First Step towards Adventure - Canoe Skills with Tollymore National Outdoor Centre

Posted on February 2, 2016 @ 11:18 AM in Adventure

Every wanted to try a new activity but didn’t know where to start? Tollymore National Outdoor Centre has created a series of ‘First Step’ skills courses perfect for complete beginners.  From canoeing to climbing and mountain biking to hill walking navigation these skill focused courses are all about trying new things and gaining confidence in the great outdoors so when the opportunity came up to attend the First Step open Canoeing Skills course I was raring to go!

Tollymroe canoe course

Our instructor Amy leading the way

The course started with a coffee (as all good courses should!) where we had a chance to chat whilst everyone arrived.  We were then introduced to Emma and Amy our instructors for the session who took us through the plans for the day.  After a few intros to find out everyone’s skill level/experience we headed down to the store room to get kitted out for our day of canoeing. 

I’d been in a kayak a couple of times but never a canoe so my experience was definitely limited (illustrated by my first question on seeing the boat; ‘How do you know which way is the front?!’)  This was by no means an issue however as all the courses are designed that experience is not essential.  Everyone was there for different reasons; some were already members of clubs but wanted to gain the confidence to take their families out on their own, others wanted to improve their skills to paddle with their more competent partners (and hopefully avoid a few domestics on the water!) and the rest, including me, were there to simply get out and have fun in the outdoors.

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre has to have one of the most extensive kit stores around, so there was no need to worry about having to own any expensive gear.  The store had everything from wetsuits, helmets, buoyancy aids and cagoules to dry bags and neoprene boots (which was great if someone, say hypothetically, forgot to even bring a rain coat!).  A few people brought their own kit to try out which was also an option and a good way of putting new gear to the test in supervised conditions. 


Getting kitted out in the store 

After a quick change we headed to the storage units to get our canoes and loaded up the trailer.  The crafts were surprisingly light and with good team work and some expert knot tying skills it wasn’t long before we were ready to go.  A 20 minute drive to our starting point at Annacloy (during which I may or may not have prematurely tucked into my lunch supplied by the centre– the temptation of the homemade flapjack was too much!) we were dropped off with the gear before the bus was shuttled to our end point in Downpatrick.

Getting ready to launch the canoes; team work makes the dream work! 

We partnered up, two to a canoe and before we knew it were on the water ready to go - they say the best way to learn is by doing and that was definitely the case with this course.  Emma was on hand in her own canoe to expertly paddle between everyone keeping an eye and instructing. The river was pretty fast flowing at the start but everyone managed excellently.   Learning how to confidently stop in Eddys (my first canoeing term for the day which refers to calmer spots on the side of the river) was first on the agenda. This allowed us to wait on each other and keep everyone in sight as we paddled the meandering river downstream.  It wasn’t long before everyone was comfortable with each other communicating between the back and front of the boat.  Although the Spring time lambs were bouncing about in the fields beside us it was a cloudy, chilly day however our wetsuits and layers which we had been advised to bring kept us warm - the arm workout was also a good insulator! 

Some curious lambs on the riverbank

Once everyone’s confidence was up we were shown one of the most important canoe skills, the J stroke, which helps correct the direction of the canoe whilst paddling forward.  As we attempted to get to grips with it, Emma paddled between us checking our technique and making sure we were on the right track.  It wasn’t long before we were stopping off on dry land to stretch our legs. Realising it was already lunch time the sandwiches were opened and devoured – a picnic never tasted so good!  After getting a few more tips on our strokes on dry land it was time to hit the water and swap places in the canoe so everyone got the chance to experience steering at the back.  After lunch a group of swans led the way as we continued along the river, blue skies finally breaking through the cloud.  The journey was very peaceful as we paddled beside countryside with even a rogue seal popping up to say hello.  The chat was flowing as we took in the stunning views across to Down Cathedral before pulling up ashore to stretch our legs in the idyllic setting of Inch Abbey ruins.  After some exploring we got back in the canoes and headed towards the tunnels below Downpatrick Rd Bridge (a much talked about subject during the day) it was clear everyone had gained a lot of confidence throughout the session as we paddled on through the interesting canoe sized holes without worry.

