare-room-full. She didn't feel she could throw them out, but when I told her about the deer in the hollow she offered me some. She'd heard that deer are afraid of the shiny discs spinning in the breeze and keep away. And that wouldn't exactly be throwing the demos away, would it.

I haven't collected any from her yet, and maybe I won't need to. I had a trawl through the filing cabinet and came up with a dozen discs from previous computers and their applications. Here's the result:

So far it seems to be working. I have other deer prevention measures too. Not content with eating my garden, they also traipse through it when nicely raked into seed beds. I thinned out a black bamboo from the haggard and was wondering what to do with the canes. Here's a double solution:

No delicate but deep footprints since the barriers went up. The deer clearly look for a pathway through, and of course the poor dears (wince) don't know there are carrot and parsnip seedlings coming up so I can hardly blame them.

Currant time of year. A bit of a panic on really as we're off to the boat today and I've only picked a couple of containers worth for the freezer. But seeing as I still had some left from last summer's huge crop that's perhaps not a bad thing. The red currants are so beautiful:

Every time I go down a couple of blackbirds fly out of the currant bushes clucking and scolding at me interrupting their feast. How dare I! I don't mind leaving half the crop to them. They need it more than I do. I am sorry, though, that the raspberries are just starting. I adore raspberries and they freeze so well. They always get used. I resent the birds eating these, but they'll have most of them this year. Fortunately I put in some autumn raspberries this year (thank you Anne) so at least we may have a late crop.

The 'mushrooms' we bought from Birr Castle plant sale are in place. Here's one of them:

I think this is the one for big bottoms. The small-bottom one is overlooking the lower hollow.

We were sitting in the conservatory the other day having a cup of tea at tea time when a pine marten strolled through the courtyard and right past us, big rat in its mouth. We've seen a lot of pine martens this year - by a lot I mean three or four. They're very shy and don't show themselves. This one was a beauty.

Damn. It's raining. I still have to plant out more lettuce plants before we go away.