Walking The Grand Canal

Walking The Grand Canal

Walking the Grand Canal certainly has a different feel to many of the walks and hikes that I document on wildirishwalks.ie. The exception being of course the series I wrote about walking the Royal Canal Way from Spencer Dock in Dublin to the village of Ballynacargy in County Westmeath. The most obvious difference with canal path walking is the flatness of the route. Being along the canal, you encounter no serious inclines or declines. 

In addition, as the Canal previously acted as a major transport route – there are many towns and villages located at frequent intervals along the canal. This means walking the Grand Canal provides plenty of services and amenities along the way.

I think the increased simplicity of walking the Grand Canal adds a different vibe to the day out too. When walking on your own, perhaps allowing for a little more introspection. When walking with others, there is more time for talking and conversation.

Why We Decided on Walking the Grand Canal

I had a little time off work between jobs and wanted to make the most of it. My wife has still working and my little boy was just getting settled in crèche. As such, I was (more or less) on my own for a couple of weeks during the daytime. I still needed to do crèche drop offs and collections. So any walking or hiking I completed needed to be done within these timeframes.

I created a list of east coast walking trails that fit into these parameters. I circulated this list to a few people to see if any of them had any free time and wanted to join me on one of these walks. My Mother came back and expressed an interest in the Grand Canal Walk between Hazelhatch and Sallins.

Mam is one of the few people I know who has completed the entire Royal Canal Way from Dublin to Cloondara in Longford. As such, walking some of the Grand Canal Way was something she wanted to try.     

The straightforward nature of the walk appealed to us both as it gave us an opportunity to properly catch up. While I see my Mam very regularly, there always seems to be a whirlwind of activity going on in the background. Walking the Grand Canal would be an ideal way to talk without fear of major distraction.

Our Route – Hazelhatch to Sallins

We chose a small section of the Grand Canal Way. The route from the train station in Hazelhatch to the station in Sallins is c. 14km in length. The great thing about walking from one train station to another is that you can get the train back to where you started. That was exactly our plan!

Please see alltrails.ie for my detailed map of the route.

Starting from Hazelhatch

After dropping Joe off to crèche and a quick cup of tea, we drove to Hazelhatch. The station operates a park and ride facility for the many commuters who use this amenity on a daily basis.

We arrived at the station just after 10am and easily found a space in the car park (albeit towards the back).

Signs in the car park outline the various ways to pay for the parking. We chose to do so via the ticket machine in the station. The good thing about it is that you just need to input your car registration number. We then didn’t need to go back out to the car to leave back the ticket. Parking cost €4.50 for the day.

Leaving the Station

We left the train station via the pedestrian exit that brought us out on to the busy Hazelhatch Road.

We then walked back on the footpath beside Hazelhatch road and over the station and rail tracks.

The road was extremely busy even at that time of the day. The loudness of the cars and lorries thundering by would be an extreme contrast to the calmness and solitude we would soon be experiencing along the canal path.

Joining the Canal

We walked about 700m along the footpath to Hazelhatch Bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge is quite narrow. Traffic lights on either side of the bridge are used to operate the one lane over the bridge. The narrowness also results in there are no footpaths for pedestriens.

The angle of the bridge means that you can’t see oncoming traffic and makes this a dangerous interchange. Please be extremely cautious for this small section of the route. 

We needed to wait for the green light on our side and then move across the bridge as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the queue of traffic waiting behind us were patient and we didn’t experience any issues.

We turned right and on to the canal path after crossing the bridge.

The initial section of the trail is alongside a lovely row of colourful barges and canal boats. The colours of the boats were in deep contrast to the greyness of the day that now seemed to engulf us.

We donned our rain gear as a persistent drizzle started to fall.

Arthur’s Way

While Dublin is most well known for its associations with Guinness, County Kildare has a strong claim too. The Arthur’s Way heritage trail is a testament to this and runs 16kms from Leixlip via Hazelhatch to Oughterrard.  

