Paddling one’s own canoe

IMG_0183We are diversifying here at unironedman. I have always had a hankering for canoes, and love just about anything to do with water, including swimming, fishing, sailing, rowing, and that stuff they make out of it with barley, hops and malt…

But I had never really tried canoeing. Many years ago, we had an old Canadian two-man, and we used to bring it up to the Royal Canal. It was a sturdy old workhorse, and next to impossible to tip over. Plus it was powered with short, single-bladed paddles. But the single kayaks had slipped past me, and though I have tried my hand at a number of different sports, I just never got around to paddling. Considering where we live, that’s a shame, because the Liffey around here has produced some national white-water champions over the years, and the famous Liffey Descent takes place annually in September.

The Liffey may not be Ireland’s longest river (that’s the Shannon) but it possibly has the most iconic history, due to its final destination at the Irish Sea, and the small matter of Dublin, the nation’s capital, which sits astride the estuary. The river is about 82 miles long, and the lion’s share of it is on our county: Kildare. It’s been a major feature in my life, and my wife’s too. At this juncture, I will point you in the direction of this author: Nuala O’Connor. She also writes as Nuala Ní Chonchúir, but non-Irish speakers will struggle with that one.

Anyway, Nuala grew up beside the Liffey, as did S and I, and has written some crackin’ stories, some of which involve the Liffey and they are wonderfully evocative. All rivers have their own ‘DNA’ which is a result of where they are born (the Liffey rises in the Wicklow Mountains), the kind of water that makes up their bulk (the initial lifeblood of the Liffey is peaty bog-water, mixed with a hard granite grit), and the various other shit we throw in it as it wends its way through the three counties of its life’s journey, which equate to our own, in a way: the youthful vigour of childhood and youth in Wicklow, the beginnings of teenage troubles and mid-life crises as it finds the flatlands of Kildare, where it puts on weight and gets lazy, and finally, the last few years of its dotage in Dublin, where it goes to die. Well, I may have succumbed to histrionics there at the end! But the poor thing gets a hammering in the Fair City, and on a Summer’s day when the tide is out… phew… she sure can stink.

The particular smell that Nuala evokes comes from the river’s lower reaches, and stems from the silt and river mud that is thrown up and carried downstream when there’s been some heavy rain. Currently, Holly the Cocker Spaniel has a great whiff of Liffey mud about her, despite the best attempts of S to wash it off after a dip the other day. It’s a strong smell, and not unpleasant, but it’s unmistakable and hangs around for days; well, it does when you’re furry I guess. I swim in the Liffey every Summer, and I don’t smell like that (or at least no-one has been honest enough to tell me if I do…)

S and I took a stroll down memory lane at the weekend. Well, it was her patch really – Mill Lane in Palmerstown. Of course, we live on Mill Lane now, albeit a few miles upstream in a different town. But it gives you a clue how the river has shaped its surroundings. And played a part in the lives of those attached to it. Indeed, it has leached into my subconscious over the years, like a leaky roof, to the point where I regularly dream about it. That and canals.

Near Mill Lane there is an old church and graveyard, and it’s currently getting some much-needed attention. Not all these ‘renovations’ are necessarily in the best interests of the architectural heritage, it must be said. Often undertaken with more vigour than understanding, many of these local projects are funded under various schemes and essentially seem to be mini-declarations of war on ivy. And often at the expense of whatever the ivy was growing on. These days, there is, at least, a better understanding of lime mortars and more sensitive conservation techniques. But alas there are still a few ‘slash and burn’ jobs that do no favours to the very areas the projects were meant to help. Anyway, I digress. The trip was really about visiting S’s Mum on Mother’s Day; the stroll down Mill Lane to see the Liffey and some old haunts was a bonus, as was the really nice hot chocolate…

Monday was a busy day with a 10k run book-ended with two gym sessions. Along the way we did some work too. And yesterday evening, I managed my third paddle. S came along and took some tasty pics just to prove that I can actually float upright in a kayak. And my tutor and old friend Austin put me in his wife’s boat to see how I would get on with a Kayak (as opposed to a GP canoe). K boats are basically longer and slimmer than a general purpose (GP) canoe, and are therefore less stable but faster. They have little rudders, too, which are controlled by your feet. If you want more technical info than that, you are in the wrong place. Suffice to say I enjoyed the paddle in both, and found the K1 to be fun to use and not as tippy as I feared, and in some respects, easier to paddle. For now, it should be said my main goals are to go in a straight line, and not fall out. And not in that order either!

The pics above are a selection from a batch S took, and you can click on them for a larger view of proceedings. I’m in the yellow cap, Austin is in the foreground, and one of his three sons, Dan, makes up the trio. Austin’s wife paddles as well, as do the other two boys.

And it should be said I am NOT paddling my own canoe. The GP belongs to Austin, and the K1 belongs to Susan. So I am very grateful for their generosity.

If you want to check out the Celbridge Paddlers, visit their site here.

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