The month of June is officially ‘Great Outdoors Month’ and a great opportunity to encourage friends, family and children to take some time away from the screens and harsh fluorescents and enjoy some natural beauty. The Royal Canal Greenway and Old Rail Trail in County Westmeath offer breathtakingly scenic cycle routes that run alongside the Royal Canal and an old railway line through the Hidden Heartlands. Cycle from the heart of Athlone town with its award winning restaurants and cultural attractions, to Mullingar and on to Maynooth or Longford, without ever leaving these safe, off-road scenic routes.
The Royal Canal Greenway is a 130km off-road level cycling and walking trail meandering along the banks of the picturesque 225-year-old canal through Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Longford. The greenway is a former towpath for barges featuring 90 bridges, 33 locks, 17 harbours and four aqueducts. Not only Ireland’s longest greenway, it’s also known for its scenic beauty, rich heritage and abundance of wildlife. The 165km self-guided National Famine Way also travels largely along the Greenway, following the footsteps of 1,490 emigrants who walked from Roscommon to Dublin at the peak of the famine in 1847.
The Old Rail Trail is 43kms in total, it traces the historic Midlands Great Western Railway track, past restored station houses and under pretty stone arched bridges. From the River Shannon in Athlone to the Royal Canal in Mullingar, it passes through areas of unique biodiversity and heritage. For rest and refreshments, there are great options at Moate and a new Station House restored into a café in Streamstown. Dún na Sí Amenity and Heritage Park is a popular option as it includes a pet farm, parklands, trails, heritage tours and outdoor art displays Bike hire is available at Athlone and Mullingar and options for electric bikes, tandem and child friendly trailers are available. The Old Rail Trail is a must-visit for history buffs, as it features a plethora of information about the old railroad and its history. Entirely off-road and mostly flat, this greenway is very safe for families and perfect for a leisurely cycle or stroll.
Both greenways are seamlessly linked so cyclists never have to leave the safety of the path and the two greenways together also form part of EuroVelo 2, a 5,000km “Capitals Route” that passes through Ireland, the UK and eastwards through mainland Europe. Now with the imminent opening of the new cycle and pedestrian bridge across the River Shannon in Athlone town, a strategic link will be formed across the Shannon as part of a new Dublin to Galway greenway.
Experience a sense of freedom and tranquillity while biking, running or walking along the gentle slopes and winding paths of the greenways away from traffic and noise. Imagine pedalling through miles of panoramic views and fresh air, surrounded by the smells and sounds of nature. And let’s not forget the health benefits – cycling, running and walking on greenways is a fantastic opportunity to keep exercising and stay active while enjoying the great outdoors. So, pack your picnic basket, grab your bikeand head off to explore the Royal Canal Greenway and the Old Rail Trail. It’s one of the most affordable, fun, and healthy ways to enjoy the great outdoors.