The Lough Erne Island Challenge Begins
Posted on July 18, 2012 @ 8:20 AM in
Keen canoeist Nick Wolsey has almost completed his self made quest to land on every island on Strangford Lough. Not content with this he has already embarked on a second challenge to circumnavigate every island on Lough Erne. This is no small task considering it is rumoured there are 365!!
Nick has kindly written a guest blog for CanoeNI.com on his account of the first steps (or paddle stokes) of this challenge.
On the last Saturday in June my daughter Melissa, faithful hound Molly and I set off for Carrybridge on the River Erne for the first full trial of the Mothership concept. (thanks Mary in Oxford for the name.) We arrived at 8pm and stayed the night at our normal dock. First thing in the morning we were up and away, heading south to Naan Island.
Mobile Bothy set up at the Naan Island jetty by 9am.
We planned to base ourselves here and explore the surrounding islands by canoe. I managed three trips from here, on the first trip up to Sunday lunchtime I was accompanied by my daughter, then the afternoon trip and Monday morning trips it was just me and my hound.
Naan Island Map
We set off north into wind with the intention of circumnavigating Naan Island. As we reached the north end of the island we were exposed to a stiff northwest wind and decided to turn back as the waves were uncomfortable.
Heading north along Naan Island
Heading south again.
We then headed for the sheltered south end of the island.
The calmer south end.
We skirted the reed beds connecting Naan West with Naan South and found a grassy area to land for an early lunch break. The water lever was a foot higher than normal and we could paddle right into the long grass.
Heading into the grass.
Naan Island South picnic site.
We spotted a bird nestbox made from wire mesh and straw, it was not inhabited.
In the afternoon the wind had died down and swung round to the southwest, at about 3pm while my daughter had a snooze in the Bothy I set off southeast to explore Mountjoy Island. It had a small area of grass as a picnic/camping area with a garden shed containing a plastic table and chairs.
Heading round the island the rest of it was overgrown and impossible to land on, the reed beds were very peaceful and eventually I backed into the reeds for a teabreak, Molly was not amused at not getting out to explore.
Reed bed teabreak
I headed into wind partly sheltered by Creaghananure Island then turned northwest back to base.
In the morning the wind had swung round to the southeast so I set off with Molly (teenagers don’t do mornings !) to explore Creaghananure Island. Like most of the small islands on Lough Erne most of this island was impenetrable due to dense undergrowth overhanging the water, but the south end was clear under the trees and looked as if it may have been a historic defensive position. Someone has provided a long bench seat with a great view.
View from Creaghananure bench.
As I explored the interior I disturbed some sizable beast which went crashing and then splashing towards the north part of the island. Then as I made my way back to the boat I came across a completely stripped and dismantled skeleton of something sheep sized, this was laid out in order of dismantlement implying non human consumption, at this point a shiver went down my spine and I hopped into my boat and left sharpish !
It was probably just the two swans I saw later that made the crashing noise, probably !
Funny how your mind plays tricks when you are on your own, with just an overfriendly hound for protection.
I then paddled over to Edergole Island as the furthest point of the trip.
The run back to the jetty was downwind so I fitted up the sail ready for use, but first I paddled back across to the bay on the southeast side of Creaghananure and here experienced an epiphany.
I came to the realisation that this is the only way to fully experience the beauty of Lough Erne. In a small boat, no engine, in the reeds with the swans and coots, close to an overgrown island untouched by man, with a faithful hound for company.
This was brought into sharp focus by the contrast with the big boat waiting with its home comforts at the jetty. The cruiser is useless for appreciating the lough, it can only access about 10% of the lough and is severely restricted as to where you can stop ( I have yet to try the anchor ). It is like watching the lough from a distance through a television screen. It is noisy, smelly and intrusive, but I love the convenience, not have to set up camp and then pack up in the morning. The Mothership concept works and I have the best of both worlds.
The last part of the trip was by sail with a gentle tailwind. By the time I got back to the big boat my daughter was up and wanted to head south to Crom. We cast off and motored south, reaching Crom by lunchtime.
After lunch we had a long walk to tire out the dog and the daughter, then at 3pm I set off on a mission to check out Bloody Pass. This is an expedition I have wanted to do for some time to see if it is possible to paddle all the way round Inishfendra island. A causeway has been built at Bloody Pass and the rumour is that it is impassable.
I set off up river into the wind, it was hard work, but the concept was that if the Pass was impassable at least I could drift back down river with the wind. On the chart the turn-in is marked with post 23J.
Across a stretch of open water we came to a choked up channel leading to the causeway. Because the river level was a foot higher than normal it was possible to push through the reeds right up to the causeway, but if the level was lower than normal it would leave a marshy area that would be hard to portage. The causeway had a barbed wire fence with an electric strand on top, but at one end there was a gap where the wire strands could be unhooked and the boat passed through. On both sides of the causeway the cows had churned up the ground and left their usual deposits making the going heavy.
The Bloody Pass Causeway
At last I made it into the open lough south of Inishfendra, and a gentle tailwind blew me back towards the Crom junction. After half an hour of gentle paddling Gad Island with Crichton Tower came into view.
Crichton Tower is a folly built to give a focal point to look at from the main Crom Castle. The door was open so I landed and had a look, the ground floor has a domed roof with a hole in the centre for a ladder. The upper floor has no roof, and no access to the battlements. A little disappointing.
Time to head back to the Crom Dock, I had no watch and thought I might have been out longer than expected, but when I got back to the big boat I found the whole trip had taken just two hours.
The river level is still rising.
No canoeing on the Tuesday, damp and windy. We motored back to the Noble Dock, stopping for lunch at Knockninny. The Mothership/Canoe combination works very well, the amount of canoeing dependant on the weather and the patience of those with you. Must arrange to bring a canoe enthusiast with me next time, or maybe just Molly.