Arthur’s Way boasts four main attractions;

  • Leixlip being the location of the first ever Guinness Brewery (before moving to James’s Gate)
  • Arthur spent much of his childhood in Celbridge where this fact is commemorated with a statue in his honour in the centre of the town.
  • The “From Malt to Vault” exhibition in Ardclough.
  • Arthur’s final resting place in Oughterard

Arthur’s Way follows the Grand Canal Way between Hazelhatch Bridge and Henry Bridge (about 4km).

Aylmer Bridge

Given the wet damp morning, we were not surprised to have the pathway mostly to ourselves. We did see a couple of other walkers and chatted for a while to a nice man out with his dog.

We arrived at Aylmer Bridge which is located 2km along the canal from Hazelhatch bridge just as the rain stopped. While the day remained grey and cloudy, we thankfully didn’t have any more rain to deal with for the rest of the trip.

After Aylmer Bridge, a large stone wall ran parallel to our path. The wall marked the boundary to the Lyons Estate. The mansion house is huge and impressive and unsurprisingly comes with a rich history.

What I found most interesting is that the Lyons Estate was the location of a duel between our great emancipator Daniel O’Connell and Dublin Corporation member John D’Esterre. D’Esterre had taken offence at O’Connell calling Dublin Corporation a beggerly organisation and challenged him to the duel. D’Esterre must have regretted that decision after O’Connell inflicted a fatal wound with a shot to his hip.

University College Dublin purchased the Lyons Estate in the 1960’s and still have a farm at the location however they sold the house and half the land in the 1990’s. The house has changed hands a number of times since with Michael Smurfit being a notable former owner.

Tony Ryan (of Ryanair fame) purchased the house in 1996 and is reputed to have spent c. €100m renovating the property. The house is still in the Ryan Family despite their recent attempts to sell.

Cliff at Lyons

The village part of the Lyons Estate was purchased by the Cliff Collection in 2016 and converted to a Hotel – Cliff at Lyons.  The village section is right at the 13th Lock of the Grand Canal. We happily took advantage of this and stopped for a lovely coffee in “The Pantry at Trellis” cofffee shop.

Henry Bridge

The next landmark we encountered while walking the Grand Canal was Henry Bridge with the impressive Ardclough GAA facilities on our right as we approached.

Here is where Arthurs Way leaves the Grand Canal. Taking a left here would take you to Oughterard Cemetery and the grave of Arthur Guinness.

We continued on straight following the canal. As we make our way alongside the water, there were a few things that piqued our interest. Firstly, a herd of Llamas in the field to our left and then the old Ardclough schoolhouse which dates back to 1832.

We met a few cars along this stretch of the canal and needed to stand in to let them pass.

Ponsonby Bridge comes next and marks the hallway point (6.5km) between Hazelhatch Bridge and Sallins.

The Second Half of Walking the Grand Canal   

This section is fully pedestrianised so we didn’t need to worry about any more traffic. We didn’t meet any other walkers for quite a while with our only company being a heron we met shortly after the canal viaducts over the Painestown River.

We met more wildlife after the Devonshire Bridge when we passed a solitary swan on the canal.

We stopped just after the 15th Lock to look at the drainage system where excess water was pouring from the canal under the path and into the River Morrell to our left. 

Approaching Sallins

For the remainder of the walk, we enjoyed the quiet countryside and each other’s company. The final stretch of the canal path on the approach to Sallins was under repair when we undertook this walk (in October 2023). Instead signs directed us to a small country road overlooking the canal path.

The public road took us directly into Sallins. It had taken us 3 hours and 10 minutes to complete the c. 14km trail walking the Grand Canal.

We had time for a nice lunch in Cafe Grange before getting the 3 o’clock train back to Hazelhatch. Check irishrail.ie for train timetables.

Overall, this was a very pleasant and relaxing walk along a lovely stretch of Irish countryside.