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Cycle This Way: Go with the flow to Newry

By Linda Stewart

This walking and cycling route follows the towpath on the western bank of the Newry Canal and is one of the longest traffic-free cycling routes in Northern Ireland.

The route, from the Bann Bridge in Portadown to the Town Hall in Newry, is a 20-mile trip on part of National Cycle Network Route 9.

The Newry Canal connected Lough Neagh via the River Bann to the town of Newry and then through the Newry ship canal to Carlingford Lough and the Irish Sea. The canal opened in 1742, had become largely derelict by 1939 and was formally abandoned in 1949.

Whether it be the important archaeological sites around Scarva, the extensive linen history of Gilford and Tandragee, the famous and infamous characters who passed this way, the monastic and commercial importance of Newry or simply the superb engineering displayed by the canal itself, there will be something to fascinate every visitor to the area.

Directions

There is a train station at both Portadown and Newry, so you could get the train to either Portadown or Newry and then cycle to the other town. Alternatively, by car, take the Craigavon (Armagh) junction on the M1 and follow the signs to Portadown – you can start the trail just behind the Tesco car park in Portadown and work your way towards Newry.

Set off from Portadown at The Bann Bridge on Bridge Street. After one mile you will meet the Point of Whitecoat. This marks the end of the canal and the point where the River Bann meets the River Cusher.

Continue along the banks of the canal for approximately one mile to visit Moneypenny's Lock and Museum. This museum highlights the magnificent flora and fauna that brings the canal and towpath to life.

Continue past Knock Bridge to the next landmark of Terryhoogan Lock. With its original lock gates still intact, Terryhoogan is the 13th lock on the canal. It faces Terryhoogan House, where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is reputed to have stayed in the mid-18th century.

Approximately one mile further along you will enter the village of Scarva. This is the perfect place to stop off for soup and sandwiches and learn more about the history of the canal at Scarva Visitor Centre, located at the dock on the canal where vast quantities of coal were unloaded for use in the local linen industry. The centre helps to explain the building of the canal, its trade and Scarva's role within this.

Halfway between Scarva and Poyntzpass is the Acton Interpretive Centre. This centre is situated on the shores of Lough Shark/Acton Lake on the site of the original sluice-keeper's cottage and is open seasonally. The Visitors Centre explains, through a series of illustrative panels, how the canal was built, the technology involved and the problems encountered.

Just after the 10-mile-to-go point you will find Poyntzpass. The next landmark is Gamble's Bridge, also known as the Crack Bridge due partly to the crack in its wall and partly to its use as a meeting place to share a bit of craic.

After another five miles you will enter Jerrettspass, another small village. Between there and Newry you will cross Steenson's Bridge, a picturesque stone bridge incorporating three arches.

At the end of the route is Newry Town Hall, which was designed by William Batt and constructed in 1893. Art pieces can be seen along the route including some Millennium Mileposts and a series of specially-commissioned pieces that reflect the former work and nature of the Newry Canal.

Moneypenny's Lock is on the Newry Canal south of Portadown and is administered jointly by the Museum Services and the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre on Oxford Island.

The Newry Canal is the oldest 'summit level' canal in the British Isles and was a major feat of 18th century engineering and ingenuity. Moneypenny's Lock consists of the old lock chamber; the early 19th century lockkeeper's house itself (named after the Moneypenny family who were lockkeepers there for 80 years) and a stables and bothy.

The bothy provided overnight accommodation for the 'lightermen' as they journeyed along the canal and the stables provided overnight accommodation for their horses. These buildings contain displays illustrating life on the canal, from the 'canal folk' and the various types of boats that would have been seen on it to the flora and fauna that lived in the surrounding area.

Further information

For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) at, tel: 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.com.

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph, however, cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended accordingly.

Factfile

Cycle Name: The Newry Canal Towpath.

Nearest big town to start point: Portadown, Newry.

Distance: 20 miles, linear.

Terrain: All off public road except one very short section at Gamble's Bridge.

Access Restrictions: The Newry Canal Towpath is a shared use path and can be busy at times. Please give way to pedestrians and be prepared to dismount.

Refreshments: Available in Portadown, Tandragee, Scarva Visitors Centre, Poyntzpass, Jerretspass and Newry.

Publications: Newry Canal Towpath Leaflet downloadable from CycleNI.com and available from sustransshop.co.uk. Also available from Tourist Information Centres in Armagh and Newry.

Cycle Developed By: Sustrans, Banbridge, Craigavon, Armagh, Newry & Mourne District Councils.

Map: Sheets 20 and 29 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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