These are the adventures of Andy and Sally Rawnsley on their narrowboat "The Puzzler". We have been living on the boat for over nine years now and are still loving it. Our Ulster born Shih Tzu, Shannon, has grown up, and has taken over the boat! After three wonderful years in Ireland, we transported The Puzzler to The Netherlands, and spent a year there. In 2015 we went southwards, to reach the north of France by June. After glorious weather throughout the summer, we arrived in Roanne in late October, and enjoyed our winter in this friendly port. We cruised extensively in France in 2016, 2017 and 2018, returning to Roanne each winter.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

20th - 24th August. Scarriff River, then Lough Derg to Killaloe

Once the wind died down, we set off westwards on Lough Derg. As usual here, the clouds are quite spectacular. The west end of Lough Derg becomes Scarriff Bay, and leads to the Scarriff River.

On leaving the lough, it is like entering a different world. Reeds line both sides of the river here, and the water is so still.

Scarriff Harbour has concrete finger moorings, which are not too high for Catkin. Looking back down the harbour here, the Waterways Ireland Offices can be seen at the end. Autumn colours have come early to the horse chestnut tree. 

The harbour is only fifty yards further on to the left from this junction. As boats are not allowed up Scarriff River from this point, we took the dinghy, and were able to go a further half mile. As we rounded the first corner we came upon some fishermen, who had not heard us coming, the electric engine being so quiet. Once we had untangled the fishing line from the propellor shaft, we carried on! Luckily the propellor itself is quite deep in the water.

Reddan's Quay is a small mooring further back on the Scarriff River. Mini Puzzle had been towed behind The Puzzler, but we stopped here to deflate it, ready for our long sail down to the south of Lough Derg. We had planned to stay here overnight, but as the weather was so calm, we carried on. Lough Derg is much more comfortable in calm conditions.

At the bottom end of Lough Derg, there is a new jetty at Killaloe, which only opened in June this year. There are lots of water and electric points right along the jetty.

Killaloe, on the right bank of the Shannon River, is a surprisingly hilly town. St. Flannan's Cathedral is situated near to the river and is an impressive building.It was built in the 13th Century, but with a new tower added in 1800.

We found a good walk up the hill above the moorings.
Killaloe canal can be seen to the right of the Shannon, with the new jetty to its left. Killaloe bridge is beyond the new jetty, with Ballina village on the far bank, underneath the rainbow.
Killaloe canal was originally built to bypass a former weir. When Ardnacrusha Dam was built, it raised the water levels, and the canal lock has been removed, as there is no longer a weir. However the canal is currently not passable, due to this gate, which prevents the full force of the river from causing erosion by flowing down the canal. Catkin is wearing her boots to protect her feet from the rough surfaces which abound on walkways and paths.

The road on the bridge at Killaloe is very narrow, and is controlled by traffic lights, to the annoyance of busy traffic. From the river though, the bridge is very attractive. There is room to moor a few boats above the bridge in Ballina.

We were lucky to see these swans flying down the River Shannon past The Puzzler.

Friday, 19 August 2011

17th - 19th August. Mountshannon and Inishcealtra on Lough Derg

Catkin liked the mooring at Drummaaan so much that when her lifejacket was put on, ready for her to sail, she went on strike! She lay down on the bankside, and refused to move! Only when stern words were used did she deign to climb back on board. It could have been that she anticipated another rough passage.

However, it was a lovely day as we sailed on down Lough Derg to Mountshannon, which can be seen ahead, in the distance.

We managed to moor just inside the harbour wall, so had an interesting view of all boat comings and goings.

This is the view from our galley window, looking across Lough Derg, to the hills beyond.
The harbour at Mountshannon is very picturesque.
There are about 40 yachts at anchor near to the main harbour. As an anchored boat will always face into the wind, it has been interesting when the wind changes direction, seeing all the boats gradually move round. Smaller boats seem to be quicker to react to a change.

The beach at Mountshannon is a blue flag beach and is very attractive with grass all round it. This sculpture, which has been cut out of stainless steel, overlooks the swimming area. A lifeguard is on duty all day, every day, even though there are few swimmers this week.

There is an attractive village park at Mountshannon, which made for some pleasant walks.
 We took our dinghy, now named Mini Puzzle, for its first major outing to Inishcealtra, which is also known as Holy Island. It can be seen  between the two yachts at anchor, and lies just over a mile from Mountshannon harbour. It can only be reached by dinghy. We left Catkin on The Puzzler.

