Tag Archives: campfire

Canoeing and Wild Camping

To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary this year Rob and I left the kids with the grandparents and embarked on a canoe expedition course to learn the necessary skills to head off on our own adventures. In that week we fell in love with canoeing and on our return invested in two canoes and the various paraphernalia required such as life jackets, dry bags and so on. The kids have been desperate to get out on the water with us but I’m in the final stages of dissertation writing for my MSc and with weather and tide considerations a couple of weeks passed before we had a chance. That chance came last weekend and we went for it, full bore!

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We set off just before high tide going up stream with the flow which made for easy initial paddling. Although as we rounded a corner the wind caught us and with only my 8 year old in the front of mine we were much lighter than I had anticipated and we kept getting turned. Even with the camping kit there wasn’t a lot of weight in the canoe and it was very much in the middle (kit) and back (me)… first lesson learned in terms of kit positioning.

drifting paddling

Eventually after spinning in the water for a while and even walking along a stretch of shore until we were past the bend in the river that was catching the wind, we were back on route and arrived at our camping spot.

tide going out drying sicks high tide

Traffic on the river was busy around high tide and we didn’t want to draw too much attention so we didn’t set up the tarp until much later but we set about collecting and processing firewood. We lit the fire with a flint and steel using tinder we found around us and the kids played in the water before the tide went too far out. Rob strung them up a simple rope swing which proved fun for hours (and also caused irritating “my turn” arguments!!)

processing wood

Boys processing wood for a fire

rope swing water fun summer fun whittling

Dinner was a basic chicken curry and here I learned another lesson… when taking curry powder in a pot seal the pot in bag or decent container… the curry powder spilt in one of the dry sacks and covered EVERYTHING! I salvaged enough for dinner and sucked up the lesson. We had taken about 10 litres of water with us but actually on such a hot day and with cooking dinner and washing up this was only just enough. On our course we had learned about finding water on an expedition, filtering and sterilising but the river we were on is largely salt water so that wasn’t an option. There was a stream feeding into the river nearby that we could have got water from had we been desperate and next time we’ll take a suitable filtration system in case we need it.

cooking dinner

Cooking dinner on the fire

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Curry with a view

After dinner and some bird watching we set up the tarp and as the sun set we got the kids to bed and us shortly after… we had to be up at 5am to catch the outgoing tide back home or we would be stranded until mid-afternoon!

bird watching setting up tarp camp sleepign babies

The early start was brilliant, we had the camp packed down and ready to set off in half an hour and we made sure that we left no trace that we had been there… an important principle we are pressing hard on the children!

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Up and ready to set off at 5.30am

The trip back was effortless on a mirror still river drifting with the tide. Of course at 5.30am we were the only human life on the river but it was teeming with bird life and the beauty of a canoe is that you can silently drift along without disturbing them.

morning shot misty morning one of me still waters

We were back at the car by 7am and heading home for a big old breakfast and a nap.

heading home for breakfast

heading home for some breakfast

Lessons learned the hard way

birch-not-lighting

We hired a canoe (well in fact we exchanged canoe hire for some knowledge and experience!) and we set off up a creek… I’m not telling you which one… it was against the tide and seriously hard work! There is a lot of mud in Cornwall along the river banks and therefore not that many places to moor up. We’re talking 4 foot deep river mud in places and it’s dangerous to get stuck in it. So, in the end we found a little stream trickling down to the creek from the woods, disembarked and carried the canoe up the hard stream bed, sliding it along the soft mud where we could.

On reaching the bank we found a nice hard spot, off loaded the kit and set about collecting fire wood and tinder. Now the theory for collecting firewood in very damp conditions is to collect dead standing wood. That is bits of trees which have died a while ago but are still attached to the tree or have got caught and therefore not fallen on the ground. This wood may be damp on the outside if it’s been raining (apparently sometimes it doesn’t rain!) but inside it should be dry and seasoned ready for burning. You can chop it up to get kindling from the dry inside and it’s meant to be a reliable way of getting a fire going in wet UK conditions.

Amazingly (for this part of Cornwall) we also stumbled across a mature silver birch tree… the treasure chest of fire lighting materials. Silver birch drop lots of matchstick thin, dark brown twigs all over the floor beneath them and collecting them is easy and satisfying. These twigs contain lots of the fabulous fire starting oils that make the silver birch the firelighter’s best friend and in theory will catch light easily even when wet.

birch-twigs

Birch twigs usually make for easy fire building even in wet conditions

So, as you can imagine, we were feeling pretty darn confident when it came to actually lighting the fire… less than twenty minutes of preparation had given us plenty of kindling of various sizes and a nice stack of firewood which had never touched the damp ground. Rob had got a snazzy little tinder box for his birthday that morning so he wanted to use that with a fire flash to light the fire… given that we frequently use much more challenging methods, such as a flint and steel, just to light the fire in the sitting room of an evening it didn’t even occur to us that this would prove to be a challenge!

