Microadventures: Shaw's Bridge and the River Lagan, Northern Ireland

I had a few hours spare recently, so slung my packraft in a rucksack and caught a bus out of central Belfast to Shaw's Bridge. Belfast Canoe Club have a jetty here, just upstream of the five arch stone bridge, which was built in 1709. They've also created a great canoe slalom course, which along with the river, is accessible to the public free of charge. 

In heavy rain, I set off down the slalom course, slipping between the gates. Four whitewater sluices fed me into the heavily wooded and calmer River Lagan Valley Park, which is a splinter of greenery and water extending deep into urban Belfast. I drifted down the valley as the thunder rolled and the evening closed in. Trees and meadows full of livestock edged the river as if nothing had changed since the bridge was built.

Beautiful. Probably even more so when it's not raining.


I had hoped to paddle all the way into central Belfast but about 5km downstream from Shaw's bridge a substantial weir (adjacent to Belfast Boat Club) blocked my route. With no obvious way to portage around it and darkness setting in I rolled my packraft up, slipped it back in to my rucksack, and continued my journey into Belfast on foot.

Tim Clark