On the weekend of 20th – 21st August we held the first Big Bann Canoe Challenge, a 29km paddle along the beautiful Lower Bann from Newferry to Drumaheglis, with a camping area on the Saturday night kindly provided by Portneal Lodge, near Kilrea.
So what was special about this paddle? Our main aim was to introduce both new paddlers and relative beginners to aspects of canoeing which they had never attempted before, hence the word “challenge” in the title. We wanted the event to attract people of all ages and abilities, including families, in a fun atmosphere which would encourage all who took part to continue to paddle.
With the help of Elaine Upton, Countryside Recreation officer in Antrim Borough Council, we were able to secure funding for the event from Waterways Ireland. This allowed us to offer a free “training day” for all who had registered to take part, and we held this in Toome. The turnout was disappointing, especially considering that professional coaching was being provided for free, but may have been something to do with the torrential rain on the morning! After a morning of coaching, we took everyone through Lough Beg to Newferry, and all who took part enjoyed the day – even Alan and Valerie who had a capsize!
On the day of the event we had over 60 people on the water, and it was a great sight, seeing all of those boats setting off along the mighty Bann! With good weather and a wind in our backs it wasn’t long before umbrellas came out to be used as sails, much to the amusement of the novices among us. Another new experience for most of our group was going through the locks at Portna, before reaching Portneal Lodge and setting up camp.
The following day we set off in poorer weather conditions, and a warning from Rodger that the wind was due to turn to a Northerly – ie in our faces. With this in mind, we pushed on before stopping after Carnroe for lunch. Then Rodger’s prediction came true, making the going difficult for our novices. This was when our coaches came into their own, providing great support and inspiring confidence.
As we arrived at the finish point in Drumaheglis, many people had friends and family there to welcome them home, and there was a tangeable sense of excitement and achievement. All of our paddlers got a T shirt with the slogan “I’ve been Banned!”, and we received many comments about what an enjoyable experience the Big Bann Challenge was. That was due to the efforts of all who helped:- special thanks to all of the CANI staff, who went above and beyond the call of duty, and to the coaches who not only helped but provided such great craic! As a result I believe we have gained many converts to canoeing.
The event also raised money for Asterias, a local charity which supports children in Kenya by building schools. Thank you to the Asterias team for their help with organising the event, and to everyone who raised money for such a worthwhile cause.
Finally, many thanks also to the following for their support:-
Waterways Ireland for funding; Carnroe supplies for the T shirts; Scott Hire for the cleanest portable toilets I have ever seen!!; Seven Towers Canoe Club, Causeway Coast Kayak Association, C3 Craigavon Canoe Club and Belfast Kayak Club for the coaches that give a hand on the day and for the loan of equipment; Portneal Lodge; Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney and Coleraine Councils; everyone who helped in any way.
See you all next year!