Walk for the Weekend: Looping the loop in the lowlands
Three interlinking walks follow the banks of the river Shannon, the Errina canal and the Headrace canal
The lovely stone Errina bridge over the canal
The increasing involvement of communities in developing walk ways in suitable areas in their locality has been one of the most welcome developments in outdoor activities in recent years. Depending on the landscape and the tracks available, there is naturally a wide variety in the quality of the walks, but I was lucky enough to come across a real gem in O’Briensbridge in Co Clare recently. Riverside walks and old canal tow paths have been linked up to create a wonderful walk along wooded banks which have developed naturally over 200 years.
The town was an important port on that area of the Lower Shannon where canals were used to bypass the shallow reaches of the river. The Shannon hydro-electric scheme ended its key role in Ireland’s water transport system. However, it is now a significant part of Ireland’s inland waterway walks.
Three interlinking looped walks follow the banks of the river Shannon, the Errina canal and the Headrace canal. The walks also form part of Lough Derg Way.
The trailhead starts in the centre of the town and I opted to head south along the banks of the Shannon. It was glorious walking on the solid path through the rich variety of vegetation framed against the still waters of the river. Along the way there were reminders of the original function of the path as I crossed the first of seven attractive humpback bridges, all of which had a low wall on their riverside to allow for the barge ropes connecting to the horses’ tackle. Along the way also were milestones giving the distance to Killaloe and Limerick.
After a long straight stretch you leave the banks of the Shannon and enter the towpath of the Errina canal and the vegetation closes in over the narrow waterway until one reaches the lovely stone Errina bridge. From the bridge, I headed towards Clonlara on the Red Loop to inspect the only triple lock in Ireland. It is well fenced off and impossible to get a good look at it so I retreated to the left side of the Blue Loop which runs along the side of the Headrace canal. Unlike the enclosed nature of the loops so far, here the path runs along a high artificial bank and there are distant views of mountains above dense evergreen woodland. The walking is easy as it is on grass close cropped by sheep who are obviously so used to walkers that they took absolutely no notice of me as I walked among them.
Eventually, I arrived back in O’Briensbridge and joined the path which runs upstream to the Hydro Dam. A capstan on the riverbank, used to haul the barges when the waters were running wild, is framed against the elegant 12-arch bridge which connects Clare and Limerick at this point. At the furthest end of the Green Loop you come to the hydro dam which was built in the 1920s to hold back the waters of Lough Derg. A walk back along the bank of the Headrace canal completes one of the most pleasant lowland walks I have had in some time.
WALKS: O’BRIENSBRIDGE, CO CLARE
Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 58
Start & finish: O’Briensbridge. Co Clare. Grid reference: 664 668
How to get there: Take Exit 28 on the M7 on to R 525
Time: Three hours
Distance: 12 Km
Suitability: Route is easy.
Food & accommodation: Killaloe.