2017 Ulster Canoe Festival

In September 2016, the first Ulster Canoe Festival was held at Shane’s Castle. The weekend was very successful with great coaching and craic. As soon as the dates for the 2017 event were published, I put them in my diary.

The event started on the Friday night with a chance to check in, set up camp and catch up with friends old and new. Due to working late on the Friday I was not able to get there until Saturday morning. I was disappointed to miss out on the craic, but glad I missed what was described as the heaviest rain Northern Ireland had seen in years!

The location for this year’s event was Portneal Lodge, Kilrea. The Lodge is on the banks of the River Bann beside a jetty. It has plenty of space for camping and parking. The Lodge closed in 2014 but has recently been bought and redevelopment is planned but for this weekend the Festival had the use of this great base.

At the time of booking, I had selected my workshops. There was the options of half day or full day sessions. When I arrived, I was told the first session, ‘Alternative Propulsion’ would start from the jetty beside the Lodge. I was able to get my boat there on a trolley. This session was delivered by John Wilkinson and as the session started I found I had used the first of the methods of alternative propulsion, wheels. We went on to look at poling, lining, tracking and sailing among others. We practised these by the jetty and at the rapid a few hundred meters upstream. During this session the rain came back, I saw what I had missed during the night. We were paddlers so it did not stop the fun.

After lunch I changed to a ‘dry’ session. I should really list this as a bank session, there was possibly more water on the bank than in the river. I was looking at ‘Camp Cooking’. This was delivered by Mark O’Connor, as well as gathering knowledge we got very well fed on this session. If I had known how much food he was supplying I could have skipped my lunch. To give shelter from the rain, Mark had hung a parachute from the trees to make a shelter. We looked briefly at fire lighting, in his other workshop, Campcraft, he was going to look at this in more detail. We cooked sausages, not new, but then added a glaze of BBQ sauce or Honey & Mustard. This simple step added greatly to the flavour. We then went to bread making, cooking dough in a spiral on a stick. Again, we added a glaze, this time garlic butter. Some of the bread spirals looked good enough to sell. We finished as most camp fire food sessions do, we made smores!

We then had a bit of free time to relax before the mobile kitchen arrived and fed us all with burgers, pasta and salads. Then we gathered inside for the evening talk. This was given by Colin Skeath.

Colin and his nephew Davis, had recently completed the first circumnavigation of Great Britain. This was a huge achievement and I had followed their progress on Facebook. It wasn’t until I had heard Colin talk about the journey and I watched some of the video of them taken from the shore which showed how small they were in comparison to the waves they had to pass through that I really understood the magnitude of this challenge. More details can be found on their website at http://canoearoundbritain.com/challenge/.

After the talk, there was an awards presentation. The following awards were made:

  • Paddler magazine sponsored ‘Product of the Year’ and this was awarded to Hou Prospector.
  • Hou Canoe sponsored ‘Commercial Coach of the Year’ this was awarded to Shooter (Elaine).
  • Downcreek sponsored ‘Life Time Award’ this was awarded to Hugo Dale.

We then relaxed and chatted the night away, some got an early night in preparation for the busy day ahead, some did not!

Sunday started for me with a ‘Rescue Session’, this was taken by Jan Dillenburger-Keenan. We started with throw lines and moved on to the water rescues. It was a good chance for us to compare ideas and different techniques.

This was a second excellent ‘Ulster Canoe Festival’, great value at £45 for the weekend. Great coaching and great atmosphere. Slightly less rain would have helped but we can’t control that. More reports and pictures are available at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813228195448947/

Thanks to all the coaches who shared their knowledge: Shooter, Hugo Dale, John Wilkinson, Steve Smith, Lindsay McPhee, Keith Fitzsimmons, Steve Millar, Mark O’Connor and Jan Dillenburger-Keenan.

Credit also to the 89 paying punters who braved the weather, but the last mention must go to Gareth Mahood and John McClean who put this together and delivered another great event.

The last bit of news……Next years dates are out – 31st August – 1st September – put it in your diary.

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