‘Hard as Oak’ Richard sees little obstacle to growth in Killaloo

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Londonderry outdoor activities guru Richard Allen has travelled the world, including a stint as a guide in South Africa, but says there’s still no place like home in the stunning Faughan Valley.

Richard is the founder of Oakfire Adventures at the Oaks Demesne at Glenshane Road which has been in his family’s ownership for nearly 100 years.

He’s now embarking on the biggest adventure of his life as he launches Hard as OAK – a 10km obstacle course challenge which is the first of its kind in NI.

“We have over 50 man-made and natural obstacles for those willing souls ready to give it their all,” enthuses Richard, whose outdoor activities centre is one of 52 businesses being supported by Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Rural Tourism Programme which is funded by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for NI.

Oakfire Adventures, which was set up in 2006, is exactly the type of product the Rural Tourism Programme sees as playing a vital role in boosting visitor numbers to Londonderry’s rural hinterland.

The rugged site, with commanding views across the River Faughan, is an adventure playground for adrenaline-fuelled activities including paintballing, zorbing and a giant swing, not for the faint-hearted.

Richard said: “I have been an avid outdoors enthusiast and sportsman for many years. I love all activities and served my time working in gyms as a personal trainer and instructor. I worked as coach for the IRFU for a few years and graduated from the University of Ulster at Jordanstown in Sports Exercise and Leisure, where I specialized in sports management.

“During my travels I was an outdoor guide in South Africa and experienced many different extreme activities all over the world. I have been trying to bring as many activities to the people of the North West since. We are a family business and have a great team of young and exuberant part-time instructors who keep me on my toes.”

Richard believes Hard as OAK – which will open to the public on Saturday, August 29, 2015 – will bring a whole new dynamic to the Faughan Valley, especially if it proves to be the hardest obstacle challenge in Ireland!

“We want people to have a truly challenging experience while enjoying the most stunning landscape. We have been lucky to deal with people from all corners of the globe. We want even more people to have a great time and spread the word.”

So what, you may ask, is the Faughan Valley’s unique selling point? In Richard’s view: “There is no crack like Derry crack.”

He continued: “There are other providers out there in Ireland but nobody has what we have when it comes to terrain. We have been lucky to bring together many different organizations to make this course available. The Council have been of great assistance to me, especially Jennifer O’Donnell, the Rural Tourism Development Officer, who has been on hand to help navigate and advise as needed.

“On the day of the event participants will experience some of the most innovative obstacles out there, from slip’n’slides, to tunnels, swamps, rivers, streams, gorges, stunning woodland and much, much more. Hard as OAK will be a 10km run, completed either as teams or as individuals.

“We are very conscious of offering the public a totally unique experience while respecting the natural environment. Through Hard as OAK, we want to bring what people love about these types of events -the camaraderie, team work, the truly impressive obstacles and the sense of pride that comes from pushing your limits.

“This is something we’ve heard our community asking for, and we are incredibly excited to put our event production expertise to use in bringing the first Hard as OAK event to Derry this summer.”

A day-long festival featuring music, fire pits, face paintings, food trucks and an Apres Mud party in the city, will round off the experience for uber thrill-seekers.

Foyle, Search and Rescue are the official charity partners for the event.

Jennifer O’Donnell, Rural Tourism Development Officer with Derry City and Strabane District Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome this new and exciting event to Derry~Londonderry and especially to the Faughan Valley area. The Rural Tourism Development Programme has given us the opportunity to work with rural providers to help develop such events as a key way of using our unique landscape to attract visitors to the area.”

Registration for the Hard as OAK event is now open. For more information visit www.hardasoak.com. Follow Hard as OAK on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hard-as-OAK/ or Twitter https://twitter.com/HardAsOAKRace

Further details about the wide range of visitor attractions in the Faughan Valley, see www.discoverfaughanvalley.com