Took a trip to the River Wye at the end of May with our Australian visitor “OZMan” to show him what it’s like in a country that has rather more water and lush growth than they get down under. A fantastic trip again in gorgeous late spring weather, OzMan even took a dip in the river and climbed tup to the top of Yat Rock, he was really struck by the beauty of our English countryside. I lent him one of our genuine Australian swags so he’d feel right at home! Somewhere along that lazy river as the evening drew in towards dusk I spotted a rare “Hobby” falcon flashing over the surface of the water catching bugs, something I’ve never seen before – a really beautiful bird, with a very distinctive agile flight full of twists and turns as it races after dragon-flies and moths, eating them on the wing. As the canoe drifted silently on the water we came very close, right under a branch where it had stopped to rest for a while, so I could see that striking red underside and dark moustache features. But it’s in flight you want to see this bird – a really magical experience, and one you’d be unlikely to see except from down at the water level in a canoe, approaching silently on the water.
A short video sequence showing the technique for fire lighting using birch bark and a steel fire-striker.
Just returned from a Wye canoe and wild camp – my first ever solo trip of this kind. It wasn’t supposed to be solo but my buddy couldn’t make it last thing, so I went for it alone as I was already in the valley. Just a ‘one nighter’ although an amazing experience to do on my own – it didn’t feel lonely although I was alone.
Plenty of company from the local wildlife though. Highlights were observing amazing aerial displays from the Symonds Yat Peregrines, also as many as 4 Greater Spotted Woodpeckers sighted, loads of jumping fish, as many as 12 deer really near the river bank and the first ducklings of the season were out too.
A fairly chilly wind meant the fleece stayed on and at times the breeze in my face made it difficult to progress with Old Red without a 2nd paddler, putting in effort too. I nearly tipped the canoe by not paying attention to a large rock just under the surface, given away by the rippling water over it. At the time, I was letting the canoe lazily drift sideways and got a hell of a shock to find myself tipped sideways on the rock as Old Red struggled to stay upright, in the middle of the river. Luckily, I just managed to push myself off of the rock with the paddle before the situation got worse. There was a second or two when I thought I’d be tested in the cold water with an unexpected swim! Phew. Was a wake up call for me and I will learn from that. The tough nature of the Old Town made handling it on my own, on and off the car and in and out of the river easy enough. They can take quite a bit of dragging around, given their robust build quality.
No rain came at night but I had a pretty good tarp rig set up and had a great night sleep despite the owls, really close, doing their Tawny thing. The river was full of May Fly early evening flying up in huge numbers. No other canoeists were seen on the trip although I did get up at 6am and left my wild camp spot, with no traces at 7.30am so I was the early bird.
I had no matches, lighter or gas burners as back up – just good ol’ Kelly Kettle and a striker with a few bits of shavings and Birch bark in my pocket.
I collected a few bits of dry twigs on the journey down river. Pleased to say my fire lighting skills are fairly good now with a tidy little campfire going in no time giving hot water for tea and towards something to eat. Great bit of comfort, that. Same, in the morning. I didn’t bother taking a camp chair or stool. I just lay out on my sleeping bag by the fire until 1am listening to the wildlife and the Wye before getting in under the tarp. Cool.
It was a clear night too. I felt as comfortable as I would be in any hotel! I had everything I needed really and I didn’t have noisy people in the corridor at 2am trying to find their rooms and get their key cards to work! And anyway, who wants a ‘five star’ bill when you can have a ‘million stars’ for free?! Get Out, Stay Out.
‘Old Red’ our new Old Town Discovery 158 canadian canoe had its 2nd outing on Sat 10th with an overnighter involved. The usual and amazing magic of the Wye Valley featured again on this trip. Daytime temperatures were up to 17 degrees on the Saturday with quite a chilly 5 at night as we lay out under the stars in the Swags. The trees still looked very Wintry and they’re late this year, but up close, you could see the buds of Spring bursting out everywhere. Another few warm days and that should make a huge difference.
We heard the Peregrine Falcons calling in the distance and soon after saw one of them zooming down the valley like a jet, and disappearing over the trees. We also encountered a very defensive male Canada Goose who wanted to fight anyone that passed; to keep Mrs Goose safe. We met him two weeks ago on that trip and he was fairly touchy then to any passers by. We kept away both times to give them some space. Countless Buzzards soured in the warm air and a Sparrowhawk darted around the trees just yards from Old Red as we drifted silently. In the morning, we were awake by 6am listening to what sounded like hundreds of birds singing at the same time. At camp, I was pleased with my improving skills with a striker and small pieces of Birch bark shavings to get a small camp fire going, for directly boiling the Kelly Kettle and cooking some meat that I propped on a sharpened green stick.
During the night, I lay there listening to the Tawnys and my eyes had adjusted quite well under the fairly bright night sky. I heard a worrying noise on the pebbles and stones about 20 yards from me and picked up the outline and profile of a large Mink bounding towards our spot, closer and closer.
The Mink then stopped very abruptly, sniffed the air, and did a ‘I just smelt a bloke’ kind of U turn back to the river. As he raced away, he tore up stones behind him, like a car doing wheel spins! I heard the splash as he hit the safety of the Wye again.
On day 2, only 3 other canoeists were seen by us so it really felt like we had the Valley to ourselves which was a great feeling on that warm Sunday morning, as the lambs skipped on the banks along side us.
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…
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……..