Belfast Telegraph

Walk of the Week: Toome Canal

By Linda Stewart

While six rivers drain into Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in Britain and Ireland, only the Lower Bann flows out.

The river makes its exit at Toome, where it starts its journey north to meet the Atlantic near Castlerock.

This is a 1.2-mile, off-road walk on paved pathways along the banks of Toome Canal, to the shores of Lough Neagh where a viewpoint provides wide panoramas over the lake.

Excavation work on Toome Canal has unearthed the remains of the late 17th century Toome Castle. It was one of several defensive castles constructed around the Lough shore during the 1600s.

Directions

From Belfast (estimated 30 mins), follow M2 North onto the M22. At the end of the M22 continue a long the A6. At the signpost for Toome take a right at the Brecart Roundabout onto the Moneynick Road. Follow this road and it will lead onto Toome Main Street. The road then veers left just past the bus stop. Turn left immediately as this road swings right and park in the small area opposite the lock-keeper’s cottage. The walk begins as you go along the canal bank towards the park gates.

From the parking area, walk south towards the lough shore along the banks of Toome Canal. To your right are the remains of the old railway bridge over the River Bann. A rail line from Randalstown to Cookstown was opened in 1856 and included the construction of the Carlisle Bridge. The railway was closed in the late 1950s following increased competition from road traffic.

On your right, as you continue to the shore are some of the Lower Bann sluice gates. For many generations, high winter rainfall draining into the Lough raised water levels, causing surrounding farmland to flood. Today, three sets of flood gates and five sets of locks on the Lower Bann allow the water level of Lough Neagh to be controlled by draining excess water during periods of high rainfall, and also maintain navigable flows during periods of lower rainfall. Today, Lough Neagh is 3.6 metres lower than it was in 1847 and the higher lake shores can still be seen at several places around the Lough today.

The path soon reaches the shores of Lough Neagh and a viewpoint provides wide panoramas over the Lough, which takes its name from ‘Loch nEathach’ meaning ‘Eochu’s Lake’. According to one legend, Eochu was the son of Mairidh who drowned when a mystical well overflowed to create the present day Lough. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, there were several attempts to re-name it, including Lough Sidney (after Sir Henry Sidney) and Lough Chichester (after Sir Arthur Chichester). To finish this short walk, simply retrace your steps along the canal bank to the parking area or follow the loop to the right back to the car park.

The Backdrop

Toome derives its name from the Irish ‘Tuaim’ meaning ‘pagan burial place’. An earlier name was ‘Fearsaid Thuama’, meaning ‘sand-bank ford of Toome’, referring to a former ford crossing of the Bann here.

Toome is famous for its eel fishery. The Lough Neagh Eel Fishermen’s Co-operative Society Limited controls the catching and marketing of eel and other scale fish from Lough Neagh and provides licences for around 100 commercial fishing boats.

On the shores of Lough Neagh at Churchtown Point lie the ruins of an ancient Irish Church and St Olcan’s Holy Well. There is a tradition that St Olcan's well was blessed with healing properties by St Olcan, who reputedly lies buried at Cranfield's 13th century church in earth brought from Rome. The well produces fine spring water and amber-coloured crystals, which were sought to protect women during childbirth, men from drowning and homes from fire and burglary. They were highly prized by those emigrating to America who believed that no ship could be wrecked that contained them.

In winter, the lough can be home to up to 100,000 waterfowl, mainly diving duck including the Goldeneye and Pochard. Other winter visitors include the Widgeon and Teal ducks. In summer, the Lough is home to the Common Tern and Black-Headed Gull. Many of these species live off midge larvae — in particular those of the Lough Neagh Fly.

Further information

For further information on walking or any other outdoor activity, contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or visit walkni.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

Walk Name: Toome Canal.

Area: Lough Neagh.

Nearest big town to start point: Toomebridge, Co Antrim.

Distance: 1.2 miles, circular.

Time: This walk should take around 30 minutes to complete.

Terrain: Flat gradient along paths to the shores of Lough Neagh.

Suitability: This is a short, circular walk on flat, paved pathways and is suitable for walkers of all ages and abilities.

Refreshments: The village of Toome is full of places to eat and drink. O’Neill’s is a short walk from the car park.

Publications: Antrim Borough: A Walking Guide. This leaflet is available to download on Antrim Borough Council’s website; antrim.gov.uk.

Walk Developed By: Antrim Borough Council.

Map: Sheet 14 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discovery Series, available from LPSNI Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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