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Lifford - Moville

3 day 2 night itinerary covering the complete Foyle Canoe Trail

County
Londonderry
Distance
33 miles (53km)
Days
3
Nearest Town
Derry~Londonderry
Route Shape
Linear
Grade
Flat
OS Map
ONSI Sheet 4,7 & 12. OSI Sheet 3
Access Point
Lifford - C333 983
Egress Point
Moville - C612 382

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Itinerary

Day 1 Lifford (GR C333983) to Gribben Quay (GR C356 081) 13kms or Foyle Marina (C435 176) 28 kms


This 53km paddle along the tidal River Foyle starts at the canoe steps just below the bridge in Lifford (in the Republic of Ireland) and journeys the full length of the trail finishing in Moville.


The river is tidal, very wide in places and can be choppy (especially if wind is against tide). There are shallow places where the river bed can be sticky mud, requiring care if run aground.


Launch from the canoe steps in Lifford, paddlers should be aware that the steps are not perfect height above the level of water – a problem compounded at low tide!  However, paddlers should set off downriver at or close to high water to take advantage of the ebbing tide – this is particularly important should you wish to cover the 28 km to reach Foyle Marina by the end of Day 1.


Remember that since the river is tidal, there is a tidal time difference of approximately 3 hours at Lifford (compared to Lisahally, just south of Culmore Point) and there is a tidal range of approximately 1 metre.


The 13km paddle to Gribben Quay is picturesque and home to a wealth of biodiversity.  The river splits into two channels: the Backwater (to the east) and the Frontwater (to the west) running either side of a 106 hectare island called Islandmore.  After which the river quickly widens.  The western branch does offer a useful stopping point with picnic site at Red Bridge (GR C348 021).


On your approach to Gribben Quay watch out for mud flats on the right hand side on the river.  Gribben Quay was a fishing station in years gone by. The old ice house and stone quay still stand, testimony to the commercial salmon fishery that the Foyle sustained for centuries (records show salmon being exported to Spain hundreds of years ago)! The structures in the river (most visible at low water) are “hailing grounds”, man-made mounds that were used in tying off or hauling (“hailing”) salmon nets.


Day 1 Camping Option – Gribben Quay (GR C356 081) 13kms from Lifford


If you are looking for a shorter first day which may be convenient following shuttles etc, then Gribben Quay is a suitable rough campsite with slipway access.  A basic camping shelter is also available but should be booked with the Loughs Agency in advance T:+44(0)28 7134 2100.  The obvious trade off to this short first day is a relatively longer second day to Foyleside Caravan and Camping Park (GR C513 308)


Upstream of the Gribben the paddler will see the lock gates of Strabane Canal. This canal once aided ocean going schooners to make their way in to Strabane town, offloading cargo and loading exports at the Canal Basin (now a car park of the same name!). Business died away with the building of bridges in Derry that obstructed passage up the Foyle for masted vessels. Derry was, of course, a trading rival! 


Dunnalong was one of several crossing points where a ferry plied the Foyle. There were others at Grange (once the site of a monastery), in the city and at Culmore. There are still the remnants of a stone jetty at Dunnalong. Close by are some level fields, once the site of large earthwork ramparts built by an Elizabethan army. Nothing remains today.


Day 1 Overnight Option – Derry / Londonderry City 28km from Lifford


Using the ebb tide from Lifford it is achievable to reach Derry / Londonderry City albeit in one long day.


Canoe access to Derry / Londonderry is available at the Foyle Marina (this should be arranged in advance +44 (0)28 7186 0313) near the walled centre of the city, as well as from the canoe steps upstream of Fort George. Stop off to walk along the 400 year old walls, visit the museums, attend a service in the seventeenth century Saint Columbs cathedral, do a little shopping or whatever! 


For refreshment, choose from the many restaurants, cafes and bars – there are some along the river front.  Accommodation listings can be found at visitderry.com


Day 2 Gribben Quay (GR C356 081) or Derry ~ Londonderry (C435 176) to Foyleside Caravan and Camping Park (C513 308) 30km or 15km respectively


Those who have pushed on to Derry~Londonderry City will have a 15km paddle to Foyleside Caravan and Camping Park whereas those starting from Gribben Quay will have an approximately 30km paddle so once again it is important to make the best use of the ebb tide.


Shortly after Derry~Londonderry city the paddler will pass along a quite narrow well wooded stretch which opens out into Culmore Bay. Keep an eye out to the right for old wooden jetties at Lisahally Port – this was the location of the mass surrender of the German U Boat fleet in 1945, at the end of World War II - an indication of the strategic importance during the Battle of the Atlantic of the naval base and four airfields centred on the Foyle. 


Remember you are paddling by a working port and you should stay close to the western shore, away from ships, cranes, tugs etc!


It is worth going ashore at Culmore Point. Nearby are some ramparts erected in 1600 by the invading English under General Dowcra (often credited with founding the modern city of “the Derrie”). Walk northwards along the shore to see them.


Lough Foyle is a wide, quite shallow and almost enclosed bay of the North Channel. These generally sheltered waters can whip up quickly with particular winds and tides – watch out for sea conditions deteriorating with a shift in the wind!


The lough is a fascinating place. Saint Columba sailed from his monastery at Doire (modern Derry) into exile on Iona, returning to the lough to row up the River Roe to a convention near modern day Limavady. In more recent times, the Foyle was of immense strategic importance during World War Two. This was the most westerly port in British hands and was the sentinel of the Atlantic convoy routes. Many naval escorts were based in the Port of Londonderry. Four air fields lay along the shores of the lough, offering air cover over the eastern Atlantic in the fight against submarine attack.


The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland lies somewhere in the lough – nobody ever decided where and it is conveniently seldom mentioned! What is known is the run of the shipping channel. It runs along the Inishowen shore and is well marked. Paddlers should keep well away from it as it tends to be well trafficked by vessels that may find it difficult to pick out a tiny kayak!


Some local guides lead night paddles along these waters, navigating with the aid of the flashing shipping aids off shore. It is recommended that night paddles are not attempted unless with an experienced and qualified guide.


Day 2 Overnight Camp – Foyleside Caravan and Camping Park (C513 308)


This official campsite offers the full set of amenities one would expect for a serviced campsite.  Check the Foyle camping section for more info.  Egress is best made slightly further north along the shore at Quigley’s Point (C517 313)


Day 3 Foyleside Caravan and Camping Park (C513 308) to Moville (C612 382) 10 km


Day 3 involves a relatively short 10 k paddle from Foyleside Caravan and Camping Park to Moville.  When you arrive at Moville you will have the option to make arrangements (charges apply) with Inish Adventures for either camping or a return shuttle bus ride to your starting point in Lifford.

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