And boy was it a challenge! The tinder went up fine… but the birch twigs, kindling and all the wood we had collected was so sodden all the way through that it simply steamed until the pathetic embers snuffed out.

We got there in the end, hand picking the driest finest twigs, removing out bark from wet twigs to expose the dry slivers of inner heart. Rob hiked up the hill to find standing dead wood from higher and therefore dryer ground and from the edge of the wood where the wind will have dried it out better. We split this down and meticulously carved off damp bark and outer layers. Everything was just so WET!

Finally we had a fire and eventually it produced some heat. We cooked lunch, had a cup of tea and discussed the challenges and alternative solutions. We reflected on how helpful a folding bow saw would have been (and have since purchased one!). We watched the tide reach its lowest point and start to return. Eventually we packed up, hauled the canoe back down to the water’s edge and put very little effort into drifting on the tide home.

cooking

Missouri – the beautiful

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It’s not just the lack of offensive billboards that make Missouri beautiful. The rolling emerald hills, deep deciduous woodlands and roller coaster roads that leave your stomach catching up every few hundred metres make Missouri a fun place to drive through. It looks a lot like the Cornish countryside but with even less people. We loved it!

But Missouri seems to lack self confidence. Everyone we met questioned how we ended up there and were even apologetic of their State. The ferry man asked if we were lost, utterly baffled as to why we would be there otherwise. Yet it was truly beautiful, has a lovely climate and there’s loads to see and do.

We hired a camping cabin and had a fire outside. The boys fished (without success) and we had fun. The next morning we hired a raft and floated down the a river for five miles in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, stopping for a picnic lunch. We made a great team paddling, Alfie and I at the front and Rob steering from the back. The little two hanging over the sides watching fish darting around in the crystal clear water and spotting herons and turtles by the banks.

Later we had a campfire and I had brilliant success cooking a loaf of bread in the Dutch oven for the first time. Then Alfie had success catching his first ever fish!

Everyone here is really friendly and helpful, which combined with the stunning countryside, bird watching and fishing it’s got to be one of our favourite places so far. The benefit of the area’s lack of confidence is that the whole place is wonderfully quiet and empty, although there are signs of busier seasons in the summer months, now in May seems absolutely perfect to visit this region.

Alfie Dean

Alfie learning to fish – he’s good at casting in

Alfie Dean and Rob Dean

Daddy helping to unhook his first fish

Alfie Dean

Alf with his first ever catch – a little small to eat though so it went back in

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His second catch – a pretty long eared sun fish

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I’ve wanted to cook bread in the dutch oven for ages – my first attempt was a brilliant success – YUM!

Caitlin Dean

Proud of my success!

Alfie Dean and Patrick Dean

Jokes around the campfire – fun times!

Life in the Airstream

We’ve had lots of requests for pictures of life in the Airstream… keen as ever to oblige my loyal readers here are some pictures of our days at Swinging Bridge Farm.

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Breakfast time, having put our bed away

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The view the other way

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A jigsaw before bed

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Bed time for the children

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Our bed involves putting the table away and stretching out the sofa

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Painting on a rainy day

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Alfie milking Meadow the Jersey cow

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A cup of tea on the campfire, with our Lazy Pond mugs and milk fresh from Meadow

Simple living

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I’ve taken to hand washing our clothes. Our host is more than happy for us to use their super giant washing machine but with the lovely weather we’ve been having and the washing line Alfie made for me in the tree outside the Airsteam I’ve been enjoying doing this basic yet essential task without modern conveniences.

It also sets a good example for the boys, letting them see that there are other ways of doing things… Alternatives which can actually be enjoyable.

A friend of mine once commented that she couldn’t understand why we would want to try using flint tools when we have modern steel knives and so on. Whereas I couldn’t understand her inability to understand… It’s what bushcraft is all about, being able to live, in relative comfort with just the natural resources we have around us.

And the boys have certainly been embracing the natural resources around us to get stuck into some bushcraft. We built a den, we dragged fallen trees from the woods for the fire, we collected kindling and tinder and all the while I heard “Ray Mears would like this den, Ray Mears would think this was a well prepared fire, Ray Mears uses his saw like this, doesn’t he mum!”

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The boys collecting firewood and kindling from the woods behind the Airstream

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Alfie constructing his shelter.

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Not exactly rain proof but a good wind break!

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A well prepared fire with tinder, kindling, larger sticks and the logs just out of view… not sure what the shovel was for or the sunglasses and wellies?

