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Cold October Canoe Trip

A sudden down-turn in the temperatures in mid October didn’t put us off a planned canoe trip on the river Wye. We set off for a short trip with an overnight wild camp on the river, Autumn sunshine and the trees just beginning to turn, we had a brief shower once we got on the river, but sheltered under a huge oak tree, with acorns dropping all around us as the squirrels above were busy feeding before winter. There were a lot of pheasants around too, and we saw them scatter as the sound of a Goshawk called loudly from the tree just above us, something I’d never heard before – I still haven’t ever seen one of these elusive predators, even though the Wye valley and the Forest of Dean are one of the best places to see them, they are making a great comeback in recent years after being persecuted, like many birds of prey to the verge of extinction in the UK in the past. But the pheasants certainly know about them!

We canoed downstream in the most beautiful sharp autumn light late in the afternoon, the shower brought out the best rainbow I’ve ever seen, reflected in the river and reaching right across the sky. Arriving at our camp spot as dusk drew in, the temperature was dropping sharply, so with one strike from the firesteel on some birchbark and dry twigs gathered along the way we had a fire going, and set about organising the camp. With a bit of rain still in the air Hawkeye set up his usual tarp rig as a back-up, but we planned to sleep out until any rain came. In fact the sky cleared completely during the evening, but that meant the temperature really began to drop fast – with the fire roaring we were warm but a little apprehensive about how cold it would get during the night. The owls hooted all around the valley in the dark, and the sound of the fire crackling and the river running past made for a fantastic evening around the fire. We ate strips of rump steak on sticks over the flames, and big roast potatoes cooked straight in the embers – the best way: the ferocious heat in the embers cooks the potato much hotter than an oven, and really brings out the best sweet flavour, we both agreed that you need no more than potatoes cooked this way with some butter for a great camp meal. They were in about 40 minutes, then pulled out to cool: the surface turns to a kind of charcoal egg-cup, once cool you can hold that, break open the top and scoop out the soft potato inside, your hands get a blackened, but holy smoke it’s worth it!

Rainbow reflected in the water...

Getting the fire going and the camp set up at dusk

The stars were soon out, full moon rising too over the treeline, and later we retired to the swag and sleeping bags with the fire still providing plenty of warmth. I fell asleep with the freshening air, looking up at a billion stars, with the sound of the owls and the river, an unforgettable magical experience.

Sure enough during the night it got very cold: I pulled the canvas swag over my head to keep off the breeze, and slept soundly, perfectly warm and dry: still nothing better for me than an australian canvas ‘swag bag’ and sleeping out, no tent required. Worst case if you get heavy rain a small tarp over the top would do the trick, but unless you get heavy rain you can sleep right out there in the open, in comfort too.

Hawkeye woke early, and got the fire re-started from the remains of last nights logs, then poked my swag with a stick to wake me so I wouldn’t miss the most beautiful morning scene on the river I’ve ever witnessed: the cold meant a thick mist was swirling around over the water, shifted around by a light breeze, the river and the forest around was stirring. H had the Kelly Kettle on too so I had no excuse but to jump up, get some clothes on quick and enjoy some hot tea by the fire, just watching the day begin. The cold was such that a thick frost had formed on most of our gear, and it felt like a winter trip rather then autumn! Warmed my hands on the fire as they were getting numb it was that cold, definitely sub-zero by one or two degrees.

The Kelly Kettle fires up for some hot tea on a cold morning

Cold morning camp scene

The sun begins to wake up the valley...

After some coffee and hot porridge on the fire cooked in the trusty crusader mugs, we got into the canoes and pushed off to explore up river, paddling quietly through the swirling mist, the forest all around – a magical experience I’ll never forget.

Canoeing through the mist...

So here’s the video of the trip… watch it full screen if you can, hope you enjoy it.

Featured post

Biolite Camp Stove – Portable Power!

On our trips we do quite a lot of filming and photography to capture the scenes and the places we’ve been, and power for the gadgets especially mobile phones is always a problem, especially on longer trips like the River Spey Adventure we have planned for July this year. In the past we’ve tried solar power packs and taking extra batteries and portable battery packs, and none of these really worked well enough.

Recently there’s some new technology around mobile power supplies, including hyrdrogen fuel cells such as the PowerTrekk where in theory all you need is a water source to refill the cell to create power; these are somewhat extreme perhaps more suited to use by the military – you have to store and handle these things carefully, and they aren’t that cheap, but interesting nonetheless.

