Archive for the 'Ireland' Category

The lighthouse

T’is holiday season in our house so expect (hopefully) lots of these kind of posts. The usual photo taken at arm’s length of me standing somewhere sunny looking smug, with an ocean in the background. Like this one

Though that was a whole 2 weeks ago so I’ll try and stay more contemporary.

My charming Brother and Sister-in-law (AKA Morsies) got us a voucher for our wedding enabling us to stay in one of these places.

We chose this one.

Mainly for location. It’s way out, almost as far south as you can go. If you go straight south, you don’t really hit anything till you hit Africa.

We were staying, not in the lighthouse but in the little house to right of the idiot’s finger.

I’m sure everyone has a pair of these porcelain dogs somewhere in their history

Even more excitingly, I got a surfboard and we managed to spend 3 days in the water enjoying the surf.

I have surfed before. Though rarely successfully. I have since discovered that this was largely due to the poorly made purchase that I made in NZ. A lovely board but about 2 foot too short for me. It’s somewhere still in NZ (i think), the last I saw it I think Jason had it, and he’s in Aus now, so maybe it’s doing the rounds!

The one I have now is 8ft and is surprisingly easy to stand on.

Note how fast a shutter speed you need to catch me standing on a board

Lighthouses are of course all automatic these days. This was the view from our bedroom. One night we left the shutters open to have the beam shining in; 5 every 20 seconds or so.

The house used to be home for the last keepers of the lighthouse. Them and their 15 kids! The son still maintains the current lighthouse and house.

My Jedward hairstyle gives you an idea of the wind you have to deal with. Not a place to try spitting into the wind

Ram’s Island

Yeah I know you’re all bored sick of Coney island.

Well we found a new one. By found I don’t mean we actually found it. It’s been there for a while now, and we’ll not be first to claim discovery or anything…

Sorry if the screen grab is a bit small. But you can see that Ram’s is a fair bit bigger and further out than Coney is.

My only knowledge of it growing up was that it was full of rats and no one went near it.

Apparently the environment folk had someone working all over the lough for 18 months solid solely to rid the islands of rats. Quite the job really.

The birds are flourishing there now, a sure sign that there are no rats left.

We started out at Gawley’s gate, which seemed to be a pub with a jetty and launching point out the back of it. It’s covered in cloud on the google map so I didn’t mark it

The best bits of these trips are the trees. Something like what Ireland might have looked like, an awful long time ago. There’s not many places like that left so it’s nice to see them.

It was a good 15 minute walk from where we landed to the “populated” end of the island

This jetty isn’t in regular use…

The whole walk was covered like this. the indents you can see are our footprints. Very cool.

Every now and again you find old remnants of previous structures. The website has some interesting stuff on the history. One of the most interesting bits is that the lake used to be 6 acres up till recently when the lough was controlled and lowered and it’s now 40 acres

The bit Simon’s standing on would have previously been the shore and the rocks were piled up to stop erosion.

It had at one point been a landscaped garden as the daffodils here give tell to. The flowers are missing because there’s a current population of rabbits there that have a liking for them. They’re trying to work out how to control the rabbit population without causing some other ecological niche to go out of kilter.

the round tower is apparently fairly old. As they tend to be. It’s been patched up here and there.

The story goes that the Americans put the hole in it while using it as target practice in WW II when they were based on the shore about half a mile away. So much for cultural heritage…

The joys of canoeing on fresh water is that you don’t have to worry about your canoe washing away on the tide

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The main jetty is to the right

The whole place is largely volunteer maintained. There’s a guy who stays there in a moored old barge every weekend with his family and does a lot of work at the place.

Hopefully we’ll camp there at some point, but you have to wait till after June and the birds have finished their laying and all that.

Ode to my family

Now that we have a fairly well functioning house we have began to receive guests as they say in the trade. They may not say that but i think they should.

We had my Liz, Simy, Morsies and the dog down for a weekend. It worked out well as we managed to enlist Liz in the garden for the morning achieving more beauty than me and Wylie had achieved since moving in.

They also got the usual tour of Maigh Nuad taking them round the grounds of Saint Patricks College. Thankfully this is both spectacular and long enough that they don’t realise that this is the only bit of the tour. Still it’s more than Portadown has to see.

Despite coming here for over a year I still hadn’t made my way into the chapel yet (though I stil forgot to take any photos so check out these incredible photos by my friend Florian instead) so we put that right too.

There was scrabble – which most importantly I won.

