Three days, 2.5 hours, 45 minutes along the Barrow River

The world feels somewhat off limits these days. With travel restrictions and quarantines in place around the world many of our eyes have focused locally for this year’s dose of adventure. Ireland does not disappoint that’s for sure. With a van full of outdoor toys there are so many options. This was a little trip (given that it was only a weekend) but the information here is as applicable for a long trip too.

The Barrow River is really beautiful… if you really want to it links with the Grand Canal system and then on to the Shannon. So lots of adventuring to be done! 20-25km a day is a decent pace but I’m no hardcore paddler and my boat isn’t exactly streamlined. I reckon 30-35km a day in a more traditional kayak. Others using Canadian canoes were doing about the same pace or slower due to the locks. There are a bunch of outfitters along the river that you can rent both Canadian canoes and camping gear from.

The Plan

Take my inflatable canoe down the Barrow River with a bike strapped to the front so I could cycle back to the start and then drive my van back to where I finished to pick up my stuff. Easy, right? As it turned out, yes!

Some things to know that make planning a lot easier!

  • Google maps has the river equivalent of “street view” so you can check out all the locks before hand for camping spots.
  • Camping along the tow path (not the other side) is permitted by Waterways Ireland so long as you are not blocking access (to the path or to the lock operation – one assumes).
  • The best camping spots are by the locks so that makes it easy to split up / plan your journey and if one is busy there is often another within a couple of kilometres.
  • I asked permission to park at the hotel (leaving name, reg of the van, and my number) they were hesitant but very accommodating.
  • St. Mullins is where people finish their river trips and the outfitters arrange to collect them. With this knowledge I’m sure one can make arrangements if you are in a situation like mine.

Preparation

  • Water – I brought enough for the trip but there are some spots you can refill (Graiguenamanagh campsite for example)
  • Paddling on your own – there are surprisingly few people along the river so just be aware of your limitations and be safe
  • Cellphone coverage – Virgin Media was only really available in towns so if you want to check things (weather, locks etc.) get the map before.
  • Baggage – Life through the locks was a lot easier when the gear was packed into a couple of bags that could be stowed front and back. If I did this again I’d certainly get some big dry bags rather than what I used. I did use smaller dry bags for things like clothes and sleeping bag.

The Route

In Summary (47km on the water, 50km on the bike along the tow path / road).

  • Start point (around 1pm on a Saturday) in the canoe: Carlow Town (actually the Woodford Dolmen Hotel)
  • Night 1: 21km to Slyguff Lock (about 6hrs)
  • Night 2: 22km to Carriglead Lock (about 6hrs)
  • Final day (in the boat): 4km to St. Mullins
  • Cycle back along the tow path to Carlow 50km (2.5hrs)
  • Drive back to St. Mullins (to pick up gear and lunch) 41km (45mins).

What I’d do differently… The Slyguff Lock appears to be rather popular (read, potentially noisy with people that don’t understand that 4am really is a little late to be singing at the tops of their voices) and the lock before and after are both beautiful spots.

What worked well… the short last day on the river was great in that I was able to spend time chatting to folk before getting packed up. I was also able to cycle back to my van and return in time for lunch (the cafe is mad busy!) and enjoy more good company. The pace worked really well, although I did paddle for 6-7hrs a day.

Words of caution… the locks (particularly without a lock key) are a real time suck. With the need to unload, move the boat and the gear from one side of the lock to the other, and reload there is definitely a temptation to bypass the locks using the weirs. On the second day I did this for all but 3 locks. It was great! BUT… if you haven’t done it before I wouldn’t recommend it, particularly if you’re on your own. On my last day I had word from a local that a couple of Dublin lads had ended up in trouble at the Millford weir knocking himself out and heading home with what seemed to be a concussion. Be safe, weirs are dangerous even if there’s not much water flowing over them. If you do want to try there are (for the most part) cutaways in the weir were you can see the water flows deeper. Sometimes they run along a low wall which makes things trickier. Again, best not try unless you know what you’re doing.

The kit

I choose my road bike for this (over a mountain bike) because it was lighter for the boat. The bumpy ride back made me slightly regret that decision or at least my arms and butt certainly did).

In the water

  • Itiwit 2 person inflatable kayak (the lime green one)
  • Itiwit 2 piece carbon paddle
  • Itiwit buoyancy vest
  • Pump (for said kayak)
  • Puncture repair kit
  • 2m 20mm accessory straps
  • 6m throw rope with two carabiners (for mooring and as a throw/rescue rope, although. a little short for that).
  • Water shoes (or you’ll get your feet wet).

On the bike

  • Canondale Supersix Evo Red 22
  • Helmet
  • Cycling shoes (with the right peddles I probably wouldn’t have brought these)
  • CO2 gas inflator, puncture repair kit, tire levers, spare inner tube

Living arrangements

  • MSR Hubba NX
  • Rab Ascent 300 (a little warm but use what you got, right?!)
  • Thermarest NeoAir Xlite
  • MSR Reactor 1l stove (4 Oz gas canister)
  • Meals were freeze dried meals (meh), a bunch of snacks,
  • A lot of water (probably too much) but I’m glad I had it – 10 litres.
  • Powerbank to charge my phone (camera, navigation).
  • Earplugs… noisy neighbours one night…

To wear

  • Base layers
    • 2 T-shirts (non-cotton)
    • Extra layers (shoulda checked the forecast as I didn’t need them) – base layers (top and bottom)
  • Mid layer
    • Black Diamond CoEfficent Hoody
    • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
  • Hardshell (you know, good old Irish weather)
    • Arcteryx Zeta FL PacLite Goretex Jacket
    • North Face Shinpuru Goretex pants
  • Miscellaneous
    • Cycling shorts
    • Shorts (I paddled and cycled in) with lots of pockets
    • Light trekking pants

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