Looking back from Inishcealtra to Mountshannon at the far side of the bay, we realised how far we had come! There was another dinghy approaching the island but we saw no-one else there during our visit.

The name Inishcealtra means The island of the burial place. St Caiman founded a monastic settlement here in the 7th century and his church is the largest on the island, seen here with the round tower behind it.

There are remains of four churches on Inishcealtra. St Brigid's Church is a Romanesque church, with a thirteenth century round-arched gateway leading into the stone enclosure.
We returned safely to Mountshannon. Next morning brought more wind, with the water outside the harbour wall being rather rougher than the sheltered water inside it. Several waves did break over the wall to soak The Puzzler though. Catkin enjoyed the wind, but we had to be quick at times to avoid these waves.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

11th - 16th August. Shannon River, Portumna, Lough Derg, and Dromaan Harbour

Below Meelick we went through Victoria lock, also known as Meelick Lock. On this next stretch the Shannon River is very wide as it meanders across central Ireland.

Portumna Swing Bridge opens at set times throughout the day. We went through at 3pm with ten other boats. A mile beyond this bridge the Shannon River opens out into Lough Derg.

We turned right on Lough Derg to reach Castle harbour, which is quite near to Portumna. The harbour was very busy, but we found a space near the middle. However, The Puzzler sticks out into the centre of the harbour so, as soon as there was room, we moved on to the back wall.
Portumna Forest Park is near to the harbour so we went to explore the forest trails. On our return we found a small cruiser tied to us and another cruiser managed to squeeze in beside us too. There are over 20 boats here each night. There is a service block here, and plenty of grass, so it is a popular place for camper vans too, with almost as many of them as there are boats.      

Here we are at Portumna Castle, looking through the gateway. This is only a short walk from the harbour. Portumna Castle was burnt down in 1826, but there has been a massive restoration programme, which is still in progress. The outside has been fully restored, while inside the castle, the ground floor is complete. Work is continuing on the upper floors. We visited the walled garden, which is a complete kitchen garden, full of produce. We were not allowed to pick any of the fruit or veg. though, which seemed a shame, as ripe plums were lying on the ground below the trees.
We stayed in Castle Harbour for three days, then slid out from behind the other boats. We sailed south across Lough Derg to Terryglass, which is a mooring protected by a long harbour wall, and waited there for a squall to pass.

Before we left Terryglass, a boater came to chat to us about Lough Derg. His grandfather used to work on the barges here, many years ago, and each year, according to him, at least one barge would go down off Gortmore Point. Nothing like giving us confidence for the trip ahead! The sky had cleared and looked set for the day, so we set off.

However as this is Ireland, it did not last long and soon the sky began to darken. 
Ahead of us we could see the rain approaching, but having passed Gortmore Point, we carried on.

The waves are coming across Cloondavaun Bay for over two miles to meet us. We are making our way to the far side of the bay, so as to lessen the force of the wind, and also to take the waves at a 45 degree angle. The Puzzler is not built to ride the waves, and tends to go straight through them, so the waves splashing against the cabin side are quite impressive! A little water came in through the side doors, despite their being shut tight. However at no time did it feel unsafe, just uncomfortable.

This picture shows the contrast between the light blue of the sky and the deep blue of the water in Lough Derg, after the squall had passed.

After thirteen miles, and two and a half hours sailing, we pulled into Dromaan Harbour. It is extremely sheltered, with a lovely picnic area. Overnight parking is not allowed, so there are no camper vans here. As there is no pub within walking distance, then there are very few boats here either!

Outside the harbour wall, Lough Derg looks calm at present, but will it stay that way?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

4th - 10th August. Clonmacnoise to Meelick on The River Shannon

As we sailed on down the River Shannon, later in the day, Clonmacnoise Monastery came into view. It is an impressive sight.

Near to the monastery can be seen the ruins of St John's Church, which was built in 1214 by the English Judiciar, John de Gray. The ruins are of the gatehouse, courtyard and keep, which were destroyed by an explosion, many years ago.

On walking round behind the ruins, it seems amazing that this piece has not fallen down completely.

Once again the sunset, seen behind Clonmacnoise moorings, was stunning.

66M, a former Guiness barge, was behind us on this mooring. She makes The Puzzler look small!
Phoenix, was also here for the night. She was once a Victorian Gentleman's launch, being formerly steam driven, and was launched in 1876. Currently she is carrying mini cannons, as she is the starter boat at the annual sailing regattas on Lough Ree last week and Lough Derg this week.

