FISH dart out of the way as the Canadian canoe slices through the water. My knees are braced out to the sides of the canoe and the paddle is making the last few adjustments as we approach the top of a four foot weir. Settling into the fish run, the canoe accelerates down the face of the weir, hitting the white water at the bottom and miraculously staying upright and buoyant.
So far we’ve been introduced to the basics of canoeing and had a brief history lesson while the boats were lifted in a 200 year old lock. On a sunny day there is no where more spectacular than a river in Ireland.
At 11.30am a group of 15 adventurous souls had met on the banks of the river Barrow in Clashganny. Charlie Heron, our guide for the day had explained how the area had once been the economic power house with barges arriving 24 hours day. In those days the lock keepers had only been entitled to two days off a year. Charlie’s son, Nathan, was our lock keeper, for the but as he said himself, “being out on the river is hardly work.”
Before we could take to the river we were fitted out in wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets. Charlie gave everyone a quick demonstration on how to manoeuvre the canoes, a much more delicate skill than just brute force rowing. The river at Clashganny is very calm and once we were in our canoes we were let loose to practice river navigation.
Having conquered forwards and backwards, we moved into the first river lock of the day. Charlie explained that the locks originally came from sketches in Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
The first major challenge was a weir. Charlie took us all through the basics of white water canoeing before we tackled the weir. We were told to get our centre of gravity as low as possible and to have as much contact with the sides of the canoe as we could. The more points of contact the more control.
All our group from men in their 50’s to a young girl under the age of 10, made it down the weir with out capsizing. A calm stretch of the river allowed us to regain our composure while we floated between the reeds spied ducks and herons.
The next challenge was another weir guarded by the remains of castle. The castle had been controlled by the O’Riain family, who used to dominate the river crossing demanding payments for safe passage and throwing rocks at those who refused. Charlie said that the family were so unpopular that while they were out of the castle, it had been dismantled and used to build the weir.
With another weir down and everyone feeling that they had mastered white-water in a boat, Charlie decided to teach us some white-water swimming techniques. At a set of rapids on the river we abandon our boats and wade into the water. Charlie instructs us to keep our feet up are heads back and just go with the flow. With the help of our buoyancy aids we fly through the rapids lying on our backs.
There was one last eel weir to be tackled before we paddle into another lock and follow the canal back to where we began.
If you’d be interested in a River trip with Charlie Heron you can contact him on 087-2529700 or for further information look up www.gowiththeflow.ie