Sunday, 23 October 2011

Windermere Canoe and wild camp

Dear avid fans.
Wind the clocks back to the seventh of may two thousand eleven.

It's Friday night and I'm wondering what to do for the week end.
A plan starts to evolve in my head, a quick Reccy of the area on google maps sat images and a decision is made.

Bed time follows and a good sleep is broken by the sun shining in the window, it's morning and it's action stations.

Some gear is sorted through and sat by the door. Breakfast is eaten and the gear by the door is put in the Raingy followed by the Canoe being strapped to the roof.
Everything is ready to go by lunchtime, and we set off after eating something.
On the way down to Windermere it dawns on me that we could have been there and on the water by now if we had rushed this morning but that's not the point of having a relaxing weekend is it. I can rush and multitask when the situation requires and I do it with efficiency and in an organised manner but given the option I will always choose the slow relaxed methodical approach.

We get to Newby Bridge at the south end of the lake by mid afternoon, crossing river Leven fed from the lake to the Colonnade and turning left I found the parking spot I had done the Reccy on the night before using sat images, the parking spot is little more than a bit of verge that's hard packed dirt and gravel but large enough to take two or three cars, only one other vehicle is parked there so we managed to park within a few feet of the launching point.
The canoe is taken off the roof and ported all of ten feet between some bushes to a part of river bank with a shallow bottom edged by rocks, perfect for loading and launching the 15' Canadian canoe.

After stowing all the necessary gear for an overnight canoe trip the Raingy is locked and we push off from the bank turning left into the gentle current.
We soon find a natural rhythm to paddle to with Karen sitting up front and myself in the rear with our gear stowed in the centre.
Karen gets the Feeling of being a solitary pioneer on some quest up the Youkon river, while I get to do the bulk of the paddling, steering and keeping an eye on our gear. Its all stowed really well, some of it attached by leash and some stored in orange water tight dry bags.

We paddle up stream past the marina and eventually into the south end of Windermere.
The lake opens up in front of us and as we pass the various moored sailing craft the current we have been paddling against slowly fades away till we are cruising north through open water with ease and there is just the sound of lapping water on the hull for company.



We pass silent along the west shore for a while then cross over to the east side and away from the many yachts and jetty's, the shore line here is void of evidence that this is the most used lake in Cumbria.

The light begins to fade eventually and we look for a place to land that's not private and not going to leave us standing out like sore thumbs when we set up camp for the night.



This sounds easy but in fact its quite important to chose the right spot, most if not all the shoreline of Windermere is private land as far as I know, so choosing somewhere that's not likely to cause a incident on the 9 o'clock news and involve meeting the local constabulary takes some very careful consideration.
Eventually we pull into a small bay back on the west side about half way up the lake that's shielded from sight north and south, it has nothing on the opposite shore in sight and seams far enough from any roads tracks and sign of life on our side to be of any problem so after a quick reccy of the area inland I unpack the canoe and port it up through the trees to the chosen wild camp, once the canoe and all the gear is moved up I walk down to the waters edge and check we cant be seen from the lake.
Success, we are totally invisible from all sides and unless someone comes crawling through the bushes or lands on our little beach we will remain undetected.

First things first, I set up the tent, its a Vango Banshee 200, that means its a two man but cosy and more suited for solo use, if you are just sleeping in it you would be OK with two people squeezed into it but realistically if your planning to cook and brew up under shelter you really need a basha to go with it. So up goes the canoe tarp, its just a over size basha in a bright colour. It's strung up with some floating tow line from the canoe used as a ridge line and eight lengths of nylon cord used as guy ropes. All very basic using trees and rocks to tie up to, even dead fall branches of about the right size can be used to fashion poles and pegs if there is nothing to tie to making it a free standing affair and very adaptable.



With the canoe tarp up there is plenty of room under cover to move round.
I fill the kelly up with lake water and start to gather dead wood for it so we can brew up. NO!!!!!!! I hear you scream you cant drink lake water, well yes you can if you boil it well. So ner ne ner ne ner ner. I even strain the chunks off using a bit of women's tights so there is no floaty bits or grittiness. The Kelly is a storm kettle that boils water using dried leafs twigs and other debris found laying about.
Its not really suitable for backpacking but canoe trips allow more bulky gear to be stowed like the Kelly so it really comes into its own on trips like this one.
A Kelly will boil a couple of pints in as many minutes and regardless of wind and rain it will always work as long as you can get it lit in the first place, it can also be used as a stove for boiling food frying and grilling when the kettle is taken off the base and the pot fry pan or grill put on it.
I have even made toast on it successfully.



The rain starts and soon it's hammering down into the darkness.
Karen is by now in my sleeping bag under the tarp watching me buggering about and its not long before she has fallen asleep. I soon follow and sleep under the tarp next to her having decided not to wake her or sleep in the tent on my own in case she wakes and cant find me, so the tent was unused all night.
Boy did the rain come down and the sky was lit with a lightning storm straight from a hammer horror movie, but we stayed dry and warm and eventually I fell asleep.

The Dawn brought a cool dampness that had sank into my bones during the night as I hadn't had the luxury of a sleeping bag, just a liner. Karen was still fast asleep but I needed to warm up so started moving about busying with the kelly to generate some body heat.



I had collected enough fuel the night before to supply the Kelly this morning as well but after the downpour it was all soaked. More needed collecting but with everything being wet it was tricky. I found some standing dead wood and having pealed off the outer layer of wet bark found it to be dry inside, I also borrowed (It will grow back) some Birch bark. About six inch of birch bark taken from a tree will not hurt it if its a healthy tree, it will eventually grow back as if never having been striped. The bark makes excellent tinder when the inner face is scraped with a knife to make fine shavings and takes a spark well, the dry dead wood is broken or chopped into small pieces varying from thumb thickness to the size of a pencil and smaller twiglets to start them off.
This gives enough varying grades of fuel for lighting the Kelly, once lit you can pretty much put anything down the chimney to fuel it as long as it's combustible, will fit and is not ringing wet.
Top cheat with a kelly, if everything is wet get the driest tinder you can find and light with the help of some Zippo lighter fluid.



After brewing up I was feeling much more thawed, I woke Karen with a brew and we chatted about the storm we had during the night. After the usual morning routine and multiple hot brews it was time to strike camp.
The tent was taken down and all the gear was repacked into the dry bags and containers. I ported the canoe back down to the water and loaded it up, then had a final check of our wild camp area. Not a trace of our having camped there was evident apart from one six inch square of naked birch tree.

We pushed off and for the rest of the day we explored the lake and all its beauty.
The sun was out in force and it was very relaxing to glide along the mirror top lake.


















Even the swans didn't seam to be fussed at us drifting by in silence.



Eventually we headed back to the Leven river and our landing spot by the Raingy.
It was still hot by the time we had the canoe back on the roof and our gear in the boot so we had a drink in the hotel on the Colonnade by the riverside before driving home taking the scenic route.



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