Shannon Princess II passed by. She is a hotel boat, which we saw being repainted in April at Quigley's boatyard, ready for the season. She is an extremely smart boat.
Clonmacnoise was a monastic settlement founded by St Ciaran in about AD 545. It grew to be a great monastic city, famed throughout Europe, but suffered attacks by the Vikings during the 8th, 9th and 10th Centuries. It was also attacked by Irish Kings and then by English soldiers in 1552, and the churches were in ruins by the end of the 16th Century.

There are several 9th century crosses at Clonmacnoise. The Cross of the Scriptures stands in front of the ruins of the Cathedral. 

However, to keep these graceful and well preserved crosses safe and in good order, the originals are now kept under cover, inside the museum.

As we left Clonmacnoise, to continue our way down the Shannon River, the cloud formations were lovely to behold. This part of the river meanders through low lying farmland, with no hills to be seen.
After a shaky start to the year, when high winds would have threatened anything on the roof, we have managed to find some flowers which do not mind being continually wet! The original Busy Lizzies expired soon after being planted, but hopefully these Michaelmas Daisies will survive. The French Marigolds have no problem with the Irish climate. With four pots all tied together, they should not blow away either.

After arriving at Meelick mooring, we had an afternoon mini heat wave, so some of the crew did some sunbathing.

We walked to see Meelick Abbey, which was built in 1414 AD and is the oldest church still in current use in Ireland.

The wires here were full of birds, possibly starlings. They did not seem to be migratory birds, despite the gathering.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

!st - 4th August. Lough Ree and Athlone

From Portrunny we sailed south to go round Inchcleraun, which is also known as Quaker island, then made our way over to the east side of Lough Ree. We had to detour to the North to avoid Iskeraulin shoal, which is very shallow, before heading south into Barley Harbour. We pulled in to the shelter of the high wall at first. There were steps by the bows, but they were quite steep for Catkin.

We moved over behind the cruisers, being careful to avoid an underwater rock by coming in behind it. Catkin found these steps much easier. Barley Harbour is a delightful, secluded mooring and we were the only boat there overnight. Access to this mooring is difficult in high winds, due to the risk of being blown on to the rocky shore, so we headed south to the inner loughs on Tuesday. Wind is forecast for later in the week.

The inner loughs are at the South East corner of Lough Ree. We passed Quigley's boatyard, where we were launched on to the Irish Waterways, four months ago, and continued part way up Killinure Lough.

Taking the first right, we went into Coosan Lough, which is very quiet. It is surrounded by reeds and we went into a small inlet at the far end to wind.

This is the exit from Coosan Lough, back on to Killinure Lough.
We carried on to Lakeside marina to buy a dinghy, so that we can anchor and thus visit inaccessible islands on the loughs. Andy launched it by the slipway.

We returned to the narrows which led to Coosan Lough and moored on a peaceful bank mooring.
Andy tried out the new dinghy, which has an electric engine, so is practically silent. We both went for a sail back to Coosan Lough in it.

These cattle came to have a look at us on our mooring, from the far bank.
They brought all the rest of the herd to see us, and then played " Let's try and push each other in the water". Fortunately none of them succeeded! They went away quite soon to leave us in peace.

However, at 10pm that evening, a cruiser arrived with a large crew of young people, to moor opposite us on this narrow stretch of water. They proceeded to party the night away, very loudly, until 3am. It certainly did not prove to be a peaceful mooring after all!

In the morning four of them set off in one of their dinghies at 8 am, looking dreadful. They had only gone about 20 yards when their engine stopped, so they had to row back, and transfer to the other dinghy. The tricky transfer completed, they set off again, looking even worse, if that were possible! Presumably they had to work that day, but could they?

On Thursday we explored the rest of Lough Killinure, and Ballykeeran Lake, another small body of water. Glasson Hotel and Golfcourse overlook Killinure Lough and look very impressive.

We returned to moor at Quigley's boatyard, and had a peaceful night, although we rocked gently all night, as the wind blew up Lough Killinure, creating quite choppy water.

This kayak was out in the worst of it, with a very small passenger in the bows. They start them young here!

There has been a regatta on Lough Ree all of this week. The yachts made a beautiful scene as we passed them on our way to Athlone.

The Castle and Cathedral in Athlone look impressive, across The River Shannon.

This Dragon boat does River Trips, both up into Lough Ree and downriver to Clonmacnoise, where we are heading next.