Pack up the bike, the kids and the dog — the Newry Canal Towpath is one of the longest traffic-free walking and cycling routes in Northern Ireland.
The 20-mile trip follows the towpath along the western bank of the Newry Canal and is part of National Cycle Network Route 9. The canal historically linked Lough Neagh via the River Bann to the town of Newry, carrying on through the Newry ship canal to Carlingford Lough and the Irish Sea. It opened in 1742, had become largely derelict by 1939 and was formally abandoned in 1949.
This bike ride is the perfect opportunity to explore 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 and the superb engineering displayed in the canal itself.
There is a train station at both Portadown and Newry, so you could get the train to either town and then cycle to the other. 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 reach 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, which 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 farther, 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 Visitors 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-miles-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. 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.
The lock consists of the old lock chamber, the early 19th century lockkeepers 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.
For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN) 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.
Cycle Name: The Newry Canal Towpath.
Nearest big town to start point: Portadown, Newry.
Distance: 20 miles linear.
Terrain: Towpath, all off public road except one short section at Gambols Bridge.
Access Restrictions: The Newry Canal Towpath is a shared-use path and can be busy at times.
Refreshments: Available in Portadown, Tandragee, Scarva Visitor Centre, Poyntzpass, Jerretspass and Newry.
Publications: Newry Canal Towpath Leaflet, downloadable from CycleNI.com. Available from sustransshop.co.uk and also 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).