On your bike, where the Old Rail Trail meets Royal Canal Greenway
A cyclists dream, you can now cycle along the Old Rail Trail from Athlone and join up with the Royal Canal Greenway. Giving you loads of routes, stops and options along the way. You can turn left and cycle to the end of the greenway to Cloondara or stay and explore Mullingar.
Lovely mention for the Old Rail Trail in this weeks Irish Examiner “Nine of Ireland’s best greenways to explore this summer”.
The Old Rail Trail Greenway
“Mullingar is probably the only town to have not one but two greenways pass through its doorstep, with the Old Rail Trail winding 40km from the town to Athlone. As its name suggests, this dedicated cycle path follows the former Midlands Great Western Railway track through the luscious Westmeath countryside before finishing in Athlone.
The rural route is a haven for cyclists with tarmac paths the whole way through, and the option to hire bikes at the trails beginning in Garrycastle. For those looking to make a day of it and wish to explore a little more, the Dún na Sí Amenity and Heritage Park in Moate, 10 minutes outside of Athlone, explores the rich heritage and traditions of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.”
A Little Bit of Background to the Old Rail Trail
“The Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) was the third largest railway company in Ireland, in the mid-19th century with a railway network of 866 km across the midlands. The MGWR lines linked Dublin to both Galway and Sligo and in doing so brought an extensive railway network to Westmeath. The railway brought prosperity to the towns along the route, particularly the two largest – Mullingar and Athlone.
Due to the development of the road network, the railway line from Mullingar to Athlone was closed by Córas Iompair Éireann (CIE) in 1987. As part of the works for the Old Rail Trail, Westmeath County Council carried out conservation works to protected structures at both Moate and Castletown Stations. Some of the wonderful stone arch bridges along the Old Rail Trail are protected structures, where these are crossed by the Trail they can be identified by the newly erected old style parapet railings.”
Stops Along the Way
Before you hop on a bike, take a stroll along the Shannon Banks to the magnificent Athlone Castle! Climb the steps to the castle keep and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views across the majestic River Shannon. Or climb higher still to the castle battlements and look across the rooftops of the entire town. Take a step back in history and discover the ancient stories through swords, cannon balls, stunning sculptures and the fantastic interactive displays at the Visitor Centre. www.athlonecastle.ie
Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park
Directly accessible from the Old Rail Trail at Moate, Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park should not be missed. Features include a fantastic playground, outdoor art displays, guided heritage tours and genealogy as well as a great locally run café with outdoor seating overlooking the park and play areas. Enjoy the walking and cycling trails through a wetland nature reserve and planted parkland or unwind with traditional Irish music and dance. www.dunnasi.ie
Feel dwarfed by the majesty of the iconic stone arch bridges at Streamstown and soak up the railway heritage as you cycle along! Here the Old Rail Trail passes under some of the most extraordinary examples of masonry stone arched bridges on the trail.
Opened in 1851, the now restored Castletown Station once catered for both passenger and goods transport before closing in 1963. Today, it is the turn off point for the quaint village of Castletown Geoghegan, a short 3km from the station by public road, providing access to refreshments.
Hill of Uisneach
As Ireland’s mythological and sacred centre, the Hill of Uisneach captivates visitors with its huge significance that pre-dates recorded history. It’s a must-visit when exploring Ireland’s Ancient East and a short 6km diversion from Castletown Station will take you there. Guided tours are available daily by passionate locals who will send you away dreaming of these enigmatic and sacred lands.
For bike hire in Athlone, check out Buckley Cycles www.buckleycycles.ie/bike-hire
Royal Canal Greenway
The Old Rail Trail meets the Royal Canal Greenway at Ballinea and Newbrook. From here it’s just a short spin into Mullingar for a rest, refreshments, culture and craic. The Blueway Activity Zone at Mullingar Harbour offers multiactivity exploration of the Royal Canal, including kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
Details where it joins HERE
A Little Bit of Background to the Royal Canal Greenway
New addition to the cycling and walking scene, the Royal Canal Greenway is Ireland’s longest off-road greenway currently stretching over 105km across four counties.
Starting in Longford crossing over Westmeath, Meath and Kildare, this is a good challenge for those looking to push themselves this summer while. There are multiple entry points to this greenway, so it’s possible to enjoy a section at your leisure, and fully embrace the countryside surroundings and pretty scenic views that you’ll find alongside the canal, although bike hire options are limited so it’s best to bring your own.
The route can also be taken on county by county, the longest stretch running at 43km across Westmeath. Take some time to explore the surrounding towns and their history, such as St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford, the stunning grounds at Carton House in Maynooth, or take the kids on an adventure via Enfield Fairy Trail.
The Royal Canal Greenway & Cloondara
If you decide to venture further afield from Mullingar, you can join the Greenway from the Old Rail Trail and head towards Cloondara in County Longford. Cloondara marks the end of the Royal Canal Greenway and is a beautiful harbour village worth the visit. The distance to Cloondara from Mullingar is approximately 55km, so be sure to plan your trip carefully with stops along the way or cycle by section.
The Royal Canal Greenway & The National Famine Way
The National Famine way starts off in Strokestown Park House in County Roscommon and joins at Cloondara and follows the canal all the way up to Dublin. It is a self-guided Trail detailing the ill-fated journey of 1,490 famine emigrants who walked from Strokestown Park to ships in Dublin in 1847, at the height of the Irish Famine. Along the trail you will see over thirty pairs of bronze shoe sculptures marking their sorrowful journey. There is the National Famine Way Passport which allows participants to record their progress with stage stamps. As well as indicating the amenities available along the route the Passport/Guide also calls attention to important local history and cultural highlights.
Get your Official National Famine Way Pack HERE
See more ideas for your 2021 staycation at Athlone.ie