THREE keen kayakers made history earlier this year when they became the first people in 74 years to complete a journey along the entire lengh of the Newry and Portadown Canal.
George Bryans, Dennis Rice and Tony Megraw, all members of Banbridge Kayak and Canoe Club, were the first people to travel along that route since a pleasure yacht sailed there in 1937.
Both George and Dennis have previously paddled across the Irish Sea to Scotland and the Isle of Man but admitted this experience, travelling across the oldest summit canal in the UK, was going to be entirely different.
Supported by Councillor John Hanna, a long-standing advocate of making more use of the canal, the three men set off in single file on their expedition in January.
The condition of the canal was challenging to say the least, said George. “The hard weather in December had helped cut back the weeds and we had had a good spell of heavy rain in the preceeding days so it was time to get down and dirty, literally,” he said.
“The first few miles were hard going because of the weeds, it wasn’t so much paddling as pushing our way through reed beds.
“We were restricted to single file with the first person leaving a trail for the others to follow. The first person also had to cut through branches of fallen trees which partially blocked our path.”
The team encountered blockages along the way, when they had to literally carry their canoes round the obstacle - which at one point was a group of swans.
“We couldn’t overtake them as each time we got close to them they flew a few hundred yards and swam slowly until we caught up with them again,” said George.
“When they eventually tried to take off over our heads they had barely enough ‘runway’ space and seemed to be on a collision course with us.
“One struck me on the left shoulder as I tried to duck down out of his way. Neither of us suffered serious damage and the swan made good his escape.”
But, along with the support of walkers and cyclists who passed by and offered words of encouragement, the three men made it to their final destination at Newry.
The historic trip was captured on camera by Banbridge Camera Club and was a great way to show how valuable the towpath along the canal is, according to Mr Hanna.
“I would like to warmly congratulate these men on completing their navigation of the canal from Lough Neagh to Newry,” he said.
“I hope that this will encourage more people to make use of the canal.”