Local boy in the photograph

Most people wouldn’t go to Waterford for a night. We’re not most people.

But it was very nice all the same.

Cheap hotel, good food and a pub that was more like someone’s front room than anything else.

Watched Hunger on the laptop in the hotel room. Stunningly shot. The single shot scene lasting almost 15 minutes is sheer class. Not exactly a laugh a minute but worth watching.

Let the morning pass from breakfast to lunch to the afternoon in the same wee coffee shop taking silly photos of the missus.

Drove to Kilkenny and took more cool photos and sat in a fancy hotel drinking coffee and sneakily using their wi-fi. Found this ad for wedding planning.

It kind of implies that someone has stolen my dreams and is now selling them back to me. No fair.

Canal song – Part 3

We ended up in an Italian restaurant last night. It’s weird how many small Irish villages have really cracker restaurants sometimes. Well fed and waiting impatiently for 10 pm when we felt it would be respectable to go to bed.

Slept till 9am.

Apparently it was breezy overnight. One of the metal gates on the back of the pub had blown off. Or rather the wall had blown off and taken the gate with it.

We had to endure another gruelling carry of the loaded Kayaks down to the river. couldn’t be more than 100 yards but was pulling the arms out of us by the end of it. We are such light weights.

Back in the water for 10.30 am and on our way. The rain joined us. Most upsetting.

By Lunch (which was a cup of coffee on one of the IWAI marinas) the sun came out and made it a very pleasant afternoon.

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While it’s wonderful having the facilities in place, it is a bit of a spoiler on the view to have all the marker posts throughout the waterways just to stop some idiot piling a cruiser into a sand bar.

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It was here that the going got a bit tougher. Up until this point we had been blessed by having the wind mainly behind us and whatever flow was in the canal was in out favour. At the point we turned into the river Erne and had to go both against the flow and against the wind. Not nearly so pleasant.

We did find this very pleasant old cottage facing onto the river.

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Finished in Belturbet about 3.30 pm. Tired and a bit hungry. Good trip.

Canal song – Part 2

Sleeping in tents is something that seemed like a good idea at the time you thought of it. But in general by the time you get round to it you wish you were in your own bed.

Sleeping in a tent on a small uninhabited island in the middle of a Cavan lake seemed like a great idea till it started raining quite so heavily.

Against my usual better judgement (and the 6 quid per mb charge) I used the phone to check the weather. It gave vague promises of a bright spell from 9-10am and then rain till some time in early November. I waited till one of us could wait no longer to get up and pee (it was Phil) then crawled from my sleeping bag to greet the dampness.

Saving grace is the fact that we only planned to spend one night camping. As a general rule only ever spend one night camping. Unless the weather is guaranteed. And in Ireland it’s never guaranteed.

I had such great plans for a lovely cooked breakfast that came to a squelching halt with the rain. The only aim was to get packed up and in the canoes as quick as possible.

Unfortunately with the rain the wind had picked up significantly so our first paddle of the day was a slightly breezy run across the main channel of the lake to get to a bit of shelter on the otherwise.

We did get lost.  Or should I just say that I got us lost.  All these lakes look the same to me really. How should I know. It was only briefly lost. And pleasantly so.

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Once you’re in the kayak with the spray deck on and the kag and a hat you’re pretty cosy. Rain becomes something of an irrelevance.

The wind however is a different story. Trying to cross a lake with the wind even a few degrees off your direction leads to a constant battle to keep the canoe going in a straight line.  Couple that with the waves cast up by the wind and it actually becomes really quite hard work.

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It never really brightened up all day but I must say it was almost nicer because of it. All my memories of Fermanagh have grey skies in them and it seems only fitting that Cavan should be the same.

A grand total of 3 and a half hours after starting out we arrived at Ballyconnell, (hardly very long paddling is it? I realise that, if you wanted a blog on endurance kayaking then you came to the wrong place) promptly missed the best stopping point and had to struggle back upstream against the wind to make it to the marina.
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So two men walk into a bar in ballyconnell dressed in shorts, sandals and life jackets and ask for a room for two. No wonder we got funny looks.

We also had to carry two canoes down the main street (it’s not very main) to get them to the pub we’re staying in. Pretty sure that’s not something that happens every day.

The shower you have after a couple of days living in your own filth is always the best one. The shoulders are begonnign to feel the strain now a bit. Most pleasant surprise is that a pint of guiness here is only 3.20 euro. Pleasantly surprised compared to the 4.50 euro in Dublin. Maybe I should move here.

