REACHING THE SUMMIT - In this weeks episode of Waterways Dick and the crew of Rambler reach the end of the Long Level and begin locking up to the summit level of the canal. Dick disembarks at Riverstown to explore long abandoned railway station at Killucan. No train has stopped here for 47 years, there's an eerie post-apocalypse feel about the place. James A. Corroon remembers a much busier time when passengers and livestock were regularly transported from Killucan Station. A campaign has begun to get the station re-opened again to serve the expanding communities surrounding it.
Rambler faces a new obstacle on the canal - an accommodation bridge. It's there to accommodate a farmer who has land on both banks of the canal. It's a lifting bridge that has to be raised to allow boats to pass. Dick struggles with counter-balancing weights to lift the bridge, Rambler slides under. The level is so low that she is now sliding along the bed of the canal rather than floating on it. It's very slow going for Dick and the crew.
Trains speed past the crew, Dick notes that the canal and the railway line have a close relationship, but not always a loving one. It was, after all, the competition from the railways that was a major factor in the decline of trade on the Royal Canal. This decline led to its final closure in 1961, a closure that was to last half a century. When the canals were being built they developed their own vocabulary. What on a railway line is called a 'cutting' was called a 'sinking' on a canal.
In the early 1800's, the navies used charges of gun-powder, mules and shovels to cut their way through a limestone outcrop. This was a difficult and expensive business two hundred years ago when nothing was mechanised. Dick and the crew head into the second 'sinking', a very narrow cutting, barely wider than Rambler. The canal bends space and time to create its own dimension. Ireland has disappeared in a quaternion equation. Dick and the crew are in their own world, canal-land. Rambler rambles through the cutting, her great bulk shouldering the water aside as we plod down the sinking.
Finally the sinking spits them out and they glide under a bridge and into a very different landscape. Once you leave Dublin behind, Mullingar is the largest town on the canal. So arriving here is a big deal for Dick and the crew, a major event in their journey. And now they're more than half way to the Shannon. Mullingar has a fine canal harbour, one of the finest in the country. It invites Rambler in, greets the crew as survivors of the sinking. It's late, so the crew tie up to spend the night here.
The following day Dick takes his canoe off Ramblers deck and paddles up the Lough Owel feeder to do some exploring. The main water supply for the Royal Canal comes from Lough Owel, the lake also feeds the taps of Mullingar and Cullion fish farm beside it. Dick pays a visit to the fish farm.
Over many decades Lough Owel has been preserved primarily as a trout fishery,although some Pike angling is available. The lake has a resident stock of wild brown trout. The average size of trout is about 1.5lbs to 2lbs. Anglers report catching trout up to 7lbs and over every season. Lough Owel has few tributaries, all of which are small. Spawning and nursery facilities for brown trout are extremely limited. As a result, a number of wild Owel trout are stripped each year. Lough Owel supplies trout to rivers and fish farms throughout the country. On average, over 200,000 ova are transferred to Cullion Fish Farm in Mullingar and stocked back into the lake at the unfed fry stage. In addition up to 10,000 adult brown trout are stocked into the lake on a phased basis over the year. These management programmes seek to ensure that Lough Owel is maintained as a well renowned trout fishery.
Back in his canoe, Dick paddles on towards Lough Owel until he can go no further as he has reached the sluice house. At one time a man lived in this wonderful house on the feeder and the banks of Lough Owel, with his family, regulating the flow of water, letting out more if the barge traffic was heavy through Mullingar. Back on Rambler, Dick and the crew pull into Ballinea Harbour where Louis Peppard has a treat for them - he shows Dick how to make delicious potato boxty on an open griddle.
At Coolnahay a serene and picturesque harbour, Clare Christie recounts tales of life as a lock keepers daughter and living in the lock keeper's cottage. And following another flight of locks, Rambler begins to descend into the Shannon River basin. Dick and the crew are slowly getting there and Dick is developing mixed feelings about it. He wants to arrive, but doesn't want to stop travelling. The destination is now both a promise and a threat.
Episode Four is airing October 23rd 2011 on RTE1 at 8.30pm