I'm a local resident of the Banbridge, Rathfriland area and I'm trying to get the canoe steps reopened at Katesbridge. They have been closed down for over 4 years. The steps were very dangerous and needed to be closed, but no one in the paddling community thought 4 years on they would still be fenced off. It's time this changed, as it prevent 100s of paddlers from the island having access to this excellent location on the river, giving access and egress in a controlled and safe manor.
My Name is Hugo Dale. I am a senior canoe coach for "British Canoeing." Or local body is called, "Canoeing Association of N. Ireland (CANI)." Paddlesport is one of the fastest growing activities in the western world. Today all ages are involved from the very young to the well matured. In this part of the world, the River Bann is the main river for paddlers. It offers a range of levels of excitement from Hilltown to Lough Neagh. One of the nicest sections of the Upper Bann is from the Rathfriland road down to Corbet; I call this the "Hidden Jewel." However, that is a very long section in deed, more that most want to paddle in a day. Most paddlers will get out at Ballyroney on the Bannside road where the wee layby is beside the river, or they will paddle on down to the canoe steps at Katesbridge. However, as the steps are closed off this poses a logistical problem for us.
Katesbridge has several key features that make it so important for the paddling community. Some of these are:
1. Katesbridge is the pivotal point on this section of the upper Bann. It's the natural place to end an enjoyable and often tiring days paddle, or to start a new days adventure on the river and journey down to Corbet or Ballydown YFC.
2. It offers safe car parking off the main road in the car park.
3. It prevent paddlers trying to cross farm land that they may not have permission for.
4. If offers safe passage unto or off the river (when the steps are working).
5. The well kept grass area and picnic tables offer great facilities for padders on the river, being able to stop and make lunch. If children are on board, have some ball games all adds to the fun and experience.
6. The car park area has toilet that are open. It can not be stated enough how important this is for the female paddlers. It is often one of the reasons female paddlers like this area.
7. There is also a local shop and petrol station just 5 mins up the road, where last minute sandwiches and fuel can be grabbed before the days fun starts (Mc Coys).
Besides all that, Katesbridge to Corbet is one of the most beautiful sections of water on the river. I personally have enjoyed myself on this section dozens of times, especially when I just need to clear my head. When my children were young I would take them on this section because of the flora and fauna that it offers. I have seen 6 or 7 Kingfishers all at the same time and up close and personal, while at the same time seeing 1000s of Damselfly's, Dippers, Duck, Coots, Waterhens, Wood Pigeon, Bussard's, Red Kite, foxes, Mink and the odd rat for good measure. This is why I call this section our hidden jewel. Over my 40 plus years of coaching I have taken 100s of people on the upper part of the river Bann. I've never had one person that didn't enjoy it or want to return; many did and brought the friend and canoe clubs.
COVID is no longer an excuse, this sections has to be fixed into a safe, sustainable access and egress point for paddles, fishermen and families, who just want to sit beside the river.
Below I have add some pictures of the barricaded area and maps of the river.
In September 2021 my club ran a canoe festival and at this event paddlers signed the petition, added below. All of these paddlers are protentional users of this and other sections of the river.
Please take the time to read the postcodes. You will see that people from all over the North and South on Ireland and also England were in attendance. This is normal. We run several events per year and host them all over the North. My personal interest is to bring more of these event into my paddling area, but access and egress at Katesbridge is critical if we are to run a local event using the river.
Another important point that needs to be considered. The "canoe steps model" is something that is across the whole Island. Much work was put in to established these safe areas for paddles to access and egress the river without getting into confrontation with land owners. These steps are well advertises and a quick Google search will find not just the canoe steps points, but entire canoe trails. This results is people from afar planning their trip with their canoe club or friends. They expect these aeras to be functional and safe when they arrive. They issue is when they arrive and find the location is barricaded off, they will find somewhere else where agreements have not be set. It is unfair for those travelling 2-3 hours to have to face this challenge. It is also unfair for our local paddlers who do so much to promote the sport not to also be refused access.
Canoeing has become a social outlet for all ages, families, retired couples, those is need of exercise, to meet new friends and enjoying a good day on the river, or a meal when they get off. During COVID 19, canoeing was a life line to many. The mental health benefits from meandering down a quite section of river, experience the wildlife is good for the mind and indeed the soul.
Action is now required to make good Katesbridge Canoe Steps with all the benefits it brings to paddling community both local and afar. Not forgetting our local shops, cafes and restaurants.
Anyone who wants to support this project, do no hesitate to contact me. Also if you are planning a trip into my area, contact me for updates of where to get access and egress points.
MB: 07482 669 233