Archive for November 3rd, 2008

My descent into madness

The quest continues to canoe every bit of the river Bann we possibly can. Simon has great plans to carry his canoe up the Mournes from Hilltown and somehow paddle it down the rocky stream that is the source of the Bann. Pending that we did the stretch from Banbridge to Portadown.

In a Ronnie-esque fit of preparation I spent Tuesday morning before walk driving all the country lanes and roads that run alongside the river from here to Banbridge – an experience in itself. Every time I found an access point I got out (in the snow I might add…) and walked down to the river or bridge and took a short video on my camera of whatever weirs or rapids I could see.

The upper Bann is (barely I suppose) famous for the linen industry and the proliferation of mills and accordingly weirs to drive the water through the mills. These form an old (though from the river’s point of view pretty damn young) barrier to the natural flow and a bit of fun for the canoeists (and perhaps the fish…).

By the end of Wednesday morning I’d counted about 4 weirs I could find, all of which (to the novices like ourselves) looked pretty intimidating. Though we’d not done ourselves any favours by watching mentalist kayakers on YouTube doing crazy things.

Armed with such invaluable reconnaissance we set off on Saturday afternoon for Banbridge with the two long touring canoes and the open Canadian that Wylie “borrowed” (I’m not sure he knew it would be scraped over weirs when he lent it…) off his mate in his church.

Now to be fair, Wylie and Legs are even less experiences canoeists than me and Simon are (which is saying something) so their will and enthusiasm to brave the weirs in an open canoe were remarkable enough. Though they did plan well enough ahead to wear full wetsuits.

The first weir was somewhat of an anticlimax with me offering to go first and more grinding down the concrete than being buffeted about by the rapids. The level of the river was a little low despite being Irish.

In the end we must have gone over about 12 or 13 weirs, some more dramatic than others My favourite of which was this one on the left where I stopped to get out and have a look and gave the ill-advised advice to “have a go” whereupon me and Simy went over the edge and prompted grounded our kayaks on a 30 degree weir and had to climb out and carry the canoes over. A tad embarrassing.

Though somewhat better than Legs and Wylie did on a relatively benign rapid where they overturned

The scenery was simply stunning. And though we had a major road rarely more than 20 or 30m away we could have been in deepest, darkest Ireland for all we knew. I always used to think that to do stuff like this you had to go away to (relatively) exotic places on adventure weekends but now i realise that we have all this in our back yard. The colours of the autumnal trees, the kingfishers, the risk of Weil’s disease, the old ivy coloured mills and gatehouses. Different world entirely from the one that lay so close at hand.

I know this is kind of tempting fate and in many ways i hate to say it but i wish it would rain for a week and then the river would be much more fun. This must be some sort of kayaker’s prayer…

By 5pm it was dark and we were just passing Leggy’s house in Gilford (lucky sod has a house that backs onto the river) and so him and Davy abandoned us for the warmth of a hot bath (separately i’m sure) and me and Simy paddled on in the rapidly advancing blackness. I phoned wee Liz from the canoe to let her know we were past all the weirs and her main concern was how we would find our way home in the dark. Which is somewhat like the question asked of Gilly’s friend who canoed round Ireland – when asked about how he would find his way he replied that when he left Portstewart he would just turn left and keep turning left.

Our main concern was paddling into Portadown under the bridge and having Buckfast (often referred to as Lurgan Champagne) bottles chucked at us (if not fireworks directed at us) by the local under-age drinkers. Thankfully we arrived with hulls intact.

My immediate thought is to put this down as “best day’s canoeing ever”, but I can’t. Cause Da wasn’t there. And now everything’s different. In many way’s everything’s “broken”, but maybe that’s too much. “Different” is more accurate. It doesn’t make sense. Not that I really expect it to.

Anyhow, below are some of the vids I took along the way.



November 2008
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