But then this appears. The BioLite Camp Stove – simply it’s a stove, with a heat exchanger converting heat to electricity, and USB ports on the side! In fact it’s a type of stove called a rocket stove, which uses a turbine principle where acceleration of the combustion process is provided by a small electric fan.

The simpler version of this is the ol’ favourite the Kelly Kettle, somewhat more robust potentially, which uses the ‘chimney effect’ to create that same acceleration – but the BiolLite uses a fan to the same effect.

It was developed out of a project to create a cleaner-burning stove for use in developing countries where smoke inhalation from poorly-combusted fuel from indoor cooking fires is a major source of premature death (i.e. bigger than malaria!) from pneumonia – something not many of us here in the West are aware of I think. It’s a huge killer and it makes this project one of great importance. And the camp stove is a spin-off, but please visit www.biolitestove.com

The BioLite camping stove and USB phone charger in one!

and find out more about the wider project.

We’ll hopefully (subject to supply!) be getting a Stove sent to us in July for testing and hope to try it out for camera and phone power on our Spey Adventure, and am really intrigued to see this thing in action. Here’s a photo which tells it’s own story!

Hobo Stove, Wood-gas Stove, Wild Stoves

A local company to me “Wild Stoves” has started making these lovely looking wood-gas ‘hobo’ stoves. It will be interesting to see how this compares to cooking and boiling water on a Kelly Kettle, but so far it looks very good and packs away very small. I’m going to have to get one…

here’s a video demo from the makers:

Marmot Bivvy Tent

There’s a lot of choices for bivvy bags and one-man ultralight tents. With these you do have the condensation issues, the often garish colours (fine for Mountaineering of course), and the delicate materials than can easily get snagged or get spark holes and tend to flap around in the wind, but there are still some nice designs around. This one from Marmot is quite a clever design, although the day-glo colour is not for me, but looks like some real thought has gone in to it:

The Wynnchester Australian Swag Bedroll

Great news for anyone interested in trying swag camping: As part of our “Wynnchester Camp & Adventure” project to bring back robust traditionally-inspired canvas camp gear we’ve been working to design and manufacture our own design of Australian swag bedrolls right here in the U.K. Previously the only option was to buy from Australia with shipping costs often being more than the cost of the swag! To my knowledge they are the only Australian swag bedrolls being made in Europe. They are available now to buy online from www.wynnchester.co.uk.

So: After a year of design and planning I’ve just had the first batch of the product through, and I have to say it is truly a thing of beauty! Have a look at the pictures below and see what you  think.

"Wild Canvas" Australian Swag

The video:

Based on many years of swag camping in different types of australian swags, for different purposes, 4×4 trips, canoe trips, car-camping and family camps, and in different environments: from the Australian desert to the British winter, at designated camp sites, or wild camps in woodland, mountainsides, beach camping and on river banks and lake shores, we’ve been able to design this one from the ground up, with some new features based on real-world use, and also we’ve avoided too many unnecessary features, velcro, guy ropes, or bright colours which many modern australian swags suffer from – this is true to the traditional swag in design and purpose and also I think it is a thing of beauty that you can cherish and get many years of use from, hopefully taking you to some wild places and enabling you to experience wild camping at it’s best, and at it’s simplest. Here’s some of the design and manufacturing features:

  • Tough, waterproof and beautiful high quality 18oz canvas – in khaki and green natural colours
  • Tough waterproof PVC base – again sourced in natural khaki colour rather than the often garish bright colours PVC often comes in.
  • Full-length, heavyweight zips – on both sides so you can enter and exit either side away from the wind, towards your campfire etc.
  • Pillow pocket to stuff your clothes, valuables, torch etc. in during the night
  • The design is made to form a natural dome shape over you when inside to shed rain
  • Storm flap which folds down blanket-style for good weather, meaning you can sleep open to the stars when the weather permits, and even if it changes during the night you can just pull the storm flap over and run the zips up past your head for more protection from wind and rain in the weather turns. Or add one or two poles to give extra internal space and further help to shed rain. Making the change easily without getting out in the middle of the night is very useful, unlike some swags.
  • Tough enough to walk on and sit on around camp or to unpack or sort your gear whilst it protects your sleeping bag etc. from mud, damp and dirt around camp.
  • Elipse-shaped foot section
  • Again the design is specifically worked out so that unlike a lot of Australian swags with boxed sections and hoods etc. this one will fold very flat meaning it rolls up into a much smaller package for travel and storage.
  • Webbing loops for attaching paracord to
  • Large size fits a 6-footer plus – one of the great things about swags is they are naturally roomy inside, allowing you to move around comfortably in your sleeping bag or just using blankets.
  • A hoop seam for fitting the aluminium pole kit if required.
  • Can be used with any type of mattress or none (if camping on sand for example) – thermarest, small air mattress, foam camping mattress or the army type roll matt.
  • Rolls up very small compared to other swags, with carry handle and buckle clips.
  • no guy ropes or pegs needed

