Sunday, 3 May 2020

Towpath Ride

£82,754,728.

That was the estimated cost for reopening the River Lagan navigation from Belfast Harbour to Lough Neagh in 2012.

Money well spent, to my mind.

By far the costliest stretch of the canal to reinstate would be from Stranmillis to Lisburn, though a new Lock One is presently being built at Stranmillis, and Lock Twelve, Hanna's, has been restored at Lagan Valley Island, Lisburn.

The part of the canal from Moira to Lough Neagh is the best preserved section of the navigation, with original road bridges and locks remaining intact.

The main fabric here has suffered little during the period of abandonment and a complete and quick restoration would be achievable.

The main issues for that section, therefore, would include the loss of the towpath for part of its length, and the provision of an adequate water supply for locks, and land ownership.


A WALK or cycle along the River Lagan towpath really can be delightful, especially on a fine, sunny day.

Unfortunately the old canal is no longer navigable by boat, nor has it been since about 1958.

Click to Enlarge

The narrow canal boats which used it, lighters as they were called, had to be no longer than 62 feet in length, 14 feet 6 inches in width, with a maximum draught of 5 feet 6 inches.

That was the stipulation.

Today I cycled along the Lagan towpath (former path used by horses to tow the lighters) as far as Lock Seven.

I've already posted photographs of my journey to Locks Two and Three (haven't I?).

Lock Four

Lock Four, Rosie Ward's, in the vicinity of Edenderry, County Antrim, is completely overgrown with little trees, bushes and plants sprouting everywhere.

There was once an eel weir here, though that has been disused since the 1950s.

The average distance between each lock is about a mile.

Lock Five, May, 2020

At Lock Five, Ballydrain Lock, we pass Malone Golf Club, which possesses a grand club-house, formerly known as Ballydrain House.

I've written a bit about Ballydrain House here.

Lock Five is high and dry. Seemingly there were always issues with water levels on the canal, and the Broad Water was created as a reservoir for this very purpose.

Lock Five, towards Belfast

Canal folk were a superstitious bunch: they disliked staying overnight in this area due to 'strange influences.'

Drum House from Lock Six

Drum House, a large residence at Lock Six, looks terrific. I gather there's a garden centre here.

Its lawns sweep down to the bank of the canal.


An old painted bollard still exists at this lock, which is fairly clear of foliage.

The original penstock weir across the River Lagan at Drum Bridge has since been removed and a short section of canal under the bridge has been concreted to accommodate a pedestrian footpath.

The restoration of a navigation bridge at the existing underpass at Drum Bridge below Upper Malone Road would therefore be needed.

Lock Six, painted by WH Burns (1924-95). Photo Credit: BBC

The estimated cost of restoring the navigation at Lock Six alone was about £4 million in 2012.

Lock Six, May, 2020

I couldn't resist posting an image of the lock today and almost a century ago in 1924.

Lock Six in 1924

My journey along the canal terminated today at Lock Seven, McQuiston's Lock, which lies between Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park and Seymour Hill, Dunmurry.

This lock is completely overgrown; in fact I almost missed it as I cycled along the towpath.

Ruinous Lock-house at Lock Seven

It's well worth a detour, though, because deep within the woods the ruins of the old Mossvale lock-house can be seen.

Is it made of sandstone? Most, if not all, of the locks were made with that type of stone.

The restoration costs for a new Lock Seven would be considerable.

The M1 Motorway crosses both the River Lagan and the original navigation cut approximately half a mile south of Upper Dunmurry Lane.

A section of the navigation cut was partially infilled during the construction of the motorway embankment, and a subway was built to accommodate the pedestrian route under the motorway.

The present subway, however, isn't big enough for any new stretch of canal.

The river was realigned under the M1 about 400 yards to the north of the subway.

The most cost-effective option at this location, it has been proposed, is not to follow the original route of the waterway, but to utilise the river under the motorway bridge and construct a new short section of navigation cut and lock chamber on the upstream side to connect to the original cut.

Another couple of million pounds.

Back to McQuiston’s lock-house: It's on the far side of the towpath, across the little stone bridge.

This lock was near Mossvale linen works, owned by the Charley family of Seymour Hill.

The Charleys even constructed a quay on the canal for unloading coal.

From here I turned back, and stopped en route at Lock Three, McCleave's, where the Lockkeeper's Inn is located.

Pit-stop at Lock Three

I didn't have the Apple Watch on today because the battery was far too low.

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