The River Don takes some bottle

12th August 2011 at 01:00
Would you get on a raft made from milk cartons by a team of primary school children? Jean McLeish meets the participants of the 2011 Kemnay Raft Race

There can't be too many teachers who would be prepared to paddle down a six-mile stretch of river on a raft made out of recycled milk cartons by 10-year-old children.

Instead of sipping cappuccino and relaxing with the papers, these six teachers from Kemnay Primary are spending their Sunday afternoon at the end of the summer term competing in the Kemnay Raft Race.

Their raft is made from compressed milk cartons packed inside old fertiliser bags, and is the handiwork of the P5s. One of the design team is looking on with some apprehension. Ten-year old Ruth Caney from P5 says they enjoyed making the rafts. "It was fun but I don't know if it's going to survive to the end," she says.

The children did some trials with the raft before the six teachers were set adrift on the River Don. "We put out a letter to ask people to bring in milk cartons, then we built them up in bags and stuck them together and made the raft," says Ruth.

"We put a paddling pool up and put one of the bags down and we put some teachers on and it floated, so we knew it would float on the river. We also tried four teachers on the actual river."

The P5s' teacher, Rachael Hughes, is one of the six paddling down the Don on the raft her pupils built.

"We entered the Total Green Awards and this was their project," she says. "They had to design something that was eco-friendly, so they've made it out of milk cartons. They had to re-use and recycle - that was the project and we collected almost 1,000."

Miss Hughes is wearing one of the T-shirts designed by P5 pupil Olivia Wilson, who won one of the pre-event competitions for best design.

"I may be a teacha but we can sure beat ya" is emblazoned across their chests in multi-coloured letters. They're wearing lifejackets under their T-shirts and have sponges stuffed up the legs of their trousers to protect their knees as they kneel to paddle.

This is a huge and colourful community event, run by the Garioch Lions, and entrants collect sponsorship to help local charities. The First Minister, Alex Salmond, is here to judge the entries and give prizes.

There are dozens of rafts - including another two made by Kemnay Primary pupils, which are paddled in relays by teams of children, parents and teachers - everyone gets a chance to get wet.

"The P7s do this every year - it's part of what we do," says deputy headteacher Graham Still, who's paddling on one of the children's rafts. "There are three children per raft and three adults - so mums and dads go with them too. We're usually last," says Mr Still.

P7 Jasmine Roberts, 11, is on one of the school's rafts. "Mr Still helped us make it. It's made of wood, barrels and school chairs. I am kind of hoping I am not going to fall in," she says.

This is the first time teachers have taken the plunge on this race.

"It's normally one group of children on one raft," says P1-2 teacher Megan Durkin. "Mr Still said if it fills with water we've got to try and empty it every now and again. I think the bags are going to fill, but we'll see," says Miss Durkin. Her pupils, Isla Clark and Charley-Anne Meldrum, both aged six, are watching from the sidelines.

The P2-3 teacher, Caroline Anderson, has done the raft race before, but never on floating milk cartons. "We've tried it out - I'm a bit worried it will rip on the rocks and we might be scooping up milk bottles," she laughs.

P1 teacher Rebecca Watt is the fourth female member of the crew and they have two of the men on board - visiting PE specialist Andrew Musselwhite and Colin Wilson, a visiting specialist in ICT.

"I think we are here to provide the muscle power and the brawn at the back," says Mr Wilson. "I've got a lot of hope for this, because it sits very high in the water; apparently the water's running low today. So some of these heavier boats that sit low - we'll be sailing right past them."


At the finish line, the teachers emerge wet and bedraggled but still smiling.

Their craft split into two a mile or so from the finish, but they carried on paddling in two rafts. The water has indeed been low today and the children's rafts have also had a struggle down the six-mile course from Kemnay to Inverurie.

Mums, dads and teachers have spent more time in the water than on the rafts - guiding the children safely past rocks and through the shallows.

Both children's rafts pass their teachers' raft, but none of the Kemnay rafts is last this year. "The raft fell apart just on the last stretch," says P5 teacher Rachael Hughes. "It must have been that the roping just came loose in the river.

"We ended up in the water quite a lot because it was quite shallow anyway, so we had to keep getting off to push it over the rocks. It was great fun, we really enjoyed it," she says.

"The river varies quite a lot - some parts were really shallow and just rocks and just up to my ankles and there were some parts where it was up to my neck.

"There was one part where I was off and we pushed it over the rocks, then it gets quite fast, so it was hard to catch up with the raft." says Miss Hughes, a probationer teacher at Kemnay, who's applying for jobs for next year.

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