Exploring Inch Abbey; approaching the tunnels under Downpatrick Road Bridge

On the other side it was a short paddle to the mini bus waiting for us at Jane’s Shore in Downpatrick where we loaded up and headed back to the centre for a change and a coffee.  I had a fantastic day out with a great bunch of people and felt our instructor created a very positive and chilled out learning environment with an emphasis on encouragement rather than competitiveness.  If you are looking to improve your skills, learn something new or want to do something completely different whilst having a laugh then this is the course for you!

Activity Provider:

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre
+44(0)28 4372 2158  


First Step Open Canoeing Skills Course

Cost per person, per day:  £67

(Includes all technical equipment, in-course transport and a packed lunch)

For future course dates check out the Tollymore National Outdoor Centre Events Calendar 

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

OutdoorNI Award Winners 2015

Posted on January 7, 2016 @ 4:31 PM in Adventure

Votes have been counted and verified and we are pleased to announce that the wait is finally over as we reveal the winners of the 2015 OutdoorNI Awards in association with Surf Mountain. With over 1,100 votes cast by the public, the awards saw nominees battling it out throughout December to win the coveted titles. So without further ado we give you the 2015 Award Winners. 

Best Family Activity Provider- Life Adventure Centre
Castlewellan, Co. Down

Life Adventure Centre

A highly coveted title in the OutdoorNI Awards, this year's Award was scooped up for a second consecutive year by Life Adventure Centre located in the beautiful Castlewellan Forest Park. Offering lots of great land and water based activities suitable for all ages and abilities including, as of 2015 their new Kridler Electric Mountain Bikes and Wee Hoo Kids Trailers, ideal for exploring the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails. 

Best Thrillseeking Provider- The JungleNI
Moneymore, Co. Derry~Londonderry

The Jungle NI

The JungleNI  offer an extensive and exciting range of unique activities ideal for any occasion and sure to get your heart racing. Not only was The Jungle Northern Ireland's first and largest paintballing site, they were the first company to bring the exhilarating downhill tumbles of Zorbing to Ireland and are home to Ireland's first high wire tree top adventure course. Nestled in an enchanting woodland in the very heart of Northern Ireland, just 45 minutes from Belfast the Jungle NI is the perfect location for thrillseekers looking to test their sense of daring and adventure.

Best Charity Challenge Event- Run Mucker Run for Cancer Focus NI
Ballymoney, Co. Antrim

Run Mucker Run

Run Mucker Run raced into first place in this year's Award for 'Best Charity Challenge Event'. Complete with 30 manmade and natural obstacles, climbing eight foot walls, crawling under netting and barbed wire and running up to 10k through mud, were just a few of the requirements for competitors taking part in the Run Mucker Run Challenge on 26th Sept 2015.

The challenge was in aid of raising vital funds for Cancer Focus Northern Ireland. A local cancer charity providing a range of services for Northern Ireland cancer patients and their families as well as funding major research and running cancer prevention schemes across the country. The next Run Mucker Run challenge will be held on Sat 30th April 2016. Click here to find out more & sign up.

Best Coastal Experience- Surfing at Troggs Surf School
Portrush, Co. Antrim

Troggs Surf School

Troggs Surf Surf School are riding high on this latest wave of success. Aiming to provide a fun, informative and safe introduction to the world of surfing, Troggs offers expert tuition to beginners looking to learn the basics, through to experienced surfers. ASI accredited and Quiksilver approved the team of expert instructors offer a wide range of courses throughout the year including kid's summer surf camps, corporate days, Hen & Stag parties, progression sessions and more.

