After a short 3 days to recover from the marathon I was back on the road, this time headed for Northern Ireland and the town of Antrim. I arrived Thursday afternoon to a clear view across lough Neagh. The sun was beginning to set as the familiar freelander rolled up to greeted by Sonya and Kevin to unload boats into the eye feel good container. After a quick bite we then set off headed even further North to the Atlantic coast which would mark the end of our trip. with the shuttle done we hit the hay for a few hours sleep before setting off early Friday morning. As the dawn broke we greeted the participants at the lake we packed up the boats with barrels and bags of all our needs for the next 3 days.
The trip was a charity fundraiser to paddle from Antrim across lough Neagh to Toome before heading onto the River Bann through Lough Begg and all the way to the Atlantic in Coleraine. As the group gathered for pre trip photos and smiles the craft were launched with a selection of boats, mad river canoes, Legend, explorer and journeys in a selection of materials along with a fleet of Venture Prospectors made up the majority of the flotilla. 2 Dogs, 39 paddlers in 20 boats plus a small rescue rib made up our trip. As we set off with the wind in our sails or umbrellas we made a good start heading around the Lough headed for Toome. As we hit the dog leg into Toome the wind decided to hit us with a nasty headwind slowing the hole group to a slow crawl. A few boat changes and we made the trip to Toome with no dramas. At Toome we hit the first of 5 locks we would descend as we paddled into the lock and the water started dropping the group disappeared into a lonely basin away from the wind above a moment of rest before emerging onto the River Bann and around into Lough Begg. As we pushed on the wind battered the boats creating small waves spilling into boats. The group pressed hard working to keep the boats straight and moving with the rafter Canadians struggling with the wind pushing harder to keep the extra weight moving. The safety boat really made its money worth, towing canoes back to the front of the group to stop them being left behind. As we turned at the end of the Lough the faces painted the picture grimacing and frustrated the group were battered but not beaten as we took to our first nights camping the sun withdrew from its cloud to give us a beautiful evening sun to set up camp and enjoy our first evening of camp food and tales.
The next morning we arose to the sound of sizzling sausages and boiling water. The morning broke with frost on the ground to give everyone a slight chill as we packed up camp and got set for the off knowing the hardest day was now behind us, all we could hope was that the wind would be good to us. With a slight headwind we made our way along the Lower Bann headed for the promised land of Pub soup and sandwiches only 6km away. We wound our way along the meandering river with green fields and trees lining the banks with no other water users we were secluded calm gracefully paddling along our way.
As we reached the pub ahead of schedule everyone was looking in anticipation a warm pub filled with tea, coffee and a log fire lay behind the large wooden locked doors, as we waited patiently we looked at each other looking for expressions and signs of movement from within. As the clock struck 11 we heard the large metal bolt pull open and like the lock gates we all flooded in. The warm food was just what the doctor ordered, with warm drinks and food to fill ourselves up ready for the next stage of our journey. As the group peeled themselves from the warmth of the pub for the cooler climate outside knowing we had plenty of miles ahead of us. Back in the boats and with another change of crews to keep things social we paddled our way on. With the group making great progress the powerhouses of Ole and Elizabeth taking the lead pushing hard at a great pace leaving others in their wake With Kevin excited by the game of Margery kept everyone in great humour and well motivated. With more locks to negotiate the feeling of achievement was starting to set in with half the trip already in the bag the group were running at a good pace and eating up the kilometres.
As we reached the Movanagh Fish Farm we knew we were finished paddling for day 2. As we pitched camp we already had a gathering party collecting firewood ready for the cool evening ahead. The tents were pitched and the group fed as we sat around the campfire sharing stories and chatting till the early hours the tarot cards even made an appearance. This was the part of the trip which really pulls the group together motivating and relaxing. With future trips and ideas being planned even before this trip is finished.
As the group packed the kit into the boats for the final time knowing the distance to the finish line was ever closing we got underway after a slight delay as the Lock doesn't open until 10am we pushed on with the group refreshed and revitalised we caught up the time. On the trip we had a couple of dogs bounding boat to boat exploring each persons craft except for the odd leap of faith into the water they were great company and happy to go with the flow.
As we approached the cuts we knew the finish line was in sight, with only a few kilometres to go. On clearing the lock at the cuts the flotilla took to formation being led by flagship (a rafted Canadian with the eye feel good banner proudly waving in the wind.
As we passed the RNLI Atlantic lifeboat our goal was in sight the slipway at marina with parents, friends and family awaiting our arrival.
As we reached land their were hugs kisses and hand shakes all round their was a massive sense if achievement from everyone with the devastating headwind from the first day all but forgotten as the boats were pulled up and the final talk given from the expedition bosses Richard Fee and Mark Kennedy the trip was over. Well done to everyone who took part paddled, supported or sponsored their was a great deal of support to make the trip possible.
Thank you to Richard Fee and Mark Kennedy for organising a very successful safe and professional trip for all.
Eye Feel Good is a charity foundation based in Northern Ireland. Our aim is to raise money through organised events donating to those living with cancer within the community.
Click the logo to find out what they are upto!
For anyone looking to do the trip their are a great series of open canoe trails which have been produced by CANI, this trip would be excellent for both sea and touring kayaks as well as open canoe. They can also be found online