Seemed like a good idea at the time

Let’s begin with this. Just to set the context. I like Simy’s comment best…

I was looking forward to this all week. Actually wanting it to rain heavier just so the river would be higher. This is somewhat perverse (and unnecessary in norn iron…) i know.

And come Saturday the river was indeed high. Even the man from the council was down at Shillingtons putting his little red and white warning tape in front of the jetty so that no one might walk on it. Which would have been impressive in itself seeing as the jetty was a few feet under water.

Not that that would stop naive amateurs such as ourselves.

We started as all athletes do with eggs and bacon at Liz’s – with her usual admonition that we would wear life jackets – which seemed a little unnecessary as we’ve now taken to wearing helmets.

We did stop to briefly consider was this a good idea as evidenced by the video above. But perhaps we didn’t quite consider enough.

Within seconds of starting we realised that this was going to be a more interesting paddle than usual. Speed if nothing else was a bit of a factor. The first weir we hit was gone. The water level was so high that the 4 foot weir that was little more than a bump in the river.

Then we hit a few rapids. This will sound odd to people who’ve seen the Bann at Banbridge with not too much water in it. It’s more of a stream. We got water over our heads in the first rapids. Not quite what we were expecting anyhow. Still it was fun all the same.

The real problem came at the next weir which was substantial enough to form a stopper. I’d seen these in videos but never actually been in one. This wasn’t a good one to try your first on.

I went over the weir and promptly stopped dead. Neither forward nor backward. Gravity pulling me into the stopper, the water pushing me back up the weir. This is not the most tenuous position to find yourself in. I remember it was awful noisy.

Simy came over the weir right behind me and went straight over and bucked out of the canoe. I followed shortly after. Now Simy has been in the water before but this was my first occasion. My first thought was “I’m glad we wore the wetsuits…” I also found I’d managed to retain both my paddle and my canoe in my hands.

I remember shouting repeatedly at Simy to keep his feet up (people die when their ankle catches in tree and the force of the water pulls them under), that and thinking that we were moving along awful fast.

We floated past someone’s house with a woman sitting on her patio. She helpfully asked me was i OK, to which I murmured an “err… yeah”. Simy tells me she said to him that she was going to get something to help but didn’t have time. Ah the general public, man’s last great hope…

At this point we’d been in the water for a few minutes and had finally made it out of Banbridge proper. I scrambled my way to the bank (which was now the middle of a field) and pulled the canoe ashore as simy and his canoe drifted past at a rate of knots, unfortunately on the wrong side of the river and unable to make his way across the canoe.

So i ran along a couple of fields beside him, dressed in full wetsuit, life jacket, helmet and spray deck, jumping fences and shouting at him. It must have been quite a sight.

Our options at this point were

1) abandon canoe and simy climbs out of the river

2) I get back in the water and we both swim down after it.

being separated was not really a conceivable option. Either practically or emotionally. I would have cried there and then if I’d stood and watched his helmeted hairy head disappear off over the next weir… He owed me a fiver…

So I decided on option 1 and swore at Simy till he let the canoe go and climbed out. He shouted something about “only set of car keys” and climbed out vowing never to canoe again.

So there we were in a field, dressed like a pair of twats with only one canoe and no car keys, mobile phone or straps to tie the only canoe back on top of the car we couldn’t get back into. Said items were in said canoe, rapidly moving towards Lough Neagh with the components of south Down’s rainfall in the past 2 days.

In the absence of a father to ring (and don’t think I don’t think that any time anything difficult happens…) we walked up the road and asked the first guy we met could we borrow his mobile phone. Kindness of strangers and all that…

We phoned Morsies (Simy’s Wife, name changed to protect identity…)  and sheepishly asked for a lift.

Losing the canoe was unfortunate. Losing Simon’s only set of car keys to a second hand car which he had no documentation on was more of an issue. That and his second mobile phone in 6 months (the last being dampened in the last ditching).

