Old Rail Trail
Athlone – Mullingar
OLD RAIL TRAIL WESTMEATH
The Old Rail Trail begins in the bustling town of Athlone and ends in the elegant old market town of Mullingar, County Westmeath. Between these two cultural hotspots, you will hear nothing but birdsong and the whirr of the spokes on your bike as you lose yourself along the spectacular 42km cycle path. The Old Rail Trail is a converted stretch of the Midlands Great Western Railway carved through rich fertile farmland, the Old Rail Trail Greenway leads visitors through the very heart of Ireland. The route traces the historic Midlands Great Western Railway track, past restored station houses and under pretty stone arched bridges. Linking the mighty River Shannon in Athlone with the Royal Canal in Mullingar, it passes through areas of unique biodiversity and heritage along the way.
A Little Bit of Background to the Old Rail Trail
The Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) was the third largest railway company in Ireland in the mid-19th century with a railway network of 866 km across the midlands. The MGWR lines linked Dublin to both Galway and Sligo and in doing so brought an extensive railway network to Westmeath. The railway brought prosperity to the towns along the route, particularly the two largest – Mullingar and Athlone.
Due to the development of the road network, the railway line from Mullingar to Athlone was closed by Córas Iompair Éireann (CIE) in 1987. As part of the works for the Old Rail Trail, Westmeath County Council carried out conservation works to protected structures at both Moate and Castletown Stations. Some of the wonderful stone arch bridges along the Old Rail Trail are protected structures, where these are crossed by the Trail they can be identified by the newly erected old style parapet railings.
Sections of the Old Rail Trail
Athlone to Moate
14.5 km – Mostly flat surface. Suitable for family groups of all ages and all types of bikes. Beginning in the bustling town of Athlone, the The Old Rail Trail Greenway traverses Crosswood Bog’s natural heritage area and through lush green landscapes, before reaching the restored Railway Station buildings in Moate. Why not take a break along the route at Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park, where history and nature collide? Unwind in Moate; this hidden gem of a town provides refreshments, accommodation and the Tuar Ard Arts Centre.
Moate to Castletown
16.3 km – Mostly flat surface with gentle slopes. Suitable for family groups of all ages and all types of bikes. Journey through stunning countryside on the way to the preserved historic Castletown Station building. Opened in 1851, it was in use for more than 100 years. Pass under the iconic three arched bridge at Streamstown. A short diversion from Castletown will allow you to savour the majesty of Uisneach, once the seat of the High Kings of Ireland and the burial site of the Earth Goddess Ériu and the Sun God Lugh.
Castletown to Mullingar
11.4 km – Mostly flat with gentle slopes. Suitable for family groups of all ages and all types of bikes. From Castletown, the Greenway follows the old railway through sheltered countryside, surrounded by trees and birdsong. After passing under a tunnel, it meets the Royal Canal and follows its path before linking with the Royal Canal Greenway at Newbrook. From here, it’s just a stroll into Mullingar, or you can continue on this Greenway all the way to the River Shannon in Longford or Dublin City (from 2019).
Old Rail Trail Access Points (from Athlone to Mullingar)
- Whitegates, Athone
- Garrycastle Bridge, Athone
- Tully (Free Parking)
- Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park
- Moate Station
- Rosemount Access
- Castletown Station (Free Parking)
- Newbrook (links to Royal Canal Blue Way), Mullingar
- Newbrook Roundabout, Mullingar (Free Parking)
Attractions Along The Old Rail Trail
Before you hop on a bike, take a stroll along the Shannon Banks to the magnificent Athlone Castle! Climb the steps to the castle keep and enjoy the spectacular panoramic views across the majestic River Shannon. Or climb higher still to the castle battlements and look across the rooftops of the entire town. Take a step back in history and discover the ancient stories through swords, cannon balls, stunning sculptures and the fantastic interactive displays at the Visitor Centre. www.athlonecastle.ie
Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park
Directly accessible from the Old Rail Trail at Moate, Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park should not be missed. Features include a fantastic playground, outdoor art displays, guided heritage tours and genealogy as well as a great locally run café with outdoor seating overlooking the park and play areas. Enjoy the walking and cycling trails through a wetland nature reserve and planted parkland or unwind with traditional Irish music and dance. www.dunnasi.ie
Feel dwarfed by the majesty of the iconic stone arch bridges at Streamstown and soak up the railway heritage as you cycle along! Here the Old Rail Trail passes under some of the most extraordinary examples of masonry stone arched bridges on the trail.
Opened in 1851, the now restored Castletown Station once catered for both passenger and goods transport before closing in 1963. Today, it is the turn off point for the quaint village of Castletown Geoghegan, a short 3km from the station by public road, providing access to refreshments.
