The Campfire Tent has been getting good use during this winter snow: kind of a ‘Backyard’ test for a snowbound winter camp here. The campfire tent proving itself again – giving great shelter from strong and bitterly cold Northerly winds, whilst allowing the openess for cooking, observing nature and snowbound views, and generally ‘messing about in tents’! In this weather the views have been absolutely stunning and I haven’t missed a thing – including a huge shooting star one evening. I set up just before the snow came in 10 days ago, and after the main snowfall the roof of the tent had about 5 inches of snow weighing it down – that’s a LOT of weight, and happy to say the canvas, stitching, poles and guys all stood up to the test. The pegs have been completely frozen into the ground so they aren’t going anywhere, which has helped in the very strong winds we’ve had. Walking the fields all the activity of nature is written into the snow in footprints – from tiny mice trails and bird footprints, to thin and whispy deer tracks and big badger prints – all the activity you’d normally miss in the dark is recorded for the following morning.
Also here is a backyard test of a new “Hekla 30 firebox“ from Tentipi, a great bit of kit I’ll write more about in detail later.. The tent itself is from Green Outdoor and features in the Winter Camp story below. For now here’s the video:
At the first sign of it getting colder and the leaves turning we loaded up and headed for an overnight trip down the Wye to catch the early autumn mood – leaving enough time for a late Autumn trip to follow before winter hopefully…
The water level was very low over the rocks at English Bicknor: made for a challenge not to get stuck on the rocks, we just managed to follow the flow enough to get through with a sharp left and right turn thorough this stretch.
'Hawkeye' Rich steering at the back - Good Work!
Some cattle were drinking at the river bank...
The view back up the river...
This iconic Pastoral scene unfolded before us...
a bit of a rumble through this stretch, because the river level was so low - normally you'd float right over this section with smooth water on the surface.
A flat stretch as the evening began...
Clear skies above... it was beginning to get a bit chilled, you could tell it was proper Autumn now, a real chill in the air.
Approaching Symonds Yat at Dusk...
Our chosen stop for the night's camp.
Some firewood gathered along the way.
Ahh a warm fire finally - it was a bit tricky to get this one going in truth... we were rushing as it was getting dark: you can never rush starting a fire: stop and start again slowly - it's quicker in the end!
Morning Camp. Just climbed out of the swag. Earlier, after I woke up I'd watched from inside the swag as a female Row deer picking her way along rocks on the opposite bank just 20 feet away, what a way to start the day!
At 2.30 am we'd woken to see a huge stag coming down to drink just about where this phot was taken - no more than 15 feet from our beds... He was spooked as Hawkeye woke me up to see it, and turned and headed back up to the top of the bank - treating us to an amazing perfect silhouette against the moonlight sky of this big stag with his large antlers, looking back at us... the highlight of the trip. If we hadn't stirred he'd have just come and had a drinkand wouldn't have known or cared we were there...
Getting the fire started in the morning, from the pieces of last night campfire...
It was going in no time..
Chilly morning so we needed the fire going and some hot tea brewing in the Kelly.
Swag 'n Kelly Kettle scene...
The fire going....
With the swag you can sleep very close to the campfire to keep warm because it's made of think canvas - I needed nothing more than a light sleeping bag inside the swag: had a great night's sleep...
And what a place to have it... beautiful morning, we could have been waking in Canada, it was so secluded...
'Hawkeye' enjoying his Kelly Tea.
At the Bank on Monday morning... The river bank that is ;-)
Water level was incredibly low - I hadn't seem it this low since I first camped here 15 years ago, learning canoe craft and bushcrafting techniques with Dirk Stronnsun - you could almost wade across - we'd had a very dry late summer/autumn to this point.
Porridge cooking on the fire in a steel 'crusader' mug.
Back on the water, Hawkeye looks back to check again that we left 'no trace' from our camp - this is essential, leave nothing...
The view back to Symonds Yat gorge...
Hawkeye spotted a female Sparrowhawk hunting along the river bank, right at the water's edge - we followed it a good 1/4 mile down the river as it hunted.
We planned to stop for Kelly tea on this rock, but getting there there was no way up from the canoe onto the rock - it's bigger than it looks!
We settled for a smaller rock and got the Kelly fired up again. Q: Can you have too much tea?
Last few riffles on the route before the get-out...
And we're out, the canoe back on the car and off home - a great and eventful Autumn trip.
Just sought out a new axe for Autumn and Winter ahead. Found this lovely one from B&Q of all places: Has a real Hickory handle and 2.5lb head… superb action and excellent strike force. It’s big for taking on trips although it will soon be a permanent fixture in the Landrover, but I love it so much I may yet take on the next canoe trip rather than my small hatchet.
The weather finally cleared up for several lovely days of perfect September “Indian Summer” sunshine, and gave me the chance to use the axe in some “Backyard Testing” and also to get some real iconic photos!
Just thought I’d collect my thoughts following a recent canoeing and ‘get out and stay out’ camping trip in the Wye valley. I’ve shared a few tips and ‘learns’ below that I’ve picked up in recent trips with the help of a touch of ‘backyard’ testing too.
