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.
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.