The Bothy’s back!
The bothy on Salt Island in Strangford Lough has been officially re-opened for business. If you were a guide or scout in the 1980’s you might remember it as a welcome shelter from the elements. But by the nineties it had fallen into disuse and was vandalised. In recent times the only regular users were sheep – including one which chose the hut as its last resting place!
However, even if you are from that era, you would find the bothy difficult to recognise now. The National Trust, who own the island, have turned it into the Hilton of bothies – with real toilets, running water and a woodburning stove. Nice to see they kept the old Belfast sink too.
The official opening of the bothy – and of Strangford Lough Canoe Trail – was on a windy Wednesday at the beginning of this month. As launches go it was an ambitious one. Guests from a wide variety of organisations which have helped in the funding of the project were ferried across the lough from Killyleagh OEC in a motor launch, and then in the lee of the island, dropped into waiting canoes to paddle the last part of the journey.
Once on the island a trek over the hill was made all the easier by the waft of barbequeing food drifting towards the landing party.
Dawson Stelfox, who’s the chairperson of the Countryside and Access and Activities Network, was in charge of the formal welcome – it was he who christened the the building the Hilton of bothies (and he knows a bit about bothies).
To give you some idea of the complexity of a project like this, the total cost was over £94,500. Funding came from Sport NI; the Northern Ireland Environment Agency; Ards Borough Council; Down District Council; The National Trust; and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through the EU programme for building sustainable prosperity – administered by Sustrans (phew). The project was managed by CAAN (with a little help from CANI) and it in turn is supported by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, NI Tourist Board, Sport NI, Inland Waterways and Inland fisheries branch of the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure.
Liam McKibben, director of rural policy at DARD, cut the ribbon. He said he thought the trail would be a magnet to canoeists both from the local community and those from further afield. That’s certainly the hope of the National Trust too, Strangford Lough warden David Thompson even breaking into verse as he invoked the spirit of the lough and told us a little more about the history behind the bothy. Pamela Ballentyne of UTV came along and hopefully by the time you read this, you’ll already have caught her report on UTV Live.
The bothy itself is probably the jewel in the crown of Northern Ireland’s canoe trails. It’s the fifth trail to be launched and follows on from Lough Erne, the Blackwater, Lower Bann and Lough Neagh.
There probably aren’t too many local paddlers who don’t already know some parts of the lough – but with 70-odd islands and pladdies in an area of 80 square nautical miles – there are sure to be lots of CANI members who have plenty of scope for more exploration.
There were quite a few CANI members among the volunteers on the Saturday before the official launch who paddled out to Salt Island and lent a hand to make sure everything was looking as good as possible for the big event. They hauled out old barbed wire fencing, rebuilt dry stone walls and gateposts and picked littler from all around the island.
Thanking those who took part, Jill Montgomery, Access and Recreation officer for the National Trust, said it’s part of their plans for the island that a “Friends of the Bothy” volunteer group will be formed to help monitor the building and keep it in good order.
Bookings for the bothy will be through the National Trust – probably co-ordinated at Castle Ward. Details on the CANI website soon. In the meantime there’s more information on Strangford Lough and the other canoe trails at CAAN’s website www.canoeni.com