Best Skills Course Provider- Tollymore National Outdoor Centre
Tollymore Forest Park, Bryansford, Co. Down

Tollymore National Outdoor Centre

Tollymore Adventure Centre navigated to success in this years OutdoorNI Awards recieving the accodlade of 'Best Skills Course Provider'. Located in the foothills of the spectacular Mourne Mountains, the centre offers a wide range of skills courses lead by some of Northern Ireland's best expert instructors! With course running throughout the year suitable for beginners through to those with lots of experience Tollymore's tailored course ensure partivipants get the most from their training session.

Best Unique Outdoor Experience- The JungleNI, Fright Night
Moneymore, Co. Derry~Londonderry

Fright Night Northern Ireland

Scooping up a second award this year The Jungle NI's Fright Night has become widely renowned as one of Northern Ireland's most terrifying nights of the year! For those brave enough the Jungle invites visitors to enter the 'Inbred Horror House' responsible for multiple panic attacks over the years and find out what horrible cannibalistic creatures live in the shadowy depths of a cornfield? With 6 terrifying scare zones and more being added each year look out for it in October 2016.

Best Glamping Experience- National Trust Castle Ward Camping Pods
Castle Ward, Strangford, Co. Down

Glamping Northern Ireland

Winning an this for the third year in a row is a great achievement for the National Trust Castle Ward Camping Pod's. Enjoy a mini break with a difference in the historic Castle Ward Estate. Rain, hail, sleet or shine these heated pods fully insulated guantee a cosy campout with the kids or your other half. Fans of the award winning HBO series Game of Thrones can enjoy lots of themed activities including a cycle tour to iconic film locations from the show and acess to the Winterfell Courtyard.

Best Adventure Destination- Causeway Coast & Glens

Causeway Coast and Glens

Congratulations to Causeway Coast & Glens winner of this new award for 2015. Fighting off competition from three other fantastic nominations! It's hard to complain of having nothing to do in this destination with so many adventures waiting for you whether you decided to get into the water or keep your feet on solid ground! Head to the beach for a surf or SUP lesson with Troggs Surf School or Long Line, follow the North Coast sea kayak trailtake a high speed boat tour with Aquaholics Sea Safari or Portrush Sea Tours or walk the Causeway Coast Way, the list is endless. For many cyclists both nationally and internationally an annual event in their calendar is taking on the iconic Giants Causeway Coast Sportive.

OutdoorNI would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted in this years Awards in association with Surf Mountain.

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Executive

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She enjoys getting out and exploring the fantastic adventures on offer across Northern Ireland.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Couples

Posted on November 25, 2015 @ 12:16 PM in Adventure

If you’re tired of dealing with frustrated shop assistants, crowds of hurried shoppers and spending hours of your precious time searching for a parking space, you have come to the right place! Here at we have tonnes of gift ideas for couples so you can get double the presents sorted in one go.  Give your parents, inlaws or other half a memorable experience to share this Christmas...

Couples Thrill Seeking Experience, Todds Leap, Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone
Get behind the wheel of a landrover for an off road driving experience and find out who is the better driver, fly high on Ireland's longest zip line and travel around the off road course on a Hill Rally.

Stand up Paddle Boarding Session for 2, Long Line, Benone, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Learn the basics of Stand Up Paddle Boarding together before taking a tour along the remote parts of the idyllic River Roe.

Island Explorer for 2, Mobile Team Adventure, Strangford, Co. Down
The perfect getaway for any couple, take a guided kayaking trip along the stunning Strangford Lough stopping to visit the oyster farm and Ballydorn Lighthouse Ship.

Couples Mourne Foods & Films Cycle Trail, Enniskeen Country House Hotel, Newcastle, Co. Down
With the Mourne Mountains as its backdrop, this trail pairs up gentle cycling, stunning scenery, simply delicious artisan food, and the famous filming locations in the regions beautiful Shimna Valley. Devised by the Enniskeen Country House Hotel this trail showcases the wonderful artisan food in this area  of Northern Ireland. 

