The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Part 3

Day 3

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We started the day in rain. Sorry to witter on about the rain but it’s a bit of a novelty. You’d think by now I’d be getting used to it.

From Ballyroney we got a clear crossing across the top of the lough. It was calm so we just braved it straight across the lough instead of hugging the coast. Our only company was a huge sand dredger. Apparently the sand from the bottom of the lough is big business. They take it from the edge of a 130 foot trench that forms the channel of the Bann before it leaves the lough at Toome.

I suppose now is the time to supply a little lough history (like most things courtesy of Peter the warden on Coney island). The lough used to be about 5 foot either than at was. But not consistently so, and that was the whole problem. The lough went up and down with the seasons, flooding all the farm land.

A bright spark somewhere came up with the idea of controlling the lough height using the upper Bann (seven rivers into the lough and only the upper Bann out). So they put in a mixture of massive floodgates and weirs along the upper Bann.

All this for five foot of slightly damp, grotty looking land on the shore of lough Neagh. Not sure if I’m convinced. Then I’m a softy townie so what would I know.

Immediately after the floodgates lie the eel traps, cages sunk in the water to trap the slimy little creatures as they pass through. And the eels too I suppose. On a further, fascinating lough Neagh fact, the lough Neagh eel actually originates and breeds in the Caribbean. Why on earth it crosses the Atlantic to end up in lough Neagh is beyond me.

So in the shadow of the floodgates we find a canal and a lock gate, complete with lock keeper and all. We pay 50 pence for each canoe to got through the lock. What can you buy for 50 pence these days?

The Bann runs for about 2 miles before it enters Lough Begg, as if it’s not quite ready for a sprint yet, and could do with a sit down and a quick ciggie before getting into it proper. Lough Begg is deserted, no roads run near it, there’s barely any houses visible. In flood, half the trees at the edge are underwater, forming mangrove-like swamps that you can paddle under. I didn’t think anywhere this deserted in NI still existed.

We stop in Portglenone for chips, just before the rain hits. The proper, thunderstorm rain, with lightning and hail and drops so big they look like they’re hitting tarmac when they hit the river. I find new definitions of wet. We take our chances and hide under the trees at the edge of the river, hoping the lightning doesn’t hit. The clouds turn all shades of grey and black in front of us. The Roman Empire had no word for grey till they reached Britain. Though I presume they had no word for ‘metrosexual’ or ‘Paris Hilton’, but they coped just fine without them it seems.

We sneak from under the trees into glorious sunshine, when we get more sunburn. This seems all wrong. It is July I remind myself. Already in the distance we see another Armageddon cloud mounting on the horizon behind us. Advancing toward us quicker than the river will carry us away.

As we approach Kilrea, the rain and hail hits again. On our left is a jetty, with a suspiciously placed travel lodge attached. Indeed there may even be a shaft of light sneaking through the clouds to illuminate all it’s prefabricated glory. The flow drags us past it before it even registers. It’s amazing how the call of a warm bed and hot shower enables you to paddle back upstream. We leave the already sodden tent under the canoe in the garden.

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