Archive for July 14th, 2007

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Part 1

Day 1

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Canoeing and kayaking has become something of an obsession in the Neill household. Maybe not an obsession, but definitely a past-time. In my absence, both Dad and Simon have got their own canoes and associated gear. They now look quite the part.

Some may remember a few blogs on family canoe trips from before I went to NZ. Some remember something along the lines of Douglas Coupland’s ‘all families are psychotic’. No one got killed. We’re all still talking.

One of the plans for when I’m home was to canoe from Portadown to Coleraine. A trip we got a third of the way through last year.

We had a brief planning session for this trip a month ago. When I was in NZ, Da was in Porteedown and Si was in Manilla with work. The wonders of conference calling with skype.

We left Shillington car park at 11 am. It was sunny. The drunks on the bank were smiling. Though they weren’t even drinking yet. The sun was not yet over the yardarm. Not that I could see a yardarm anywhere about.

20 minutes later we were sheltered under a tree and our US army surplus ponchos in a rain storm. There was thunder. And yes, this is the middle of summer I remind myself.

The advantage of all the recent rain means that there is a good flow in the river. We don’t so much have to paddle as just direct the canoe.

At lunch we’re shivering and squatting in our tent-like ponchos. I’m feeling like it would be a good idea to return to civilization, or at least Portadown. Si is hopelessly optimistic.

It picks up.

Our first camp is Coney island (no not the Van Morrisson one), where we stayed last year. It’s a Craigavon council run site, and has the rare exception of being well run. This has most to do with the warden, peter, who lives there. I’ll spare you the history of the place, it’s in the blog from when we were there last time.

It remains, a fantastic gem of a place. When the sun shines you could be somewhere else entirely as opposed to a pile of mud and trees in the middle of lough Neagh.

In the midst of this glorious isolation and tranquility a motor boat turns up carrying one of the nurses I used to work with in Craigavon ICU. He has a pint of milk for Peter the warden. I am definitely home. Only NI could be this small.

Over the course of the evening about 20 people go through the place. Including three boat loads of drunken (but very civilized and good bant) men from Antrim and a dog on a jet ski.

At dusk the sky fills with flies. Fills in a way I’ve never seen before. Brief natural history of the lough Neagh fly. Spends 90% of its time as larvae on the bed of the lough, eating whatever fly larvae eat – probably McDonalds. They emerge from the lough in three major ‘hatches’ a year, filling the sky like clouds. After a sharp frost one year, Peter found them 2 inches deep on the island.

They do all their eating underwater, so the good lord felt it superfluous to provide them with mouthparts for the airborne form. As a result they can’t eat, and most importantly can’t bite. The 10% remaining of their lives they spend trying to mate and flying up my nose, occasionally trying to do both at the same time. They do this until their supplies of energy run out, and they fall from the sky to form the next layer of protinaceous sludge in the food cycle.

It’s a life I suppose.

We spend the night sitting round a camp fire with the drunken men from Antrim talking about the flies (hence the above) and trees (hence below).

NI used to be covered in trees. At least I suppose so. Anywhere this wet must have been covered in trees at some point. They’ve been gone for a while now. Shortly after the humans arrived I imagine.

We were talking about new laws saying that you’re meant to cut down non-native trees, to preserve the natives. Apparently on Coney, they were talking about cutting down an 800 year old elm as it was non-native. Makes you wonder what a tree has to do get a passport. Considering the Normans only turned up 800 years ago, then most of us would be non-native and worth chopping down too.

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