Canal song – Part 1

[Before I even start, my dearly beloved Canon IXUS died, the lens won’t come out. 5 years isn’t bad for all the water, sand and dirt it had thrown at it. So all the pictures are from the iPhone and of dubious quality]

So it begins again. Off on another trip. Off on another paddle in the Ireland rarely seen. Kind of like lesser spotted ulster except without Joe Mahon.

This trip started as me and wee Phil wondering what to do with a week’s holiday at then end of September with him just back from 2 months saving lives (and maybe even the world) in Africa.

The original plan was to canoe from Lough Erne in Fermanagh all the way to Limerick. This was perhaps slightly ambitious.

It then became a 5 or 6 day trip to Athlone and then 4 days to Carrick on Shannon and now it’s 3 days from Ballinamore to Belturbet. Good call I say.

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Took us about two hours from portadown to find Ballinamore. Down roads I’ve never driven before. Always a good experience.

Just as we’d organised supplies and got a bite of lunch the rain came on. Typical.

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Though the silly misly type of Irish rain that makes you nervous that it might start pissing down any minute.

The shannon-erne waterway has a remarkable history. Originally planned to revolutionise industrial transport in the 19th century. In it’s 10 operating years it carried 8 barges. Not exactl profitable for having dug a 60km canal though the west of Ireland.

It’s introduction came just as the railways exploded onto to the scene. Hardly a fair fight. It took us just over 30 minutes to drive from the beginning to the end of our route that we planned 3 days for.

It got reopened for the tourists – mainly Germans (it seems) in rented cruisers in 1994 and seems to be popular enough to still be running.
The locks are automatic controlled by little pass cards and control panels. All very exciting. But we realised after the first one that it’s probably easier just to carry the canoes round them.
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I thought I’d go gentle on phil to start with and we only had 6 mile or so for the first day, especially as we only started at 3 pm.

Tonight we’re camping on church island. A tiny place a few hundred yards across in the middle of Lough Garadice (never entirely clear if the Lough is meant to come before or after it’s name). There’s an old (proper old) broken down church and that’s it.
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Lit the BBQ, drank some coffee and set the camp. Wonderful really. Just needs to be a bit wamer and it’s perfect. There’s a marina a few hundred yards across the lough and earlier a band was playing 80s rock classics at a quite phenomenal volume. The wind carried it well.

Read a good third of Gilead in one night by the light of the gas lantern and pondered how different a life we lead compared to a hundrd or so years ago. And indeed how different a life we lead compared to the majority of the planet.

22.45: Curled up in the sleeping bags hoping sleep comes easy and the zombies don’t rise from the graves of the abandoned church and gouge out our eyes while we sleeep. Not sure that’s gonna help me sleep thinking like that.

Incidentally – finally got the new David bazan album. About flipping time.

August and everything after

So as summer comes to an end with a cold, damp, miserable thump (what a surprise) it’s time to review some of what i’ve been up to over august.

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I was at a wedding in a castle in Edinburgh (though not edinburgh castle) where they had the most wonderful humanist wedding ceremony. (I think we need more humanist wedding ceremonies, but that’s another blog.)

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There was great food, good wine and even some dancing – of which i did not partake i must confess. Even the Bon Jovi.

I picked up the guitar and grew some balls and played my songs in a wee cafe in Portadown. And after the first 4 songs i even started enjoying it.

And in a fit of musical enthusiasm I picked up the old electric again and played with the old band in church. Lamenting my dying guitar amp and how rusty I’ve got at playing the electric guitar.

I await my new valves in earnest in the hope i can resurrect the Hot Rod deluxe to do another 10 years of loyal service.

On a more positive not the new Pod X3 rocks. While a little on the complicated side to set up and run it does sound pretty sweet. These are the days i wish i hadn’t sold my strat to Woodsy.

In between I have actually enjoyed my work. Which is kind of new for me. I have found myself too often pisssed off and frustrated in work so it’s nice to have a wee bit more enthusiasm and positivity about the whole thing. being there less helps. Which i know sounds weird – “I love my job as long as I’m not there…” – but when I do less hours I sleep better and am more sane than usual. This has got to be a good thing.

I look forward to dropping a day a week in the middle of september and going back to cutting up dead bodies with the students.

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And then most recently was Jonny and Lynne’s wedding. Dear Jonny, whom I’ve known since I was 6 when he arrived in P2 and stole my lego. Not that I’m bitter. Dear Jonny, who I shard houses with and tears and joy with and made 9 platiunum selling albums with in the Turf Brothers. Good times.