So back to Portadown, pick up the volvo (my keys were usefully in my pocket, what a novel idea…), pick up the remaining canoe and begin the long task of driving and walking along every accessible bit of the river looking for an upturned canoe.

This proved to be immense fun, walking round people’s gardens and jumping over old walls and discovering random horses who live by the river bank in Lawerencetown.

Alas no canoe. Not that you would in any way expect to find it.

After two hours or so of this we ended up in Tullylish on the bridge staring at the river (where the first video was taken) when a guy in battered estate pulls alongside. He was obviously a canoeist – beard, fleece, battered estate car, roof bars…

He asks were we thinking of going in. I tell him we went in with two canoes and came out with one. He is wonderfully sympathetic and out of the blue suggests a spot up the road where sometimes stuff gets stuck in the river. He then proceeded to lead us literally up the garden path while engaged in immensely pleasant canoe conversation (who’d have thought, Craigavon had its own kayak club…) through someone’s back yard, past a beautiful old mill and through a field and there it was pinned against a tree in the middle of the river.

It appears the angel Gabriel is bearded, from Greyabbey, likes canoeing and walks amongst us.

A few phone calls to some useful people later and we’re ready to get the canoe. Well, to be fair the useful people were mostly otherwise engaged so we got Skeeno and Jonny and the bird instead. In Skeeno’s own words –  of the field: “there’s an awful lot of mud…” and when it came to brute force: “i’m a lover, not a fighter”. He did provide an excellent role as resident humorist and artistic director of the whole proceedings.

Provided with ropes, helmet, back in the wetsuit, we attempted to fetch the canoe. This was, to be perfectly honest, an awful lot of fun, though on occasion when entire trees floated by it did feel a bit silly.

So after twenty minutes of fulcrums and levers and ropes the combined  three and a bit university degrees realised that tying a couple of ropes on the front and pulling really hard worked quite well.

Inside the rather mangled canoe were a lot of sticks, some briars, a lot of mud and the unsecured dry bag with keys and phone (and my sausage sandwiches) inside, dry as a Free Presbyterian wedding.

Driving the Gilford road to Portadown for the eighth time that day we both thought that it was an awful lot of work for 10 minutes canoeing.

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8 Responses to “Seemed like a good idea at the time”


  1. 1 FF February 2, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Hilarious! Can’t believe Skeeno actually got his shoes dirty. Best line: ‘as dry as a Free Presbyterian wedding.’

  2. 2 meinmysmallcorner February 3, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Oh my gosh. Who needs television when you’ve got Nelly and I provided all the hair-raising adventures anyone could ever want? Reading your blog posts about canoeing (or about how doctors are real fallible human beings for that matter) can be a bit like watching a scary movie or a dvla drink-driving ad from behind a cushion. Can’t bear to watch it, can’t bear to miss it…

  3. 3 Nelly And I February 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    nothing like a bit of embellishment, i mean poetic license… to make a good story

  4. 4 davidjwylie February 4, 2009 at 12:04 am

    stuff of legends man, so sorry to have missed the banter! i can only imagine the carnage of an open top canoe in those waters! better not let leggy see this or else we will never get him out again. sign me up though for the next adventure…

  5. 5 garethleslie February 4, 2009 at 9:53 am

    2 words bys – Bull. Roots.
    i reckon the ‘open top’ would have went the distance dave! mind you, we probably wouldn’t have stayed in it! bring on the warmer, less rapid summer waters.

  6. 6 Nelly And I February 4, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Leggy and wylie

    me and simy kept worrying all the news headlines would say, “idiot brothers die in river…” And they’d have been right

    was definitely providence or blind luck or something that you were decorating and not able to come. The open canoe would have been rough!

    So i presume you;re up for coming along next week then?

  7. 7 Claire February 4, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    Priceless! Good man Craigles – what a star!


  1. 1 How to dissappear completely – part 3 « Nelly And I Trackback on July 12, 2009 at 11:43 pm

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