If you’re wondering what the fuss is about, see our full posts on swag camping for more info on this great way to get out in nature. The Wild Canvas swags are be on sale either through me at www.wynnchester.co.uk. The price is not cheap but remember these will last a long time, putting up with rough treatment and sparks from a campfire. Then there’s the quality: the canvas is very tough 18oz weight and the very best money can buy, very hard to get hold of in fact, and that these swags are hand-made by specialists.

Compare this also with what’s available that is similar such as the Duluth Bedroll in the USA at 180 US dollars or the cost of buying a swag direct from Oz coming in at around the £200 mark just for the shipping! So yes it’s not a cheap throwaway item, but I can say from experience that even one amazing night out under the stars in some remote (or even not so remote) location and it will be well worth the investment. Knowing you can do that again in other places, whenever you want, as they say at Mastercard “priceless”.

OK here’s the pics: (click for full size images: note the colours are not exactly right in these pictures, the canvas is more of a green khaki than this brown – I’ll get more pics as soon as I have them).

The swag rolled up with carry handle – the rolled up swag measures about 60cms long by about 25cms width:

The storm flap open for good weather and easy access: this pic also shows the elipsed foot section and the natural dome shape that helps to shed rain.

The heavy duty zips with snug overlap where the canvas joins the PVC:

Photos showing thermarest self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag arrangement, with the pillow pocket and storm flap:

Enlarge this pic to see the beautiful weave of the natural canvas:

The full Wynnchester Wild Canvas swag – simple elegant and above all TOUGH as nails!:

[Update: there are new photos of the latest model in a darker green khaki colour with twin pre-curved aluminium poles on the website at www.wynnchester.co.uk. ]

Henry Lawson's The Romance of the Swag

The most detailed 19th Century Australian description of the swag is found in Henry Lawson’s The Romance of the Swag:

Source: http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/1200626

The Australian swag fashion is the easiest way in the world of carrying a load. I ought to know something about carrying loads: I’ve carried babies, which are the heaviest and most awkward and heartbreaking loads in this world for a boy or man to carry, I fancy. God remember mothers who slave about the housework (and do sometimes a man’s work in addition in the bush) with a heavy, squalling kid on one arm! I’ve humped logs on the selection, “burning-off,” with loads of fencing-posts and rails and palings out of steep, rugged gullies (and was happier then, perhaps); I’ve carried a shovel, crowbar, heavy “rammer,” a dozen insulators on an average (strung round my shoulders with raw flax)-to say nothing of soldiering kit, tucker-bag, billy and climbing spurs–all day on a telegraph line in rough country in New Zealand, and in places where a man had to manage his load with one hand and help himself climb with the other; and I’ve helped hump and drag telegraph-poles up cliffs and sidings where the horses couldn’t go. I’ve carried a portmanteau on the hot dusty roads in green old jackaroo days. Ask any actor who’s been stranded and had to count railway sleepers from one town to another! he’ll tell you what sort of an awkward load a portmanteau is, especially if there’s a broken-hearted man underneath it. I’ve tried knapsack fashion–one of the least healthy and most likely to give a man sores; I’ve carried my belongings in a three-bushel sack slung over my shoulder–blankets, tucker, spare boots and poetry all lumped together. I tried carrying a load on my head, and got a crick in my neck and spine for days. I’ve carried a load on my mind that should have been shared by editors and publishers. I’ve helped hump luggage and furniture up to, and down from, a top flat in London. And I’ve carried swag for months out back in Australia–and it was life, in spite of its “squalidness” and meanness and wretchedness and hardship, and in spite of the fact that the world would have regarded us as “tramps”–and a free life amongst men from all the world!

By Unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elderly_swagman.jpg

The Australian swag was born of Australia and no other land–of the Great Lone Land of magnificent distances and bright heat; the land of self-reliance, and never-give-in, and help-your-mate. The grave of many of the world’s tragedies and comedies–royal and otherwise. The land where a man out of employment might shoulder his swag in Adelaide and take the track, and years later walk into a hut on the Gulf, or never be heard of any more, or a body be found in the bush and buried by the mounted police, or never found and never buried–what does it matter?

The swag is usually composed of a tent “fly” or strip of calico (a cover for the swag and a shelter in bad weather–in New Zealand it is oilcloth or waterproof twill), a couple of blankets, blue by custom and preference, as that colour shows the dirt less than any other (hence the name “bluey” for swag), and the core is composed of spare clothing and small personal effects. To make or “roll up” your swag: lay the fly or strip of calico on the ground, blueys on top of it;

To the top strap fasten the string of the nose-bag, a calico bag about the size of a pillowslip, containing the tea, sugar and flour bags, bread, meat, baking-powder and salt, and brought, when the swag is carried from the left shoulder, over the right on to the chest, and so balancing the swag behind. But a swagman can throw a heavy swag in a nearly vertical position against his spine, slung from one shoulder only and without any balance, and carry it as easily as you might wear your overcoat. Some bushmen arrange their belongings so neatly and conveniently, with swag straps in a sort of harness, that they can roll up the swag in about a minute, and unbuckle it and throw it out as easily as a roll of wall-paper, and there’s the bed ready on the ground with the wardrobe for a pillow. The swag is always used for a seat on the track; it is a soft seat, so trousers last a long time. And, the dust being mostly soft and silky on the long tracks out back, boots last marvellously. Fifteen miles a day is the average with the swag, but you must travel according to the water: if the next bore or tank is five miles on, and the next twenty beyond, you camp at the five-mile water to-night and do the twenty next day. But if it’s thirty miles you have to do it. Travelling with the swag in Australia is variously and picturesquely described as “humping bluey,” “walking Matilda,” “humping Matilda,” “humping your drum,” “being on the wallaby,” “jabbing trotters,” and “tea and sugar burglaring,” but most travelling shearers now call themselves trav’lers, and say simply “on the track,” or “carrying swag.”

And there you have the Australian swag. Men from all the world have carried it–lords and low-class Chinamen, saints and world martyrs, and felons, thieves, and murderers, educated gentlemen and boors who couldn’t sign their mark, gentlemen who fought for Poland and convicts who fought the world, women, and more than one woman disguised as a man. The Australian swag has held in its core letters and papers in all languages, the honour of great houses, and more than one national secret, papers that would send well-known and highly-respected men to jail, and proofs of the innocence of men going mad in prisons, life tragedies and comedies, fortunes and papers that secured titles and fortunes, and the last pence of lost fortunes, life secrets, portraits of mothers and dead loves, pictures of fair women, heart-breaking old letters written long ago by vanished hands, and the pencilled manuscript of more than one book which will be famous yet.

The weight of the swag varies from the light rouseabout’s swag, containing one blanket and a clean shirt, to the “royal Alfred,” with tent and all complete, and weighing part of a ton. Some old sundowners have a mania for gathering, from selectors’ and shearers’ huts, and dust-heaps, heart-breaking loads of rubbish which can never be of any possible use to them or anyone else. Here is an inventory of the contents of the swag of an old tramp who was found dead on the track, lying on his face on the sand, with his swag on top of him, and his arms stretched straight out as if he were embracing the mother earth, or had made, with his last movement, the sign of the cross to the blazing heavens:

Rotten old tent in rags. Filthy blue blanket, patched with squares of red and calico. Half of “white blanket” nearly black now, patched with pieces of various material and sewn to half of red blanket. Three-bushel sack slit open. Pieces of sacking. Part of a woman’s skirt. Two rotten old pairs of moleskin trousers. One leg of a pair of trousers. Back of a shirt. Half a waistcoat. Two tweed coats, green, old and rotting, and patched with calico. Blanket, etc. Large bundle of assorted rags for patches, all rotten. Leaky billy-can, containing fishing-line, papers, suet, needles and cotton, etc. Jam-tin, medicine bottles, corks on strings, to hang to his hat to keep the flies off (a sign of madness in the bush, for the corks would madden a sane man sooner than the flies could). Three boots of different sizes, all belonging to the right foot, and a left slipper. Coffee-pot, without handle or spout, and quart-pot full of rubbish–broken knives and forks, with the handles burnt off, spoons, etc., picked up on rubbish-heaps; and many rusty nails, to be used as buttons, I suppose.