Great wedding, though running around doing musical stuff all day. Including the first ever live turf brother’s performance.

And it was mighty craic playing in Nice Guy Eddie again (my old wedding band) and even nicer to move from dance floor to band and back to dance floor again getting to play just the songs that i remembered.

There was dancing. There was me dancing. There was me enjoying dancing.  But i blame Transfarmer for that. I blame her for everything really.

But above all else what made the wedding was the fact that we didn’t have to drive the 1 1/2 hours back from the Killyhevlin at midnight. Instead we sat about the hotel till 0130 and then dandered back to our little chalets at the riverside for a cup of tea and a nice kip.

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And so began our little two day holiday in damp fermanagh. Like the donegal trip simply transplanted to a pre-fab chalet on the bank of the river.

I took the good ship pudge out on my own for the first time but was slightly annoyed that the brisk wind meant that i couldn’t get the thing turned and embarassingly had to reverse the canoe to shore just to turn it.

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Everyone else seemed to enjoy their trip too. No one got wet anyhow.

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We visited an ice-cream shop, just for the adventure of getting lost in the Fermanagh countryside. Sat-Nav is great and all that but only if you tell it to go to the right place.

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Extended weekends rock. And it’s still only sunday morning.

An Ocean and a Rock – Part 3

Woke very hot and sweaty in the tent. The sun had been shining strongly since 5am and last night’s bacon had left me with a dreadful thirst.

Otherwise a wonderful night’s sleep.

But farewell to rosse’s point and it’s overly expensive (but very pretty) campsite where the showers were one euro extra.

I had to be in greystones for 6pm, some 180 miles away. But I had time. Time I though to lie by a lough on the Shannon water way and doze off in the sun reading the Irish times.

Hunger got the better of me and I ended up eating fish and chips in a retail park car park in Carrick on Shannon wishing I had a canoe with me.

(Me and wee phil have great plans to canoe from Fermanagh to Limerick in September. We originally planned a week but some basic initial research makes me think two might be more appropriate. Or that a motor cruiser might be even more appropriate)

The difference between the roads in NZ and Ireland is the views. In NZ you were bowled over by spectacular scenery at every corner and there were endless view points to pull in and take photos.

It’s just that in Ireland they built all the decent roads through the flat boring bits of the country and you’re continually given glimpses of stunning vistas just round the corner or over the hedge. But they’re always just out of reach and require actual effort to see.

None of that was convenient for today’s trip. So I drove cross country listening to whatever was loud and raucous and losing my voice in the high notes getting my right arm burned as it sat out the window – the hazards of driving south west in the afternoon in the northern hemisphere.

I did make an ill advised detour round the Wicklow hills, geting horribly and wonderfully lost up shady country lanes filled with nothing but flashy looking SUVs.

I stopped briefly at the sally gap to admire the quite spectacular view and the weather. On a sunny day I’m not sure I’ve seen anywhere nicer than Ireland.

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And so I pulled into Greystones about 5 pm and promptly paid 50 cent for the priviledge of almost getting locked in the public toilet at the beach. I have still no idea why the exit button was at ground level. Answers on a postcard please.

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Sat in the shade trying to avoid more uv on the already crispy right forearm and waited for transfarmer to come pick me up.

After a night of volleyball, singing, pub and cigars with lots of lovely people such as soapbox and smallcorner (and lots of other people who are just as lovely but don’t have blogs), I’ve managed to score a free room with ensuite. As fun as sleeping on the beach is I’ll not complain.

An Ocean and a Rock – part 2

This is, as the saying goes almost as good as it gets. Back against the Volvo facing the sun, full belly, mumford and sons and a setting sun.

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But more of that when we get to it.

Rained most of the night. Not that I noticed it. The tent did me proud. Woke to a grey but at least a dry day.

Packed up and waved goodbye to the duke of edinburgh group with their house sized packs on their backs.

I had planned originally to scale the heights of slieve league (the sixth highest sea cliffs in Europe wouldn’t you know) but the weather seemed to have other ideas.

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Half a mile up the track the track ended completely and all that was visible was the mist at the end of your nose. You could hear the sea some several hundred metres below but you couldn’t see it.

To be perfectly frank (though only if I can still be garth) I hadn’t a notion where I was or which direction to walk in. I ended up with a view like this:

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Caution and the voice of wee liz in my head turned me back.

