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Newry Canal Way

Newry – (Ir) Iur Cinn Tra meaning “yew tree at the haed of the strand” Local tradition is that 2 large trees grew in the grounds of a 12th century Cistercian Abbey.

Scarva - (Ir) Scarbhach meaning “place of the shallow ford” (referring to shallow in a pre-canal watercourse).

Portadown – (Ir) Port an Dunairn meaning “landing place of the little fort” (possibly referring to a ferry which crossed the river here before a bridge was built in the 18th century.

A lovely linear ramble along the River Bann and Newry Towpath. A most interesting museum, the locks, the sights and sounds of the water make for a most enjoyable experience.

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Background

The discovery of coal in East Tyrone in the early 18th century encouraged the building of canal between 1731 and 1741 to link Lough Neagh to Carlingford Lough, the coal being then transported by sea to Dublin. No powered machinery was used and the workers (“nevvies” or navigators) had to supply their own spades/picks! Because of the difference in height between Lough Neagh and Carlingford Lough (70 feet), 14 locks had to be built to permit canal boats or lighters to “rise and fall” between these two places. The hey-day of the canal was 1750-1850 and used largely for the transport of heavy, bulky goods. Exports included dairy produce, timber, meat, crops and of course coal. Imports: ironware, machinery, chemicals etc. Such activity made Newry an imported town, including for emigrants after the 1845-47 famine.

Due to competition from railways from 1850 on, its importance declined, though it was not closed to navigation until 1947. Since 1974 the four councils boarding the canal have endeavoured to improve sections eg: Banbridge Council built Scarva Visitors Centre and Craigavon Council restored Money Penny’s Lock

Degree of Difficulty

Part 1:

Scooter/Manual wheelchair: 2/3 Moderately easy/difficult.

Surfaces are sound, ranging from tarmac to compounded fine gravel/quarry dust though occasional pot holes/puddles may require “navigation”. The path is wide and though you are right at water level should present no problems. Company essential.

Part 2:

Scooters/wheelchairs 4/5: difficult to challenging.

Company essential, especially to handle road crossings and gates. Surfaces as above.

The Ramble(s)

This follows the towpath along the River Bann and Newry Canal, now part of route 9 of the National Cycle Network. Access controls, particularly in Part II, in the form of gates and “kissing gates” restrict the passage of motor vehicles and may – in some instances – also prove impassable for scooters and wheelchairs. There are on-going improvements to remedy this situation but you may find obstacles and your plans should include this possibility!

The ramble consists of 2 parts:

Part 1: From Shillington’s Quay to Knock Bridge, a distance of about 2½miles. From there you may return, or by arrangement, be “picked up” in the car park at the bridge. This is the easier part of the ramble, and avoids most of the obstacles – and possible frustrations! encountered in the second

Starting from Shillington’s Quay, Portadown (beside the railway-disabled toilet and car park there) simple go down the red-bricked slope, turn right and join the towpath. Pass under a 4-arched bridge and veer right up a fairly steep slope: just beyond Tescos on the right hand side is a ramped fishing platform on the left. The metal gate ahead is passable by track on the right hand side. Shortly open countryside begins – the flood plain of the River Bann, with the pink Himalayan Balsam, Meadow Sweet, Convolvulus, Willow Herb, and Fern trees decorating the way in the summer. About ¾’s of a mile on is a striking triangular bridge reached by a gentle, then steeper incline. Care must be taken coming off the bridge: there ia a slope down, a 1½ inch step at the bottom and a right turn onto a fine gravel path. This place marks where the canal properly joins the River Bann. Onward. Soon the landscape gives way to a “tunnel” of trees. A wooden gate (usually open able) is also passable through a “kissing gate” on the right hand side. Now is Moneypennys Lock, Lock House and museum well worth a visit. Now, you have a choice: return the way you came, or carry on as far as you can!

Part 2: This continues on from Knock Bridge to Scarva a distance of just under 5miles. There are several gates on the way, which may or may not be passable so you must be prepared to abandon your journey. The “prize” if you succeed, is reaching the village of Scarva and possible refreshments! However that said……

Carry on from Knock Bridge (under the A50) where a signpost indicates “Scarva” 4¾miles. A fine gravel path leads to a passable “kissing gate” and onwards to an Information Board. The path now veers left over a wooden bridge with a quite steep downward slope (care!). Ahead is a wooden gate – usually open – but if not there is – or was – no way round for scooters/wheelchairs. Turn back! If you proceed one or two further hazards may be met: an awkward “kissing gate” and most certainly a busy road (the A51 Tandragee-Gilford) to cross at Madden Bridge. Great Care is needed. Onward two further gates are encountered, the second of which, at a scrape yard for security reasons – is sometimes closed – and therefore impassable. Here is Terry Hoogan Lock where the path veeres onto 400yards of public road (great care needed). Now is Campbell’s Lock, information board and car park. A tarmac path leads to a hump-back bridge and after a ¼mile the River Cusher Aqueduct (though top now removed) and information boards. Shortly, modern houses come in view on the left hand side and an impressive Weeping Willow. Turn left over a broad wooden bridge to Scarva Visitor Centre. Journey’s end! You will of course, remembered to arrange suitable transport to take you home…….

Facilities

Disabled toilets at railway station (and at Moneypenny’s museum, Scarva Visitor Centre (seasonal). Picnic sites and angling.

Features of Special Interest

  • The bridges, locks and other canal features.
  • Moneypenny’s Lock House and Museum/Exhibition (open April to September at weekends and Bank Holidays 2pm to 5pm)
  • Flowers, trees and bird life (herons, swans, mallards etc)
  • Scarva Visitor and Exhibition Centre. This and opening times of the Tea Room should be checked: normally April-September, Tuesday to Sunday. Sunday Band concerts June to September (Contact Tel: (028) 38832163)
  • Scarva “Sham Flights” 13th July annually.

Other Information

The route(s) are through a rural, isolated area, hence company essential.

 
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