WHAT'S A SKIFFIE, I HEAR YOU SAY?
I'll let Wikipedia answer the question, as not being of the boaty-type myself, it's admittedly the first place I went to when a friend asked if we fancied heading to this year's festival.
"A skiffie, (or skiff) is 'the name given to a number of essentially unrelated styles of small boat...traditionally coastal or river crafts used for leisure or fishing and have a one-person or small crew.'
And Skiffiefest? After hosting Skiffie Worlds last year - a major coastal rowing event in which 800 competitors from around the world descended upon Strangford Lough - Skiffiefest 2017 carried on where the 2016 event left off, with two days of racing, food, drink and activities for all the family.
DELAMONT COUNTRY PARK
Another confession - other than Killyleagh and it's amazing castle, this area of Northern Ireland is somewhere I've rarely ventured to - but from the snippet of countryside seen on the way and the views of the Mourne Mountains when in Delamont, it's definitely somewhere we'll be back to explore (we also found out later the park has it's own 1km-long miniature railway line with Thomas The Tank Engine lookalike for the kids!).
A QUICK LOOKABOUT
To whet your appetite for next year, some pics of the festival goings-on:..
TO THE SKIFFS
Apparently if we got down early and smiled enough at the right people, there was the possibility there was the chance we'd get out on a skiff before the actual racing began.
Let the smiling begin, to the skiffs we go...
****Whistles nonchalantly....assuming the pose of an experienced rower...holding onto hope...***
And boom! Success.
And Killyleagh Rowing Club team made me work for it alright. Thinking I was going to be sitting taking pics at the stern - that's the back, for you non-sailor folk ;) - the next ten minutes on the water were spent rowing at full pace as a warm up for the team. The quiff-selfie above was the only evidence of the experience in the end - big thanks to the team for taking me out (that's the full team below on the way out to race).
In no time the races were underway...
But our responsibilities lay elsewhere at this point...
...as more shoreline activities were on the agenda.
A quick suit-up and tutorial from our instructor, up from Tollymore National Outdoor Centre for the day...
...to give stand up paddle boarding a go for the first time!
After taking us through the essentials and all of us standing up in no time, we headed off for a paddle around the shores of the nearby islands. Surprisingly easy to get to grips with!
AND along the way we spotted two seals perched up on a small island in the middle of the lough. As we got closer though, the seals spotted us and ditched into the water - after our recent Rathlin Island experience though, I was eager to have a bit more interaction than that!
As the rest of the group paddled on past the island, I found my rowing skills to be coincidentally failing, my path strangely curving round to the direction the seals headed off to.
A few seconds later I spotted a head popping out of the water about 50 feet to my left. A few seconds later that head was about 25 feet in front. A few more seconds later it popped up about 10 feet in front of me and stayed there for a stare-off. It then disappeared before I caught a glimpse of it swimming underneath me, popping just in front of the board and making the world's biggest splash, nearly knocking me off the board! I must have let out a manly scream at this stage as the instructor gave a holler for me to catch up with the group.
After the great experience on the skiff earlier, I can safely say I'm a big fan of stand up paddle boarding now. Will definitely keep an eye out for where else it's possible to do it around the country. We were out for a couple of hours in the end, but it honestly felt like half an hour.
Back on dry land, there was just enough time for a chili beef wrap and some sweet treats to replenish the energy levels ahead of the drive home...
Oh and a quick pit stop at the eternally beautiful Killyleagh Castle on the way back up.
As well saying hello to a few horses when the sun popped it's head back out for a bit after the afternoon rain.
MORE GIANT ADVENTURES
Skiffiefest was the second of five events in the Giant Adventures summer programme, a series of family festivals run by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to showcase the region’s breath-taking mountains, coastline and mythical stories.
initially launching with Footsteps in the Forest at Slieve Gullion (we sadly missed this one, Gullion still on the to do list) the Giant Adventures programme includes three further events this summer:
Festival of Flight on 5th August (feat. The Red Arrows! Download programme here)
Wake the Giant on 26th and 27th August, and
City of Merchants on 30th September and 1st October
For the latest info on all events, follow on Facebook here