Hill of Uisneach
As Ireland’s mythological and sacred centre, the Hill of Uisneach captivates visitors with its huge significance that pre-dates recorded history. It’s a must-visit when exploring Ireland’s Ancient East and a short 6km diversion from Castletown Station will take you there. Guided tours are available daily by passionate locals who will send you away dreaming of these enigmatic and sacred lands.
Royal Canal Greenway
The Old Rail Trail meets the Royal Canal Greenway at Ballinea and Newbrook. From here it’s just a short spin into Mullingar for a rest, refreshments, culture and craic. The Blueway Activity Zone at Mullingar Harbour offers multiactivity exploration of the Royal Canal, including kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
Bikehire & Tours
- DB Cycles Athlone
+353 90 64 92280
- Buckley Cycles Athlone
+353 90 64 78989
- Moate Bicycle Hire
+353 87 982 4082
- Outdoor Escape Mullingar
+353 44 933 5351
- Mullingar Bike Hire
+353 44 933 6014
- Midland Cycling Tours
+353 87 125 8462
How long will it take me to cycle the Old Rail Trail Westmeath?
The Old Rail Trail is 42km, so the average cyclist would need to give themselves about 6 hours to do the complete trail. But there’s so much to see in the surrounding area, we suggest staying the night in Westmeath – do the Trail in sections and take in the great attractions along the way at your leisure!
Where can I rent a bike to do the Old Rail TrailGreenway?
There are numerous outlets renting bikes along the Old Rail Trail – See the Bikehire and Tours section above.
I haven’t cycled a bike in years, can I still do the trail?
Yes! The trail is mostly very flat and easy to cycle, so is manageable for anyone who is reasonably fit and healthy.
Can I do the trail with young kids?
Yes! Kids can do the Trail on their own bikes, in a child-seat, in a tow-along or on an adult/ child tandem which most bike rental outfits should be able to provide.
Should I use an electric bike?
Electric bikes will add about 30% extra power to your cycle so will certainly make the journey faster and more comfortable! Please note that the pedals on an electric bike still need to be peddled so is not suitable for users with problematic knees.
Can I rent an electric scooter for trail?
Electric scooters are not regulated in Ireland currently so they are not available to hire.
Athlone is a vibrant hub for culture and heritage and is also a great spot for shopping. Situated at the centre of Ireland, it’s a great base for exploring Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, with a range of great accommodation and eating options on offer. Visitors can enjoy the great interactive exhibitions at historic Athlone Castle and view national and international art at the Luan Gallery. Located where the River Shannon flows into Lough Ree there are lots of watersports to be enjoyed in the area – take a cruise down the river, take a powerboat out on Lough Ree or discover the lough’s islands by kayak. Nearby Glasson village offers award great restaurants and forest walks at Portlick Millennium Forest.
Access onto the Greenway from Athlone
Whitegates, at junction of Ballymahon Road and Beechpark.
The name Athlone derives from the Irish, ‘Áth Luain’ – meaning ‘the Ford of Luan’. Luan is said to have been an innkeeper who guided people across the treacherous waters of an ancient fording point across the River Shannon where the centre of Athlone is today. The inn, said to be Ireland’s oldest, can still be found on Main Street and is known today as Sean’s Bar.
A settlement grew around this crossing point and King Turlough O’Connor built the first wooden castle where Athlone Castle stands today in 1129. The first stone castle, built in 1210, was a free-standing tower (which still exists today) designed to defend this important crossing point and to facilitate the Anglo-Norman advance into Connaught. During the Williamite Wars of the late 19th century, Athlone was besieged twice. The town was attacked by 20,000 men and 12,000 cannon balls that reduced the west town to rubble. However, throughout the wars Athlone contained the vital, main bridge over the River Shannon into Connacht.
During the 19th century, three factors contributed to the growth of Athlone – the founding of Athlone Woollen Mills, the Shannon Navigation works of the 1840s and the arrival of the railway in 1850. Athlone today still enjoys its central location making it a great base for Shannon holidays and an ideal place for meetings, seminars and conferences.
Athlone has many top-quality 4 star hotels in and around its centre, including a Sheraton Hotel, Raddison Blue, Hodson Bay and the Athlone Springs.
For something a little different try the Magical Lakeside Yurt – a beautiful hand-crafted wooden yurt just four miles outside Athlone town and right beside Lough Ree. The Bastion Bed & Breakfast is perhaps Athlone’s most stylish place to stay – eclectic style and quirky spaces – this place really stands out from the rest.