I found the car park full of malcontented Frenchmen bemoaning the dreary Irish weather preventing their attempt at the summit. Though all this is assumption. They may have been talking about garlic and onions or talking about detonating bombs in the south pacific for all I know. I’m pretty sure they didn’t mention the youth hostel – beyond that is conjecture.

[brief interlude.  There’s a guy on a ride on a ride on lawnmower driving in increasingly smaller concentric circles round my tent. I’m not entirely sure I want my toenails cut at this juncture]

from there I took the long and windy road (they’re all long and windy round here) back to Killybegs and beyond stopping only to lie on the beach for a while reading cloud atlas in Fintragh bay. The sun threatened an appearance.

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Through Donegal town and on to Murvagh beach where I simply fell asleep with the seat back listening to whatever Sigur Ros had to offer.

I had already by this stage decided on the camp site I’m now in. By the usual method of looking at the end of the road in the map and seeing what’s there.

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So at 4pm I rolled into Rosse’s point. Which may just he the definition of sleepy Irish village. The island across the bay from the camp site is for sale. I know this because there’s a big sign on it saying  ‘for sale – oyster island’. I’d love to know much. Imagine starting on the property ladder with your very own island. Beats a semi in suburbia.

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There is also another Coney island just across from the oyster island. That brings my total to 4 Coney Islands now.

I opted for a camp site – the need for a functioning toilet and personal hygiene becoming of greater significance as the day wore on.

And after a quick dander round the night life (there is none) and a quick pint and the paper I’m back at the site with my back against the volvo, full belly, mumford and sons and a setting sun.

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Oh yes that’s where we started wasn’t it.

An Ocean and a Rock – Part 1

I am somewhat addicted to the road trip. I am also somewhat addicted to my Volvo. I am yet to get round to sleeping in it but plan to make every effort on this trip.

But first some background.

It’s not like I have any idea where I head to. I lay the map out on the table the day before and look for the bits with the fewest roads and go there.

Turns out there are an exceptional number of places in Ireland with little bays and little beaches and not very many roads.

But I have to picture what all of these look like in my head. And in my head they’re always sunny – which is always hopeful in Ireland. Either that or look them up on google and inevitably there will be lots of photos from flickr or videos on YouTube by some german guy. It gives you the gist of the place.

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So anyhow. I’ve now ended up in Malin Beg. Somewhere west of the west of Ireland. West donegal to be precise. I don’t think there’s much between me and the Americas. Except the Atlantic ocean of course.
I drove 3 hours solid to get here through mist and fog – just to get here and find that it’s, well misty and foggy…

I still think it looks pretty sweet.

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At the car park a duke of Edinburgh group were pitching their tents, a slightly concerned but impatient school teacher in attendance – “have you put the water on to boil yet, what are you two planning to have for tea?”. All that kind if thing.

The two blokes seemed to be loving it. I’m not sure the same good be said of the girls. Though I can’t really blame them if I had to walk Slieve League in the fog and rain I’d be pissed off too.

Funnily enough that’s what I have planned for tomorrow.

The beach is about a 100 yds below the car park (it may only be 50 but I’m kind of crap with vertical distances and 100 yds sounds like the kind of thing someone might say) and was thankfully deserted apart from the dying embers of a camp fire that I presumed someone had left.

So I pitched the tent. The nice new one I treated myself to for the birthday. The one I’ve only put up the once when me and skeeno tried it out in the living room.

So of course I put it up wrong to start with. It was to be expected.

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Stoked the fire has best I could with the conveniently stacked fire wood and lit the mini grill and got the burgers going.

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Only to find a rather sheepish young polish woman walking towards me wondering if she could maybe have some of the firewood that her and her boyfriend had collected for their camp fire this evening.

Oh dear. I appeared to have stolen not only their lit fire but also their firewood and ideal camp site on the beach.

I felt immensely bad about this. Not that they had left anything to suggest that it was their camp fire. It was just a fire and a pile of wood.

I decided against an ill advised rant about possession being nine tenths of the law – being somewhat uncertain as to how the law stands in relation to ownership of a fire already in progress.

After recent events in Belfast I could just picture the news headlines – Norn Irish prick steals vital heat source from homeless immigrant.

Turns out she’s polish and the boyfriend is Irish so all round I think I’m in the clear.

I did feel bad enough to go round the beach and collect them some new fire wood. It salved the conscience somewhat.

So with tent erected and burgers cooked and fire blazing – well maybe not blazing, more ‘smoking intensely’ – I can finally settle down to read the book in peace. Though it does seem like an awful lit of effort just for that.