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Sawing safely

Now I’m not sure we are quite at the “Den suitable for sleeping in” stage with this but for two boys aged 6 and 3, yes, Ray Mears probably would like this den. And preparing a fire properly was a key goal for Alfie who is prone to rushing to the lighting stage so he’s doing really well making sure he has it all ready first now. It’s hard for Alfie to use his saw with his left arm crossed over because his arms are still kind of short but he’s certainly practising and keen to learn the proper, safe techniques for these skills. We’ve started Patrick on “carving” sticks with a vegetable peeler which is safer for his stage and a great tip for parents wanting to get their kids into safe knife use, helping them gain control of tools and learn safety techniques like “elbows on knees”.

So our days have been full of fun, tracking deer through the forest, cooking on the campfire and spotting bald eagles… It’s amazing!

Vertical Rocks and Waterfalls

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These mountains are ancient. It’s a pretty abstract concept of mountains being “born” hundreds of millions of years ago and it’s hard to imagine really isn’t it? Well step into the Smoke Hole Caverns in West Virginia, walk on a third of a mile into the depth of these ancient mountains and you can step back in time to the moment it happened. You can witness with your own mortal eyes the incredible power of the Earths crust and it’s ability to create mountains.

We had noticed the curved, rainbow shaped rocks outside our cabin (pictured above) but didn’t understand just what we were looking at. Inside the caves, two miles from the cabin you see vertical rocks which once laid flat. Pushed up by the collision of plates which united America with Africa they are awe spelling and memorising. Walking on through the active caves we find the room of a million stalactites and the worlds longest (known) ribbon stalactite as well as a rare cave coral.

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largest ribbon stalactite

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Gigantic column

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Beautiful wall of columns

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Rare cave coral, more commonly found in underwater caves in New Zealand

The caves history includes interesting tales of Senca Indians smoking their meats, a gruesome hospital ward for Civil War injuries and an ingenious site for moonshining and white lightening production.

We also got a great view of a couple of bats hanging upside down in the, surprisingly warm, cave. (I’m so sorry I forgot my camera so the pictures are from Alfie’s camera which I commandeered!). The lady who guided us through the caves was so enthusiastic, knowledgeable and engaging and the kids really enjoyed it. Absolute pitch black was a first time experience for the boys and we spotted a frog in one of the streams.

After the caves we drove on to the Blackwater Falls National Park to see the waterfalls there and I did take my camera this time. It was a nice short walk to the viewing platform and we identified some animal tracks along the way – Patrick’s favourite being his own!

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Blackwater Falls

In other news, we also had our first snowy campfire of the trip and cooked some yummy creamy chicken in a dutch oven. We also finally dropped off the travel bug we picked up back in Wales into a geocache here in the Mountains so it can explore America and clock up some miles. It’s been difficult to do sooner due to the heavy snow hiding all the caches we’ve attempted!

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First snowy campfire of the trip

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A fishing lure retrieved from the geocache we dropped Mr Frogglesworth off at

No mouse poo here – we’re in hot tub heaven!

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Now this log cabin is on a whole new scale. Sure we enjoyed the rustic charm of the cabin in the woods but lets be honest, a hot tub, roaring fire and clean, well stocked cabin is far preferable, even for the Deans!

We’re at Harman’s Luxury Log Cabins in the Monongahela National Forest and it is stunning here. Rugged rocks and vertical forests tower over the Potomac River, which runs right outside our cabin. We were heading for Shenandoah National Park but found this place and decided to stay put.

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Snow fun!

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Boys by the river. Patrick, of course, got his trousers wet in the water and by the time we went back in the bottom of his jeans had frozen solid!

It snowed heavily yesterday and we spent most of the day snuggled up around the fire inside the cabin and hoping in and out of the steamy hot tub on the porch. We did of course get outside for a snowball fight and to build a snow man but little kids chill quick. Plans are afoot for creamy chicken on the campfire today and possibly a visit to local caves.

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Snow ball fights 🙂

Enroute here we also stopped at the Beverly Heritage Center which teaches about the Civil War and history of the region. One piece of information really stuck out to Alfie and I and captured our attention. The Native Americans who lived here for 12,000 years before Europeans (ehhm) “arrived”, used to follow animal tracks in order to find the best and easiest routes around the terrain, through the woods, across rivers and so on. Over millennia these tracks were worn and became, relatively, permanent paths so that when the Europeans arrived they used the same tracks but now with horses therefore making the paths even more distinct and permanent… they then became the tarmacked mountain roads we are using today in our cars. So the roads we are driving on here were once, no that long ago, animal tracks… how cool is that! The same can’t really be said in the UK because there were so many stages between hunter-gatherers, following animal tracks, and roads. Farming settlements presumably shaped the networks across Britain and of course the Roman roads.

The Hertiage Centre is in the regions old Court Rooms and here is Patrick being the judge, probably sentencing someone to death or something.

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