Best Places to Eat
From Asian to European to the best of Irish cooking – Athlone has some great places to eat. Il Colosseo Italian restaurant provides an authentic Italian experience – delicious pizza and pasta served by Italian waiters on their outdoor balcony nearly feels like the real thing! https://ilcolosseo-athlone.com
If you’re looking for award-winning ethnic food then head to Kin Khao. Recommended by Georgina Cambell, the Michelin Guide and Bridgestone, this Thai restaurant offers a huge range of authentic Thai dishes from all provinces of Thailand in a stylishly converted old building.
Famous for its musical heritage, ancient myths and legends and its surrounding lakes, Mullingar offers great shopping, accommodation and outdoor experiences. Some of the town’s best attractions include the 18th century Belvedere House, Gardens & Park on the shores of Lough Ennell and the impressive, Renaissance-style Cathedral of Christ the King with its famed mosaics. The three lakes of Lough Owel, Lough Derravaragh and Lough Ennell offer plenty of opportunity for watersports. A thrilling day’s racing can be enjoyed at Kilbeggan Racecourse close by, where you can also enjoy a trip to the world’s oldest licensed distillery!
The name Mullingar comes from the Irish, ‘An Muileann Cearr’ – meaning meaning the ‘left hand mill’. This is associated with a miracle that is supposed to have occurred at the town’s mill, so Mullingar is probably the only town in Ireland to be named after a miracle!
The town was founded by the Normans around 1186. A knight named William Petit built a stone castle on the site where the town’s County Buildings now stand and religious orders quickly flourished in the town. The town was granted a market in 1207 and when Westmeath was separated from Meath in 1543, Mullingar was designated the county town. It was almost entirely burned by the forces of Hugh O’Neill in 1597 and again destroyed by a fire in 1747, so the town that we see today essentially dates from the late 18th and 19th centuries.
The Royal Canal reached Mullingar in 1806 and the town became a base for both passenger and freight traffic. The canal grew steadily less important with the arrival of rail in 1848 which soon lead to the town became one of the country’s major junctions. Mullingar continues to be a market town serving its large agricultural hinterland.
Access onto the Greenway from Mullingar
- Newbrook Roundabout in the centre of Mullingar. A free, dedicated carpark is located here.
- The Royal Canal Greenway can be joined about five minutes along the Old Rail Trail from the Newbrook Roundabout.
- The next access point is about 15km west along the trail at Kilpatrick.
Accommodation near the Old Rail Trail
For a real treat, 4km south of Mullingar, head to Bloomfield House Hotel, stunningly situated in the heart of the beautiful Westmeath lakeland’s in an idyllic setting overlooking Lough Ennell. This family-owned hotel is nestled in rolling countryside amidst acres of rich parkland and lofty trees. It also has a great leisure complex and a spa in which to indulge!
For a rural getaway, Air BnB have lots of charming lakeside barns, rustic lodges and country cottages, some with private gardens and access on to the lake, for an early morning dip if that’s your thing!
Have have a peek at what’s on offer – https://bit.ly/32RpQge
Best Places to Eat along the old Rail TRail
We’ve selected our top three spots to eat in Mullingar!
One of Mullingar’s most established hotel’s/ restaurants, indulge yourself at the award-winning Old House Restaurant in the centre of town for some old-world elegance. Located in the cellar of an17th century manor house, this place has beautiful interiors and offers a quality dining experience you’re not likely to forget in a hurry.
For something more casual try Weirs Bar & Restaurant, Multyfarnham, in County Westmeath is a charming old world, family run pub that serves some of the best food and drink in Ireland in a relaxed, family friendly atmosphere.
Red Earth Foodhall on the outskirts of the town has become a renowned food and lifestyle store with a multi-cultural experience restaurant. From Mexico to Asia, their menu takes inspiration from food trends across the globe and they have a huge range of eclectic foods, gifts and homeware to bring home with you when you’re done!
National Emergency Services: 999 or 112
What to Wear
As all Irish people or anyone who’s been here knows, the weather in Ireland is changeable! It often feels like we have had four full seasons in one day! Winter can be cold, with average temperatures at 4°C, summers are usually mild, with average temperatures at 18°C but can often reach highs of 25°C.
One thing which remains constant throughout the year though is the rain! It rains a lot in Ireland so please make sure to bring a raincoat. We suggest wearing layers when walking or cycling the greenway as you’ll be able to peel-off or pile them on, depending on which seasons you encounter during the day!
Also, please remember it’s a good idea to wear brightly coloured clothes or high-vis-vests when on the greenway. Although there are no cars allowed, there may be some serious cyclists who can pick up quite a speed along with electric bikes also so it’s a good idea to make yourself seen.
It's also a good idea to wear a helmet, especially if you're planning on picking up some speed on the Greenway (bike-hire companies offer helmets with every bike). And don't forget to wear some comfortable, breathable footwear, especially on a warm day when you'll notice your body temperature rising quite quickly as make progress along the Greenway.