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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.

"Old Red" on the water again

‘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.

oldred

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.

Midnight Mink... poking around the camp

Midnight Mink... poking around the camp

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.

Autumn on the River Wye

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.

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!

'Hawkeye' Rich steering at the back - Good Work!

 

Some cattle were drinking at the river bank...

Some cattle were drinking at the river bank...

 

 

 

The view back up the river...

The view back up the river...

This iconic Pastoral scene unfolded before us...

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 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...

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.

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...

Approaching Symonds Yat at Dusk...

Our chosen stop for the night's camp.

Our chosen stop for the night's camp.

Some firewood gathered along the way.

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!

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!

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...

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...

Getting the fire started in the morning, from the pieces of last night campfire...

It was going in no time..

It was going in no time..

Chilly morning so we needed the fire going and some hot tea brewing in the Kelly.

Chilly morning so we needed the fire going and some hot tea brewing in the Kelly.

 

Swag 'n Kelly Kettle scene...

Swag 'n Kelly Kettle scene...

The fire going....

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...

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...

 

 

Coffee...

Coffee...

And what a place to have it... beautiful morning, we could have been waking in Canada, it was so secluded...

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.

'Hawkeye' enjoying his Kelly Tea.

 

At the Bank on Monday morning... The river bank that is ;-)

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.

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.

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...

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...

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.

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 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?

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...

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.

And we're out, the canoe back on the car and off home - a great and eventful Autumn trip.

Good 'Ol Kelly…

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.

    rich1 

  • 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.

    rich2 

  • 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.
     
  • Update. New Kelly Kettle Video Here.

  • 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…….

    rich31 

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……..
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