They would talk some old lead, while the billy boils...

Broken saw blade, hammer, broken crockery, old pannikins, small rusty frying-pan without a handle, children’s old shoes, many bits of old bootleather and greenhide, part of yellowback novel, mutilated English dictionary, grammar and arithmetic book, a ready reckoner, a cookery book, a bulgy anglo-foreign dictionary, part of a Shakespeare, book in French and book in German, and a book on etiquette and courtship. A heavy pair of blucher boots, with uppers parched and cracked, and soles so patched (patch over patch) with leather, boot protectors, hoop iron and hobnails that they were about two inches thick, and the boots weighed over five pounds. (If you don’t believe me go into the Melbourne Museum, where, in a glass case in a place of honour, you will see a similar, perhaps the same, pair of bluchers labelled “An example of colonial industry.”) And in the core of the swag was a sugar-bag tied tightly with a whip-lash, and containing another old skirt, rolled very tight and fastened with many turns of a length of clothes-line, which last, I suppose, he carried to hang himself with if he felt that way. The skirt was rolled round a small packet of old portraits and almost indecipherable letters–one from a woman who had evidently been a sensible woman and a widow, and who stated in the letter that she did not intend to get married again as she had enough to do already, slavin’ her finger-nails off to keep a family, without having a second husband to keep. And her answer was “final for good and all,” and it wasn’t no use comin’ “bungfoodlin’” round her again. If he did she’d set Satan on to him. “Satan” was a dog, I suppose.

The letter was addressed to “Dear Bill,” as were others. There were no envelopes. The letters were addressed from no place in particular, so there weren’t any means of identifying the dead man. The police buried him under a gum, and a young trooper cut on the tree the words:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF BILL WHO DIED.


Who Was Henry Lawson?

Print of Henry Lawson (1867–1922) Australian writer & poet who documented 19th Century life in the outback

Henry Lawson (17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922) was an Australian writer and poet. Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson (who penned the famous “Waltzing Matilda”), Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period, and is often called Australia’s “greatest writer”. Henry Lawson was born in a town on the Grenfell goldfields of New South Wales. His father was Niels Herzberg Larsen, a Norwegian-born miner who went to sea at 21 and arrived in Melbourne in 1855 to join the gold rush, along with partner William Henry John Slee.[2] Lawson’s parents met at the goldfields of Pipeclay (now Eurunderee New South Wales), Niels and Louisa Albury (1848–1920) married on 7 July 1866; he was 32 and she, 18.

Henry Lawson, Collected Verse, Volume one: 1895 – 1900, (Ed.) Colin Roderick, Angus & Robertson (Australia, 1967).

On The Wallaby

By Henry Lawson.

Now the tent poles are rotting, the camp fires are dead,
And the possums may gambol in trees overhead;
I am humping my bluey far out on the land,
And the prints of my bluchers sink deep in the sand:
I am out on the wallaby humping my drum,
And I came by the tracks where the sundowners come.

It is nor’-west and west o’er the ranges and far
To the plains where the cattle and sheep stations are,
With the sky for my roof and the grass for my bunk,
And a calico bag for my damper and junk;
And scarcely a comrade my memory reveals,
Save the spiritless dingo in tow of my heels. *

But I think of the honest old light of my home
When the stars hang in clusters like lamps from the dome,
And I think of the hearth where the dark shadows fall,
When my camp fire is built on the widest of all;
But I’m following Fate, for I know she knows best,
I follow, she leads, and it’s nor’-west by west.

When my tent is all torn and my blankets are damp,
And the rising flood waters flow fast by the camp,
When the cold water rises in jets from the floor,
I lie in my bunk and I list to the roar,
And I think how to-morrow my footsteps will lag
When I tramp ‘neath the weight of a rain-sodden swag.

Though the way of the swagman is mostly up-hill,
There are joys to be found on the wallaby still.
When the day has gone by with its tramp or its toil,
And your camp fire you light, and your billy you boil,
There is comfort and peace in the bowl of your clay
Or the yarn of a mate who is tramping that way.

But beware of the town-there is poison for years
In the pleasure you find in the depths of long beers;
For the bushman gets bushed in the streets of a town,
Where he loses his friends when his cheque is knocked down;
He is right till his pockets are empty, and then -
He can hump his old bluey up country again.

[Brisbane, July 1891 (revised August 1891)