Nice places to bring the dog if she didn’t keep trying to climb out of the canoe

The last time we went canoeing it didn’t turn out well. Simy’s canoe is still lying slightly crooked and bent in his garage, along with out self-confidence and desire to canoe over weirs.

But on what appeared to be the nicest day of the year so far we couldn’t really resist.

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The lime green wonder fibreglass wonderboat, that goes by the name of of pudge was back on the high seas. Or at least the river Blackwater.

Young Sparky, we put in the fancy plastic canoe, given his distaste for squatting in the open canoe. Some people it seems were not provided with knees suitable for water sports.

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Simy on the other hand appears to be the next step in evolutionary process towards man kind becoming one with the canoe. He is an anterior talo-fibular ligament injury waiting to happen. Don’t try this at home.

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On arrival at the Lough we were greeted by a vicious north easterly wind that would have been great for windsurfing but kind of made it impossible to get out to Coney island no matter what we tried.

We abandoned the idea for lying on the pier at Maghery and wondering at how somewhere so nice could be made such a horrible place by so few hoods.

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Graffiti of the day was simply the word “tits”painted on a boarded up toilet block. There wasn’t even an accompanying badly drawn pair of boobies.The whole place is like one big walking, talking under aged drinking ASBO.

We once phoned the council about camping at the camp-site at Maghery and were advised against it by the very people who run the camp-site. Apparently there had been a few “incidents” with the locals, and no one had used it since.

Despite all this it has a lot of potential for water sports and the great outdoors, all it needs is a forest park, some nice walks by the Lough shore and it could  be one of the nicest places to go in the country.

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Last two pictures illustrates the dangers available to an Irishman on a sunny day.

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Walk without direction

Normally this would fit into “nice places to walk the dog” series. But the dog is in heat, and is banned from public appearances without some kind of chastity pants on. In the hose she wears a pair of kiddies pants with a hole cut in the tail.

Would make for a great photo, except it’s not really my dog so should avoid taking the piss out of the poor thing too much. So instead i went walking with actual, flesh and blood human beings.

This is a lot more tiresome from a conversation point of view – the dog is a very good listener, and only interrupts to stick her tongue in your ear.

We (perhaps I….) managed to make an extremely simple walk through the boundaries of tollymore very difficult by taking the wrong track twice and then forgetting the keys for the car that we’d left at the end of the walk.

Fun all the same, if only for the tight rope walking on the trees through the blue bells and the view over the sea.

PS Wee philly as a gun in my back, hence my bizzare facial expression.

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Nice places to walk the dog – No. 3

I should have gone yesterday. Yesterday was lovely. Today was grey on the hills and a tad on the chilly side. Dog enjoyed it. I dare say I even enjoyed which was perhaps the most surprising thing.

Not that we walked too far. It was mainly sheltering behind the mourne wall and reading and drinking coffee. Yes I know I could do this in Starbucks in the warmth, but I prefer the view here.

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Nice places to walk the dog – No. 2

For today at least, Northern Ireland was the nicest place in the world. (even if work may not have been…)

Cycling back from work I detoured as shown below and ended up sitting on a bench in the sun wanting it never to end.

simple things in life and all that.

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Nice places to walk the dog – No. 1

[Part of an occasional series]

Brackagh Moss is a bog. Yes a bog. Us Irish like bogs. We were all born in one or something.

Anyhow. It feels like proper Ireland, the one before we chopped down all the trees and killed all the pagans.

Apart from the used condom at the entrance (dogs will find everything) it’s lovely. Though a tad damp underfoot. But you all knew that because it’s a bog…

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The skin of my yellow country teeth

On a slightly more positve note. And that wouldn’t be too difficult.

Come on the Ireland!

Though cutting it a little bit fine with all the silly dropping the ball and needless penalties near the end. Good flipping rugby game.

Sunlight hits the snow

I like a nice play in the snow. I’d texted 25 or so to see who wanted to go. I got 4 in the end. Useless bunch of lay abouts the lot of you…

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Sparky apparently looks like the phone jacker with that hat. Which is still in my car dude

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Maysie looks like he was born in the hills

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Rachel was the only one not squinting with the sensible and cool looking sunnies

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That’s an unfortunate picture of Coils i know. Apologies. I made it very small if that helps…

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I always look this good.

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The hills on the other hand have rarely looked better.

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And I’ve no idea how that car managed to get there.

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.

Don’t steal our sun

Ireland kicks ass. On a sunny day that is.

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July 2020
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