Cruising on the River Shannon - 2003

Central section of the Shannon

Having regularly enjoyed the inland waterways of England in the sixties and seventies, we had long promised ourselves a trip on the River Shannon in Ireland.  In the summer of 2003 we finally made it, spending a week with our Australian friends Alan and Pam exploring some of the lakes and middle reaches of this mighty river.

Our cruiser 'Snapdragon'

The River Shannon is the longest river in Ireland and the British Isles, providing over two hundred and fifty miles of navigable waterways for pleasure cruising.  It also flows through some very large lakes, which can prove challenging for the novice sailor.  We hired our cruiser from Glasson in the south east corner of Lough Ree and spent a week meandering to Boyle on Lough Key and back.

The good ship Snapdragon was a six-berth fibre glass cruiser thirty-two feet long with a twelve foot beam, providing us with a large saloon, fully fitted galley and two spacious cabins with en suite showers.  It had a powerful Perkins inboard diesel engine capable of driving us at ten knots in open water and powering our comprehensive electrics.  The boat could be controlled from both an inside and an external seat, a feature which proved invaluable during the frequent rain showers.

Dog watch Lock keeper's cottage

On our first morning, with less than half an hour's instruction, we were obliged to navigate across Lough Ree, one of the biggest stretches of open water on the Shannon.  It was scary, but the weather held and having successfully plunged into the deep end (metaphorically speaking!) we felt ready for anything.  We quickly learned the importance of always knowing precisely where we were, where to expect the next marker buoy and how to identify potential hazards.  In fact, after a couple of days experience with the charts Alan was giving me informed navigation instructions like 'just continue straight on for about two or three inches, then turn left and follow the black dots'!

Elsa and Pam

Our second challenge was learning how to come alongside a mooring gracefully, not easy in a strong current with only a small gap to aim at.  The Shannon is woefully short of suitable moorings, and the daily task of finding a place to tie up overnight within shouting distance of a watering hole soon became very tiresome.  Sometimes, after seeking approval, we were obliged to double up alongside another boat.  On one memorable evening we had done just that, only to find on our late return from the pub that the inside boat had gone and ours was miraculously in its place!

The Shannon River abounds with beautiful scenery and is surprisingly uncrowded, even at the height of summer.  The pubs are delightful, the food and drink expensive but generally of high quality, and the people friendly and helpful.  But we found precious little to see or do in rural Ireland and many of the riverside villages are little more than hamlets with one shop and a few pubs.  So we spent many a wet evening eating in and playing cards.

Leitrim mooring Lough Key

I conclude that a cruise on the Shannon is not a holiday I would recommend.  Irish weather is in our experience consistently changeable, or more honestly, awful.  The cruiser was fearfully expensive, and eating out in Ireland is probably the dearest in Europe.  Over half the people we met on the river were German, which made communication and making friends difficult.  And service was so slow - for example forty-five minutes to persuade someone to top up our diesel, and two hours to pass through a lock.  An English canal holiday is much nicer: simple navigation, easy mooring, good value pubs, great camaraderie and masses to see and do.  No contest!