Charity challenge proves to be a hair-raising adventure

Beginning the trip at Hilltown.
Beginning the trip at Hilltown.

During a charity challenge Lurgan man Mark Uprichard found himself up the proverbial creek, but thankfully he was able to paddle his way out of danger.

While taking part in a solo kayaking trip along the River Bann the 35-year-old got into difficulties on Lough Neagh as weather conditions changed in an instant. At one point the waves were crashing over his back and he admits he was very lucky to reach the other side of the lough.

He told the ‘MAIL’: “One of the biggest concerns before setting out was the weather.

“Apart from Lough Neagh the weather was great. When I was crossing the lough I made the decision to go right across rather than go around the lower waters at the edges. In hindsight this was the wrong decision.

“I started to get a bit concerned at about Ballyronan. The weather changed very quickly as it can on the lough and the waves were breaking on my back as the kayak was taking on water.

“I was tired from two days kayaking and I was very, very lucky to make it across.

“It was most definitely the scariest part of the trip.”

Of the safety measures he’d taken Mark explained: “I had comms with the coastgaurd and I’d people on the ground who I made contact with every hour to inform them of my position and my condition. I’d also got flares and buoyancy aids.”

The former Dickson, Lurgan Junior High and Lurgan Tech student, continued: “I’ve been kayaking the Bann, the Blackwater and Lough Neagh for about five years.

“I’ve done a lot of different parts of the Bann, but not the whole lot in one go.

“The longest journey I’ve done up to then had been from Portadown to the Bannfoot at nine miles.

“I’d planned to do the whole thing and when I learnt about the trust set up by my dad’s cousins I thought that there was no better cause and no better time.”

The expedition was in aid of Hebron House Charitable Trust set up by Portadown couple Charles and Ann Uprichard from Bethany Church. The charity allows the church to run a centre for drug and alcohol addicts located in Novosibirsk, Russia.

He recalled his journey from Hilltown to Castlerock: “I started half a mile outside Hilltown and from there I went straight up to Banbridge where I had my first overnight stay.

“The next day it was on to Gilford, then Portadown before spending the night in Coney Island.

“I took on Lough Neagh on the third day.

“The third night was spent just north of Toome.

“The fourth night was a mile south of Coleraine before finishing on day five at Castlerock. I think I did about 85 or 86 miles in total.

“I was looking forward to it as a nice, wee crusise. It was a lot tougher than I’d anticipated.”

Having caught the bug for epic kayaking adventures Mark is now talking about taking on a stretch of water in Poland, his wife Joanna’s country of origin.

At 300 miles, it would be nearly four times as long as the River Bann challenge.