Camp Fire! Firstly, respect your surroundings at all times, only light camp fires where and when they are allowed and keep it safe. Depending on where you are and if there are restrictions – find out and follow the rules. Extinguish remains and embers thoroughly as it can travel both over and under the ground.
Collect the fluffy bits from your tumble dryer – from the filter you have to keep clear. Great tinder support. Keep it dry and take it as back up as you can find tinder in the field / woods, even in the rain if you know where to look. Ray can anyway.!
Open pine cones great too, put a couple in with your small twigs. The air gets in around them and it really picks up quickly
Prepare your sizes of sticks before hand and have them in different graded size piles. Nothing too fussy but otherwise you will be scrabbling around for the right sizes…. and the fire has gone out.
Birch tree – tiny delicate bark shavings are fab too – they are flakey – care not to damage any trees though. We’re talking the tiny bits from broken branches if possible.
Have a lighter and/or matches as back up but try to light your camp fire with a simple steel striker without an instant naked flame doing the work for you. I know this maybe cheating too but it’s only a step away from a flint stone approach, so stop making it so easy and improve your skills.
I find that firing up Kelly Kettle and using what’s left is easier than starting from scratch with a general camp fire. Let the chimney effect of the Kelly process do its thing. Remember to point the ‘vent’ hole into the approaching wind to feed Kelly with air. If there’s no wind, blow in there but too much puff and its out. Once your water is boiling use the established fire base to start your camp fire and have the sticks ready. It’s all in the prep.
A well as a small sharp knife, if you don’t mind carrying it – a little wooden handled hand axe is very useful or even a hand sized fold up saw – most DIY stores.
On two occasions recently, I burnt my hand lifting the full kettle from the fire and in my instant reaction to the burn, spilt precious water on the fire that I still needed as I lifted it off! Now I run a decent stick under the kettle handle, angle it and lift from there, to keep my hand away from climbing flames in the ‘chimney’ of the kettle. Also, if you put the kettle straight on to a small fire rather than its own base, remember to keep the cork and wooden part of the handle away from the ‘wider’ flames.
The medium Kelly kettle takes 2.5 pints but remember not to fill it unnecessarily. How much tea do you need? You’ll be peeing all night. Boil what you need for 2 mugs and it will be quicker anyway.
Collect fire wood, tinder, dried grass, leaves etc during your walk or canoe trip. Don’t expect it to be lined up for you where you want to light your fire. There won’t be a boot sale there with an estate car full of twigs with a bloke going, ‘’50p for the lot – get your fire here.’’ Not in the places I’ve camped anyway. Chances are it will be getting dark and there won’t be a dry stick in 50 metres radius especially if it’s a well used spot. You might be lucky but don’t walk past some great natural fuel if it’s jumping out at you. And it will be. So much of it you might not see it. Can’t see the wood for the trees and all that. Take the dead stuff – don’t hack away at branches. Look under your feet. Chuck it in your bag or into the canoe if you can reach it but don’t rock the boat! It’s all in the prep.
Get the right side of the wind. There’s nothing worse than a face full and eye full of smoke just as you’re getting it going. As your eyes sting and stream with tears, the appeal will wear off and you’ll be longing for a gas cooker and a wet flannel.
During the effort, refrain from putting your ‘tools’ from your kit on the ground – eg knife, striker, maglite etc. You’ll mislay it, walk it into the soil, lose it in the cover or generally lose track. Get in the habit of putting it into one handy pocket with a zip… and zip it up or it’s falling out with all the stooping you’re doing. It’s like at home doing a bit of DIY – can you ever find your pencil if you put it down?! And the car keys…….
old swag in a bag
There’s something to be said for not having a tent covering you up and hiding you away from the sky, especially when it’s fine. I guess in a tent, you’re not really out – you’re still ‘in’ and enclosed. Recently, I lay half under the half turned boat in my sleeping bag with nothing above me apart from a little dew and a million stars. As my old mate, Kevin, snored and grunted like a badger in his swag bag with only his beard on show, I listened to the Tawny Owls echoing in the valley, the splash of jumping fish in the Wye beside us and I picked out the shooting stars that were occasionally trailing and burning through the sky – sometimes I was momentarily tricked by the constant path and track of a man made one. The birds were singing at 4.30 and it was impossible to sleep so watching the sunrise in the valley was the next thing and it was going to be a scorcher. The ‘badger’ was awake too, not long after – and it was coffee, courtesy of good ol’ Kelly!
travelling light with your buddy
I find a good way to keep things to a minimum, with your buddy doing the same, is to challenge each other. Basically swap bags and go through each others and get ‘tuff with the stuff’. Take it out. Why do you need this? and this? and this? How many of these?! Be honest with each other and eliminate any unnecessary duplication of kit. Never cut out essentials but know what the essentials are. Could be they’ve forgotten something and you need to add rather than take away but you only know by checking. Oh, when you’ve checked it to an essentials ‘list’, check it again. Make sure you both know where the car keys are, the mobile, the tiny first aid kit you argued about taking earlier……….and zip up pockets and pouches ….or an item could slip out in the long grass when you have your next brew and you’ve lost it for ever……..