Half Day Sailing, Causeway Coast Sailing, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim
You are sure to love learning the ropes of sailing with some hands on experience or simply relax and enjoy the scenic Causeway Coast as you skipper sets sail. 

Couples Pod Camping Adventure Package, Clearsky Adventure Centre, Castle Ward, Co. Down
Set in the heart of the spectacular Castle Ward Estate, they will spend the night in a quirky heated camping pod, before exploring the mountain bike trails and having a go at either archery or canoeing.

Rathlin Island Sea Tour for two, Portrush Sea Tours, Portrush, Co. Antrim
A fantastic boat tour around the fabulous North Coast and Rathlin Island. Experience the North Coast from a whole new perspective taking in spectacular sights from the sea including the Giant’s Causeway, the Skerries, the historic Dunluce Castle and much more! 

Couples Mountain Bike & Kayaking Experience, Life Adventure Centre, Castlewellan, Co. Down
Enjoy some quality time together! Hit the trails on a mountain bike and explore some of the green, blue and red grade trails before heading out in a kayak or canoe for a relaxing paddle on the lake. 

For even more Gift Experiences for couples check out

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Executive

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She enjoys getting out and exploring the fantastic adventures on offer across Northern Ireland.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Men

Posted on November 20, 2015 @ 1:19 PM in Adventure

We don't know about you, but here at we find buying gifts for men much more difficult than buying for the women in our families. To lend you a helping hand we've gathered together some of our favourite Christmas Gift Experiences for Men so all you have to do is browse, select, purchase and enjoy seeing the smile on his face on Christmas Day!

Gifts For Your Dad/ Grandad

Should you stick to the annual tie? Will he want more socks? Be brave and break the habit!

Zorbing Northern Ireland

Extreme Downhill Zorbing, The JungleNI, Moneymore, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Send him rolling down a purpose-built run inside a giant inflatable 3 meter ball at speeds of over 20mph. A fantastic adrenaline fuelled ride that is guaranteed to leave him buzzing!   

Half Day Sailing, Causeway Coast Sailing, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim
There perfect gift for your dad and grandad to enjoy some quality time together. They are sure to love learning the ropes of sailing with some hands on experience or simply relax and enjoy the scenic Causeway Coast. With room for up to 3 people who knows he may even bring you!

Gifts For Your Husband/Boyfriend

Turn finding something to suit your man's taste from an impossible task to a fun expedition.

Mountain Biking Northern Ireland

Tandem Skydive, Skydive Wild Geese, Garvagh, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Give him the freedom of the skies as he has the chance to experience a freefall from 13,000ft, all while securely attached to an experienced instructor.

Mountain Bike Rental Package, Life Adventure Centre, Castlewellan, Co. Down
Send him off for a morning/ afternoon to explore the Castlewellan mountain bike trails. Kitted out with everything needed to get started on the trails including a Vitus hard tail mountain bike and helmet. Whatever his ability, once kitted out he will have 3 hours to enjoy 27.5km of green, blue and red grade trails ( options).  

Gifts For Your Brother

Set sibling rivalry aside and make sure you find the right gift for him this Christmas! If he's the outdoors type get him doing something different this year

Surfing Northern Ireland

Surf Lesson, Troggs Surf School, Portrush, Co. Antirm
He is sure to have a blast learning all the basic skills needed to paddle, pop up and surf the waves right to the shore. 

North Coast Sea Kayaking, Simply Sea Kayak, Co. Antrim
A fantastic opportunity for him to explore the iconic North Coast Sea Kayaking Trail. This truly unique experience includes a skills session and guided paddle, taking in stunning views and exploring locations only accessible by kayak!

Gifts For Your Son

Got the gadgets sorted but looking for something a little different for your son this Christmas?

Off Road Driving Northern Ireland

Off Road Driving Experience, Todds Leap, Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone
The perfect gift for a son who thinks he's a bit of a boy racer. Conquer muddy climbs, drops & hazards along the 8 mile off-road driving course, all before being taken across a stage of the course at rally competition speed (up to 70mph!)

