Every day in summer, a crowd of us, fishing nets at the ready, jam jars held with a length of cord, headed down the 'forty-ones'. On reaching the bottom step, we crossed the familiar bridge, holding onto the handrail and scanning the mill race which flowed underneath. We skipped along the towpath, kicking up dust from the rough gravel path, which covered out gutties in a white powder. We could hardly contain our excitement until we reached a particular landmark. There, we expertly swung under the bars, which were curved in the centre from constant use, scrambled down a sandy bank to the "wee pool".
The pool was an inlet from the middle River Lagan and the water was clear and shallow. Large, flat boulders provided us with comfortable vantage points from which to catch our spricks. When we had each found a place to our liking, we sat down, quickly removed socks and gutties, and with well practised throws, landed these on the dry bank. Lying on our tummies, we would peer into the clear water which was teeming with spricks. Upon making a catch we promptly dropped our prize into a jam jar, now filled with river water. I personally could never hold the sprick because I hated it flapping about in my hand so someone else would deliver it into my jar. We could only keep a few, otherwise they died on us before we could even bring them home.
It was a children's haven. High banks on either side protected us on windy days and, if a sudden shower fell, bushes nearby provided shelter. We chattered excitedly and animatedly, all the while laughing, shouting and squealing. Sometimes we paddled in the warm water, hitching up our dresses or tucking them into cotton knickers in an effort to keep our clothes dry. It was an idyllic place. All summer long, we played in the "wee pool".
Occasionally an otter came swimming up river, its black head and wiry whiskers just showing, its sleek body leaving a trail. Then there was a stampede for the bank, with much screaming and jostling in our haste to escape. We didn't know then that the otter was more scared of us. In really hot weather, when the weir dried up, some of the bigger girls waded out of the wee pool and into deeper water to reach the moss covered weir. This they climbed up , slipping and sliding, clawing their way to the top, finally standing with arms outstretched, like Olympic champions.
When it was time to go home, we had more games to play on the way. Steel bars ran along the sides of the Lagan, much like fencing. This was another source of fun. With the agility of acrobats, we would hoist ourselves up, grip the bars with both hands and then tumble over, landing on the grass. We could do backward and forward rolls, hold on with legs only, letting our arms dangle below us. We could even walk along the bars, wavering unsteadily but fearlessly, holding our arms out for balance.
By now dusk was falling, the summer air still warm. A faint whiff would rise from the river, midges just skim the surface. An occasional splash revealed a brown trout. Moor hens would scuttle across still water, a grey heron would rise gracefully from bushes and soar into the air. A pair of swans, long necks proudly held high, often glided past. By this time,we have reached the "forty one steps". Tired and dusty, but happy, our catches dashing around in the jars, we start the climb home. Tomorrow will be a new adventure.