FROM SOURCE TO SEA

HERE WE ROW...The group leaves Canroe Lock as they start the row.
HERE WE ROW...The group leaves Canroe Lock as they start the row.

On July 30th, eight members of COBRA (Coleraine Old Boys Rowing Association) set out to run, cycle and row the 110 miles of the River Bann from it’s source in the Mourne Mountains to the Barmouth where it enters the sea to raise money for their former boat club at Coleraine Inst.

The eight men, consisting of Steven Archibald, Chris Black, Jason Taggart, Robert Hart, Jamie McBurney, Alex Humphrey, Philip Hamill, and Olympic oarsman Richard Archibald, commenced their search for the birth place of the River Bann in the Mourne Mountains at the crack of dawn by traversing some rough and wet terrain on the steep side of Slieve Muck.

Once they found the mere trickle that is the source they took a moment to soak up the scenery of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as sample the refreshing waters of the spring before beginning their challenge. After running, leaping, and crawling down the harsh slope of Slieve Muck the eight gradually made their way onto the roads. Here, with shoes and socks as heavy as lead from the gallons of water absorbed from the mountain marsh, they continued their hilly 5 mile run to Spelga Dam.

Upon reaching the dam, the men met with their support vehicle along with their bikes, ready and waiting for the next leg. They had a quick turnaround, changing from wet running gear into cycling gear, to tackle the next 85 miles on bikes.

Once geared and watered the eight set off from Spelga Dam on their bikes into an immediate downhill with the support vehicle in close pursuit. Zero mph soon became 35mph with cool air from the mountain whizzing past each of the cyclists as they descended cautiously down the mountain valley. The men quickly left the Mournes behind and headed towards Banbridge where they had a quick stop to fuel up in calories before heading through Portadown and approaching Lough Neigh from the South West.

These finely tuned athletes then hugged the West side of the Lough as best they could, gradually making their way through villages such as Maghery and Ballyronan, resting only to refuel or tackle problems such as punctures, getting lost, or comrades falling headfirst into the tarmac.

Once in Toome the cyclists stopped for a well-earned lunch break, with a few having a sneaky roast beef dinner to tide them over for the next 20 mile stint. Back on the bikes they cycled beside the Bann through Bellaghy, Portglenone, Kilrea, and finally onto Carnroe lock gates near Ballymoney, where the final leg of their arduous journey, the 15-mile row, would begin.

Once changed into the required rowing gear and ready to begin they climbed into the eight man rowing boat coxed by fellow COBRA member Peri-Jake Stynes and set off down the River Bann that they had so closely tried to follow this whole time. With the sun breaking through the sky and the conditions kind, the eight experienced rowers soon found themselves going under the Agivey Bridge and passing Drumaheglis Marina before continuing through a ski zone trying not to get swamped by passing speed boats.

Soon Loughan Island approached followed by the lock gates at the Cutts, where a deserved rest was taken having rowed seven miles. The water levels eventually dropped and the boat left the lock gates and continued for what would be the last stage of the journey, an eight mile row to the Barmouth, where the River Bann finishes its long journey through Northern Ireland and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

This stretch of water that the oarsmen knew so well seemed to go on forever, and as the mouth slowly approached the conditions rapidly become more challenging and complicated to row in. With water crashing into the boat from the swell they gradually approached the finish line, arriving in a time of 11 hours and seven minutes.

Relief, joy and self-achievement became evidently apparent but soon faded as the weary adventurers remembered they had to turn around and row five miles back to the boat house in conditions more extreme.

Having to row against the current and headwind, with swell finding it easier to get into the boat, it soon became painstakingly difficult for the tired bodies to force the boat through the water. Slowly, familiar locations passed and the closer they got to the boat club, the more pressure they put down in the water and the number of strokes per minute rose in a last attempt to get back onto land and finish the journey.

Upon reaching the boat club steps the exhausted men were honoured to be greeted by their former coach at Coleraine Academical Institution Boat Club, Bobby Platt MBE who was spectating along with other friends and family. The men clambered out of the boat, tired from the physical and mental journey that had challenged them, but relieved and proud that they had achieved such a monumental feat.

Many thanks must go towards William Wright who had the monotonous job of driving the support vehicle during all three legs of the challenge, Andrew Wright who transported the boat, Mark McMullan, Adam Millar, Graham Hunter and Corey McDowell who assembled the boat at Carnroe, Peri-Jake Stynes who coxed, Hazel Hart for driving some of the sportsmen up to the Mournes, and Clarke and Dorothy Black who put on a tremendous BBQ in the evening for the hungry adventurers.

All proceeds of the sponsorship will go towards providing new rowing equipment for the next generation of pupils wanting to row at Coleraine Academical Institution Boat Club.

If you would like to donate to this event, please visit our fundraising web page on www.bmycharity.com/source2sea.