Try a Drive, Aquaholics Dive Centre & Sea Safari's, Portstewart, Co. Antrim
This is one gift that won't be forgotten about! He is sure to love exploring the underwater world with Aquaholics discovering a whole other side to the North Coast. 

For even more Gift Experiences for him check out

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Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Executive

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She enjoys getting out and exploring the fantastic adventures on offer across Northern Ireland.

OutdoorNI Christmas Gift Guide 2015

Posted on November 10, 2015 @ 2:26 PM in Adventure

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! While there is still plenty of time to go shopping, we think it’s best to make a start on finding the perfect gift to avoid the panic of the Christmas shopping rush! With lots of great outdoor Christmas gift experiences to choose from we’ve pulled together our bestselling gift experiences to help you with your present problems.

Boat Tours Northern Ireland

Gifts for Her

Giant's Causeway Sea Safari, Aquaholics, Portstewart, Co. Antrim
A fantastic boat tour to get their heart racing. Sights include Dunluce Castle, the stunning Portrush beaches, the sea caves at Whiterocks, Giant’s Causeway and perhaps some dolphins and basking sharks along the way!

Tarzan Tree Top Adventure Course, The JungleNI, Moneymore, Co. Derry~Londonderry
Negotiate through 50 challenges and obstacles up to 40ft high above the ground including zip lines, bridges, scramble nets and a death defying power-fan descent. The JungleNI’s Tree Top Adventure Course is sure to test their imagination and nerve!

Moonlit Paddle, Far & Wild, River Foyle, Co. Derry~Londonderry
She is sure to enjoy this sea kayak experience in the shimmering moonlight on the fabulous Foyle, spotting nocturnal creatures and taking in the historic landscapes! 

Gifts for Him

Wakeboarding Northern Ireland

'Have a Go' Cable Wakeboarding at Titanic Slipways, Cable & Wake, Belfast, Co. Antrim
Send them on a thrilling water sports adventure in the city! As they take part in a one to one, wakeboarding or water skiing lesson in the famous Titanic Quarter, providing a brilliant backdrop for what is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Off Road Driving Experience, Todds Leap, Ballygawley, Co. Tyrone
Are they brave enough to conquer muddy climbs, drops and hazards on an 8 mile off-road driving course? Much more exciting than the daily commute they’ll get a chance to take to the wheel with room for up to 3 friends before being taken across a stage of Todd’s Leap off road course at rally competition speed!

Half Day Sailing on the Antrim Coast, Causeway Coast Sailing, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim
He is sure to love learning the ropes of sailing with some hands on experience or simply relaxing and enjoying the scenic Antrim Coast. This half day or full day's sailing is for up to three people so he can enjoy it with family or friends.

Gifts for Couples

Off Road Driving Northern Ireland

Couples Thrill Seeking Experience, Todds Leap, Ballygawley, Co. Tryone
Find out who really is the better driver on an off-road experience before zooming down a 500m Zip line and going on a heart racing white knuckle hill rally ride.

Bay to Bay Sea Tour for 2, Portrush Sea Tours, Portrush, Co. Antrim
Take in the glorious sights of Ramore Head, the Skerries, Dunluce Castle and Island Doo and witness the stunning sandy beaches of Portrush from the sea as you zoom across the water onboard the high speed boat. 

Couples Pod Camping Adventure Package, Clearsky Adventure Centre, Castle Ward, Strangford, Co. Down
Set in the heart of the spectacular Castle Ward Estate they will spend the night in a quirky heated camping pod before exploring the mountain bike trails and have a go at either canoeing or testing their aim during a Game of thrones inspired archery session in the very courtyard where young Bran was taught by Jon snow in the award winning HBO TV series Game of Thrones.

For even more unique outdoor gift experiences visit

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Executive

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She enjoys getting out and exploring the fantastic adventures on offer across Northern Ireland.

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